As people around the world celebrated International Women's Day on March 8, a new
window of opportunity was opened in Phnom Penh for vulnerable young women.
A drop-in center for young female migrants, the first of its kind in Cambodia, was
opened by streetchildren's NGO Mith Samlanh/Friends. It will provide food, short-term
accommodation and medical services to the ever-increasing number of young women coming
to the capital. It will also help them to find training and employment.
Kong Sathia, the young migrants project manager at Friends, said the center was a
vital gateway for girls entering the city from the provinces.
"This program was created to help young migrants coming to Phnom Penh to prevent
them from being cheated and going into prostitution," Sathia said. "And
to help them have an education and skills leading to employment."
She said poverty drives most of them from the countryside to find work.
"They have problems in their families or are from broken or very poor families,
and some of them are cheated by their boyfriends," Sathia said.
The center will cater for young women aged 12 to 25 and can accommodate up to 15
girls at a time. They will stay one to two nights before being referred to employment
services or vocational training or to Friends' training center.
Sarah Lowing, a technical advisor at Friends, said the project stemmed from a survey
conducted in June 2002 to ascertain from which provinces the young girls were coming,
and where they were entering Phnom Penh.
"From this survey we identified the main entry point was the train station and
girls were also entering through the taxi rank at Psar Thmei and the bus station,"
Lowing said. "Most of the girls come from Battambang, Kampong Som and Banteay
Two outreach workers from Friends will work at the entry points as well as other
areas across the city to identify young migrants and refer them to the center upon
The project is funded by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO), which runs similar programs for young migrants in China and Laos.
Teruo Jinnai, culture program specialist at UNESCO, said young women faced many dangers
upon arrival including trafficking, sexual exploitation, drugs and HIV/AIDS.
"We accept the reality that they are coming from the country and [this project]
gives them a better life and at the same time, shelter," Jinnai said.
The center will also provide training referral and support for street children already
in Phnom Penh. Sey Ya, 17, is homeless and has lived near the railway station in
what she described as a ''ghost house'' since her mother died.
She visited the young migrants center after meeting Friends' outreach staff at Wat
Phnom and will stay one or two nights to receive advice on finding education and
"I came here because I have the idea to gain skills training to work in a factory,"
Sey Ya said. "I am very happy, I feel like this is my own home. I hope they
will help me find a job."
Lowing said the center was the first step in an overall attempt to help young women.
She added that a pilot project would begin in Kampong Cham later this year to educate
young women of the realities involved in moving to the capital.
"Phase two is disseminating information in the provinces before they migrate
to help young women to make an informed choice before they come to the city,"