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Abandoned babies line the path of poverty

Abandoned babies line the path of poverty

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

he works.

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

for babies."

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

is."

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.

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