It's a story that's become all too familiar to many impove-rished Cambodians: after
borrowing money from a brick factory in Kampong Cham, Srey Thea, and her two-year-old
son Pok, traveled to Bangkok in an attempt to rescue their family from escalating
interest payments and an insurmountable cycle of debt.
Khmer child beggars awaiting deportation at a Bangkok shelter celebrate Khmer New Year with workers from Friends International.
Their family had worked constantly in Cambodia for many years, but eventually the
stories of lucrative begging in the streets of Bangkok became too tempting.
Srey Thea made a deal with a woman in Poipet who helped her reach Bangkok through
an illegal smuggling route.
But instead of making hundreds of baht per day, as Khmer beggars often do in Thailand,
Srey Thea and Pok, not their real names, were arrested by authorities on immigration
charges the day they arrived. After one year in detention they were deported back
to Cambodia-and back to a brick factory.
A recent report by Friends International has found that the story of Srey Thea and
Pok is typical of the estimated 1,000 Cambodian children begging on the streets of
The report indicates an increasing trend of illegal immigration driven by extreme
poverty and often aided by unscrupulous human traffickers.
The research, compiled from a survey of 140 Cambodian child beggars interviewed in
Bangkok, has alarmed NGO and child welfare workers, and confirmed previously held
assumptions of human trafficking by organized gangs, deliberate mutilation of child
beggars, and forced child labor.
Sebastien Marot, international coordinator for Friends International, said that whenever
you have a poor country alongside an affluent one you are bound to see this influx
"If you heard you could earn between 100 to 300 baht per day begging on the
streets of Bangkok and were poor in Cambodia, you'd come, no?" said Marot.
Tracy Sprott, technical assistant for Friends International who was involved in Srey
Thea's case, said that many of those who are deported return to Thailand within days.
"They live in hope that they won't get arrested two days later," she said.
Pich Saran, chief of Immigration Police at the Poipet border crossing, said that
every day 50 to 100 illegal Khmer immigrants that have been captured and detained
by Thai authorities are deported.
"Among those there are children who followed their parents to Thailand for begging,"
"Most of them enter Thailand through a illegal routes because Thai immigration
police strictly monitor Cambodian people that enter Thailand."
The study revealed that 80 percent had migrated with their mothers or other relatives.
The remainder had been assisted by a "me kyhol," a Khmer title that has
often been translated as "agent."
Srey Nuch was 12 years old when her mother agreed to allow a man who called himself
"Chin Da" to take her to beg in the streets of Bangkok in 2003.
Because she was an amputee, Da assured the family that she could make a lot of money
begging. He promised to send half of the profits back to the family.
Srey Nuch hasn't seen her family since. When they reached Bangkok, Da kept her in
his house as a slave doing chores from early morning and begging in the afternoons
and evenings. Each day she would make between 1,000 and 3,000 baht - all of which
was taken from her. When she did not make enough money he would beat her.
She was trapped in Bangkok until May 19 when both her and Da were caught by Thai
authorities and deported for illegal begging. Srey Nuch who is now living at the
Cambodian Women's Crisis Center (CWCC) in Banteay Meanchey is showing signs of improvement.
Chin Da is currently detained in the Banteay Meanchey prison and awaits trail.
The report shows that the roles of "me kyhol" can vary greatly: from arranging
travel and housing for a fee, to tricking victims into dangerous or low-paying jobs
or even slave labor.
For Sothly, a 12 year old boy interviewed for the report, it was a blind man who
bought him to Bangkok as arranged by his mother.
Sothy helps this man he calls "Mr Pat" beg from 8 pm until midnight each
day. Although they receive between 2,000 and 2,500 baht per day, Sothly receives
2,400 baht per month, all of which is sent back to his mother in Battambang.
"Being on the streets and particularly being in a foreign country they are vulnerable
to being tricked or forced into sex work or other exploitative or dangerous work,
drugs, violence, etc," Claire Ann Milligan, a Friends project coordinator, said
"of course, because they are not receiving any education, they are caught up
in the cycle of debt and poverty that their parents are already in."
The survey noted an absence of children over 15, raising questions as to what kind
of work these children are now involved in.
"The concerns are that children over 15, as they are no longer 'cute' enough
to get the sympathy of passers-by, may end up in the sex industry or other dangerous
working conditions," Milligan said.
"Our research indicates that as they get older, they tend to go into other sectors
like fishing, construction, farming, etc....but there is still a lot of exploitation
in these sectors."
The study raised particular concern for child flower sellers. A high percentage of
this group of children claimed they were beaten if they did not earn enough money
to satisfy their so-called guardians.
According to the report, the majority of these child flower vendors are around 10
years old, and most work late at night in the red-light districts of Bangkok and
Say Siphon, secretary of state of the Ministry of Social Affairs, confirmed plans
to meet with the Thai Social Development Ministry on June 18 to discuss solving the
problem of Cambodian child beggars. "We want to explain to them that the children
that beg on the streets are victims," Siphon said. "They come with their
parents who are looking for work. They're not involved with illegal activities."
Arecent report by Friends International claims there are more than 1,000 Cambodian
children begging illegally on the streets of Bangkok. The Chief of Immigration Police
at the Poipet border crossing told the Post that between 50 and 100 illegal Cambodian
immigrants are deported through his checkpoint each day.
* Percent of children begging illegally in Bangkok who are Cambodian nationals:
* Percent of Cambodian child beggars in Bangkok who are under age three:
*Average hours begging each day:
* Daily earnings:
Between 100-2,000 baht
* Daily minimum wage in Bangkok:
* Amount of Cambodian children traveling to Bangkok unaccompanied by a relative:
* Percentage of Thai nationals that claim to give to beggars regularly:
* Estimated monthly contribution to beggars in Bangkok by Thai nationals:
21,113,453 baht ($500,000)
Findings from The Nature and Scope of the Foreign Child Beggar Issue
(especially related to Cambodian Child Beggars) in Bangkok