The trend of Cambodian workers flocking to Thailand can have a devastating ripple effect on children living on the margins in the border town of Poipet, where they face a litany of risks such as drug use, sexual abuse and physical violence, according to a recent report.
The study, On the Border, from Swiss anti-violence NGO up! International, surveyed 80 children between the ages of 8 and 18 about their experiences of life on the streets of Poipet, where the vast majority had migrated in the hopes of finding economic opportunity, most of them with their families.
Boys in Poipet, researchers found, were four times more likely to report being victims of sexual violence than girls, despite the widespread perception that girls were far more at risk.
Drugs were also a major issue for boys on the border, with 40 percent saying they sniffed glue, and just under 30 percent saying they used crystal methamphetamine.
Report author Jarrett Davis said the small-scale study, released earlier this week, provided some insight into the perceptions of children living or working on the streets and how that diverged from the reality of the risks they faced.
“For girls, their most common fear was of rape, but for boys it was being beaten or hit by cars. Basically, the patterns emerging in the perceptions of violence followed pre-existing norms and cultural stereotypes,” he said.
“That was entirely inverse from their experiences, where males were four times more likely to report sexual touching [than females]”.
Almost a quarter (23 percent) of surveyed children were victims of sexual assault, while the majority of children (70 percent) said they had witnessed another child being beaten, slapped, choked or burnt.
More than 70 percent of the 80 children regularly crossed the border into Thailand to seek work or money; those who made the crossing were twice as likely to report physical violence and four times more likely to report being hurt or threatened by a weapon, compared to those who remained on the Cambodian side of the border.
Unicef spokesperson Iman Morooka said “children on the move” were often subjected to abuse and many have histories of “severe poverty”.
“Children with disabilities are also at risk of trafficking as they can be exploited to generate money when forced to beg or sell flowers on the streets,” she said in an email.
“Currently, child protection services for children on the move rely on services provided by non-governmental organizations which in [the] long-term will not be sustainable,” she said, urging the government to strengthen safety mechanisms for unaccompanied repatriated children.
Dy The Hoya, from labour rights group Central, said as impoverished parents sought work in Thailand, their children could be placed at increased social risk. “They often do not have access to school,” he said.
“A lot of very small children along the border are beggars, and we don’t see any action to take care for them,” he added.
The Ministry of Social Affairs did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.