Walking home from his nightly English class, So Chin Rieng, 24, found a new-born
baby wrapped inside two kramas beside the road. He took him home and now, three months
later, is raising the child as his own.
"Several people wanted to take him and look after him but I am keeping him.
I love him," he said, gently rocking the baby in his arms.
Chin, an unmarried security guard, now looks after the baby at the UNHCR office where
Abandoned babies are a relatively new phenomenon in Cambodia and one that worries
Madame Uch Kim Sruth, protection assistant at UNHCR. She has seen four other foundlings
abandoned in Phnom Penh in the past two months.
In the past year, Assemblies of God, an American NGO, has seen 19 babies brought
to its two children's homes in Kompong Som and Kompong Cham.
One was found on a garbage dump, another covered in leaves down a hole, another was
abandoned in a market, one was found under a mango tree and, in one case, a young
mother slipped out of hospital soon after giving birth and never returned.
In some cases, dying babies have been brought by women unable to cope. Some threaten
to throw their infants away if the organization will not take it.
"We are not substitute parents," insists Randy Dorsey, Assemblies of God
country coordinator. "Our homes are not equipped for the intensive care necessary
Poverty lies at the heart of the problem combined with a breakdown in the tradition
of extended families.
"In Buddhism, life is sacred," says Madame Kim. "We don't let children
die. We don't even kill plant life. But Buddhism here is not very strong and poverty
Dorsey believes many babies may have a stigma attached to them, especially those
born in the last 18 months.
"I suspect they are mixed parentage," says Madame Kim, pointing to the
high number of babies apparently born with Caucasian and African blood.
Dr Penelope Key of the World Health Organization (WHO), believes a major factor is
the lack of available birth control, which forces some women into illegal abortions.
To help combat the problem, the UN's Population Fund will soon launch what it calls
a "Family Health and Birth Spacing" program.
Dr Key believes the best approach is to teach families, health workers and community
leaders to understand the concept behind planned families.
The program will begin with the distribution of free contraceptives in six provinces
and expand from there.