The operators of a Phnom Penh street kids day center are protesting the Jan 16 police
raid and the subsequent detention of 13 of its clients as illegal intimidation.
The Psah Thmei-area street kids day center operated by Mith Samlanh/Friends, a UNICEF/AUSAID-funded
NGO which assists the social reintegration of Phnom Penh street children, was raided
in the late afternoon of Jan 16 by a group of nine armed municipal police, military
police and Monorom Commune officials.
The thirteen street children at the center at the time were taken into custody as
"suspected thieves". The police recorded the children's names and demanded
they provide the police a photo "mug shot" of themselves. The police had
no arrest warrants and did not lay charges against any of the children, who were
released after approximately one hour.
Mith Samlanh/Friends Coordinator Sebastien Marot described the police action as a
crude intimidation tactic that violated the legal and human rights of his clients.
"The Chief of Monorom Commune told the kids that if they ever broke the law
and tried to take refuge in our center, he'd shoot them," Marot said. "These
kids are street children, not criminals...even if these kids were members of the
CFF (Cambodian Freedom Fighters), Cambodian law says you can't enter a private premises
looking for someone without written authorization from a judge."
Marot says the police action violates a long history of close cooperation between
his organization and government authorities in addressing the needs of the approximately
1000 children who live and survive on their own on the streets of Phnom Penh.
"Our work is recommended and supported by government ministries and we work
closely with the government...everyone encourages us to do our job [of assisting
street children]," he said. "By storming our center and threatening the
kids [the authorities] have jeopardized our work."
The day center, open from 5:00am - 5:00pm each day, caters to what Marot describes
as the "highest risk and most vulnerable" of Phnom Penh's street children
- those who work the city streets at night as everything from beggars to cheap manual
laborers. The day center provides washing facilities, an emergency clinic for cuts
and stab wounds as well as counseling services.
Monorom Commune Chief Choek Saroeun told the Post that he'd personally authorized
the raid on the NGO day center, saying it was designed to identify and arrest "suspected
thieves". He denied having threatened the children with extrajudicial execution,
saying that he simply warned them that they'd be arrested if they broke the law.
Saroeun described the police demand that the street children provide names and photographs
of themselves as an essential "control measure".
"I want the kids names so I can control them...they're glue sniffers and some
have dyed hair and look like hoodlums," he said.
Marot describes Saroeun's demands as illegal and discriminatory.
"Asking the names and photographs of innocent people is against the law,"
he maintained. "What [the authorities] will do [with the photos] is that if
something happens in the area, they'll automatically attribute it to street children
and use the photos as a list of suspects."
Marot plans to protest the police actions to the Ministry of Social Affairs and the
Phnom Penh Municipality.