The Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday charged a woman with unlawful recruitment after military police accused her of forcibly confining seven children and coercing them into begging on the streets of Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh Military Police arrested the woman, Phoung Channy, 50, on Friday in front of a local hotel in Daun Penh district, Phnom Penh’s military police chief Rath Sreang said yesterday.
The police accused her of forcibly confining seven children, including two babies, and coercing them through abuse to beg for money in front of the hotel, in restaurants and on street corners.
After questioning her, the military police sent her to court yesterday, while allowing an elderly woman battling HIV caught up in the arrest to go home. The seven children, whose parents have not yet been identified, were taken into the care of the Ponlork Thmey organisation.
Mr Sreang’s police unit posted videos to its Facebook page of the woman’s interrogation and the children’s interviews.
One 10-year-old boy told police that the accused forced him to carry an infant and beg for money until midnight at restaurants.
“I got 20,000 riel (about $5) a day from begging and I did not go to school,” the boy told police.
The other children told police that the accused did not provide them with enough food and beat them on their heads, faces and bodies if they refused to beg on the streets and report back to her with their earnings.
In the video of the woman’s interrogation, she admitted to police that she collected the children from “poor parents” and other beggars to use them as a way to make money.
She added that she’s been doing it for at least seven years.
Court spokesman Ly Sophana said that deputy prosecutor Keo Sokunthea is continuing to investigate the case and has thus far charged the woman with unlawful recruitment under the anti-human trafficking law.
The charge carries a minimum sentence of seven years, but those convicted of recruiting minors can face up to 20-years imprisonment.
Am Sam Ath, senior co-ordinator at rights group Licadho, said the accusations against the woman are an all-too-familiar story.
“There has to be more prevention to stop this from happening,” he said. “If there is not more prevention, there will be serious consequences – children going hungry, not getting an education, being tortured and facing life on the streets.”