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UNICEF slams street sweeps

Two children wait for a red light to sell their wares to commuters in Phnom Penh this year
Two children wait for a red light to sell their wares to commuters in Phnom Penh this year. UNICEF yesterday called for street sweeps to be halted, saying they violated children’s rights. Vireak Mai

UNICEF slams street sweeps

Following the detention this week of homeless children as young as 1 year old at Phnom Penh’s notorious Prey Speu vocational training centre, UNICEF yesterday called for an end to street sweeps and arbitrary detentions.

Three people rounded up on Sunday said in separate accounts this week that children were among those taken against their will to the facility, where they were locked in a single room with no toilet, little ventilation and no access to health care.

The doors were only unlocked when officials from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) arrived at the centre on Monday, allowing the 21 held there to return to the city.

“UNICEF joins the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, calling for an end to street sweeps and to seek opportunities for more constructive approaches,” Meas Bunly, a communications specialist at UNICEF Cambodia, said by email.

Street sweeps “abuse children’s rights and do not address the real problems”, she added. “UNICEF is clear on its position regarding institutionalization of children and Prey Speu is no exception.”

City Hall’s street sweep campaign was raised in discussions on Wednesday between Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong and Wan-Hea Lee, UNOHCHR’s country representative, according to a post on the municipality’s Facebook page.

During the meeting, Socheatvong said street sweeps would not end, because their purpose is to “educate, care for and give vocational training” to homeless people in collaboration with NGOs, the post says.

But Mith Samlanh and Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE) – the NGOs partnered with the city’s efforts – said they had not been informed about Sunday’s roundup or asked to provide any help.

Both NGOs said they were concerned by the use of Prey Speu but would continue to work with the municipality to find solutions.

The Social Affairs Department could not be reached for comment yesterday, but on Wednesday pledged to continue its roundup over the Pchum Ben festival and to continue using Prey Speu.

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