A workshop to discuss the plight of street children heard it was illegal to force
them off the streets, put them in centers or send them to the provinces against their
will. That is according to Cambodia's own Constitution, as well as several United
The Governor of Phnom Penh, Chea Sophara, who attended the workshop, recently backed
down from a plan to forcibly remove all street children from the city's streets.
Sébastien Marot, coordinator of NGO Mith Samlanh/Friends, told participants
at the September 3 workshop the main principle was that street children were not
"We need to consider these children as victims: victims of HIV/AIDS, of drugs,
of bad treatment," Marot said. "Under the Convention on the Rights of the
Child, street children cannot be forced to do things and cannot be put in prison
or centers against their will."
Marot said the number of street children was increasing due to poverty in the countryside,
and warned there were no "quick-fixes". Both Marot and UNICEF representative
Louis-Georges Arsenault said effective collaboration between NGOs and the government,
coupled with an expansion of social and reintegration services, were important to
achieving the long-term goal of "no more street children".
Chea Sophara said the municipality had learned valuable lessons at the workshop and
revised many of its "unsuitable" plans to deal with street children. However
he stressed he would go ahead with his latest idea: the building of the 'My Chance'
center for street children and drug abusers, located 17 kilometers outside the city.
"We have created a municipality team to work on a plan for street children and
have agreed not to send children to the provinces or for adoptions because it is
dangerous," Sophara said. "I recognize that children are victims, and we
are trying very hard to help them until the problem decreases."
Nineteen-year-old Uy Chhun Lim was one of 14 street children who attended the workshop.
He said the municipality's idea to create a center for street children was "okay",
but it must be in Phnom Penh near where street children lived and should provide
training and education.
"I don't know if the governor listened to me or not but there is the Convention
on the Rights of the Child," Chhun Lim said. "All the world respects this,
and Cambodia, the governor and the municipality should also respect it."
Despite Sophara's assurances that municipal officials had stopped removing children
from the city, Chhun Lim said his friends were still being rounded up.
"The municipality is still arresting kids in the streets and putting them in
custody or far away from Phnom Penh," he said. "It is very important that
the government listens to us because we are the future of the country."
The municipality and other workshop participants, which included NGOs and UN agencies,
heard there were a number of reasons why children ended up on the streets. Often
they were physically or sexually abused; some were orphaned by AIDS, others were
drug addicts, while still more had been forced from their homes by poverty or natural
disasters like flooding or drought.
Delegates heard that these root causes had to be tackled if the numbers were to decrease.
Mith Samlanh/Friends estimated that 1,200 kids currently live alone on Phnom Penh's
streets, and as many as 20,000 spend most of their time working on the streets to
provide income for their families.
On September 10 more than 60 street kids held their own workshop and came up with
proposals for the government and NGOs. They called for a crackdown on drug dealers
and traffickers, free legal services, and the establishment of shelters in the provinces
for rural children so they are not forced onto Phnom Penh's streets.
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