PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Impoverished children – the poorest of the poor – in Cambodia are still being tormented and abused because society and the government are indifferent to their plight.
Bo Sophatt – from the Child Safe project of Friends International – said that police and other authorities are not without blame in this matter.
In a telephone interview with the Khmer Times, Am Sam Ath – coordinator for the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) – placed part of the blame on the government.
Abuse exists in Cambodia in different forms. This includes physical abuse, such as beatings with bludgeons, steel bars or rifle butts. Others are being subjected to electrical shocks or whippings with lengths of wire.
Apart from physical abuse, some children are subjected to psychological torture, such as mock executions, verbal intimidation and death threats. Sexual abuse is also a complementary component of torture, including gang rape and sexual trafficking.
These torments are inflicted upon children who have nobody with the power to protect them. Most of the children come from impoverished and/or non-intact families.
Information given to the Khmer Times by Friends International indicated that there are 1,500 street children in Phnom Penh who have cut off all ties with their families.
Many children in Cambodia – especially homeless and street children – have never received warm care and attention from their parents, non-government organizations (NGOs), government institutions or their social environment in general.
“Street children dare not challenge the rich, even though they get badly beaten,” Mr. Bo Saphatt commented. “A child who works as a maid in a wealthy household has never known that she could get help from outside the employer’s house.”
As if to prove this point, on August 29, the president of the National Assembly, Heng Samrin, issued an emergency directive for the arrest of two men for torturing a 14 year-old boy. The duo almost drowned the boy in a very large water jar. His crime had been for stealing a coconut.
To handle child abuse, many local organizations have issued priority guidelines for raising public awareness of children’s rights and punishing the abusers.
“We educate and motivate families to participate in supporting children in different ways. We have hotlines where we can be reached if anyone sees abuse or tormenting,” Mr. Bo Sophatt said.
Some NGOs do more than just promote respect for children’s rights, as they offer short training courses for children. This will increase the child’s chances in the job market and, subsequently, spare them from being disrespected – or even disdained – by society.
Mr. Sam Ath said that the government “[does not feel responsible …] it should regard itself as [the children’s] parent and generate jobs for children who are poor and have no skills,” he said.
Last year LICADHO received 225 reports of various cases of child abuse, 177 were of a sexual nature. The first six months of this year put 93 cases in their ledger.
Siem Reap is second to Phnom Penh as a hub for child abuse and sexual trafficking in Cambodia. Some of the perpetrators are tourists, be it from Europe, Japan, China or the USA.
New Hope Cambodia – an NGO that works with children from Siem Reap – has given vocational training to almost 1,500 children. The aim is to give them the chance of escaping a life of abuse and exploitation.
Soth Kemsour, founder and manager of New Hope Cambodia, explained that fifteen percent of the children in his care admitted to selling themselves.
They offered their services to those who could pay enough, usually tourists.
In reply to the question of why children sell sex to tourists, Mr. Soth Kemsour stated, “They need money to survive and all of them are from poor families, some of whom have to beg.”