Two young siblings drowned while in a pit next to a river as they washed unattended on Sunday in Pursat province’s Bakan district.
Deputy district police chief Yem Yoeun identified the victims as Mon Sokna, a six-year-old boy, and his four-year-old sister Sreynit.
He said the children were left with their grandmother while their mother, a widow named Kem Yoeum, 34, went to work in Preah Sihanouk province to support the family.
The children had been fishing earlier in the day in a river behind their home in Metoek commune’s Metoek village, Yoeun said, while their grandmother took an afternoon nap.
When the grandmother woke up, she could not see the children and went to look for them.
She found their clothes near a wooden boat and began to fear that her grandchildren had drowned.
The grandmother saw a pit and suspected they had fallen in and, Yoeun said, her fears were confirmed when she discovered their bodies.
She shouted for assistance and neighbours arrived to help carry the children’s bodies back home.
“After catching some fish, the brother and sister returned home. But because they were covered with mud, they went back to clean themselves off in the river.
“The sister apparently fell into the pit first. It’s about two metres deep. It seems the brother then tried to help her but they both drowned,” Yoeun said.
Grandmother fell asleep
The National Police said the children died because their grandmother was careless and fell asleep, but there are no suspicious circumstances.
After examining the bodies, the police released them to the family to conduct funeral rites.
A 2014 World Health Organisation (WHO) report said that compared to their peers in the region, Cambodian children are much more likely to die by drowning.
The WHO, which provided country-specific statistics alongside its Global Report on Drowning, estimated that the risk of drowning is about twice as high for Cambodian children in the first 15 years of life.
This compares with children of the same age in other low- to middle-income countries in the region, including Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam, among several others.
A 2012 Unicef report said drowning was a leading cause of death for those aged 17 and under in Cambodia, accounting for half of the non-illness-related deaths among young people.
Drowning was also responsible for one out of every four deaths from any cause for children aged one to four – the age group comprising the majority of drowning deaths – said the report.