Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Poverty drives child beggars to Bangkok

Poverty drives child beggars to Bangkok

Poverty drives child beggars to Bangkok


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

of people.

"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,"

Saran said.

"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:

184 baht

* Amount of Cambodian children traveling to Bangkok unaccompanied by a relative:

roughly 20%

* 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



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