News/Cambodia: Pact tackles trade in child beggars

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Subject: News/Cambodia: Pact tackles trade in child beggars
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Tue Jun 29 1999 - 17:01:42 EDT


Pact tackles trade in child beggars
KAY JOHNSON in Phnom Penh
South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), Tuesday, June 29, 1999

She is only seven years old, but Noy already knows what it is like to go to
work and to be arrested.

The Cambodian girl spent months begging in Bangkok until she was picked up
by police, kept in detention and deported.

"I don't like my mother because if I could not find money for her, she
pinched my thighs and hit me with a wire," the girl says softly in Khmer at
the children's shelter where she now lives. "She watched me, and if I
didn't beg, she would beat me."

Noy's "mother" is no relation to her. Seng Saroeun is in a Cambodian
prison, arrested on suspicion of being part of a growing beggar-trafficking
network that smuggles children and handicapped people to Bangkok.

Thai officials from the Ministry of Public Welfare are to sign a memorandum
of understanding tomorrow aimed at arresting more child traffickers.

The programme, to be paid for by the UN Children's Fund, will involve
training border police, immigration officers, provincial officials and aid
workers in eight border areas, according to Saisuree Chutikal, chairwoman
of the Thai Senate's Committee of Child Welfare.

About 500 Cambodian children work as beggars in Bangkok, with most of the
US$8 (HK$62) or so a day they earn going to the traffickers, according to
the International Organisation of Migration.

Although scores of beggars are picked up and deported each month, few
traffickers are arrested.

"The children don't know who took them over the border. They don't know
addresses and telephone numbers, so police can't do much," says Ms Saisuree
in Phnom Penh at a conference on trafficking.

All Noy remembers is that she lived in a house with two other children and
that each was sent to beg near a bridge while her "mother" watched.

The traffickers appear to have powerful connections on both sides of the
border.

"They are very, very organised," says Ms Saisuree. "You cannot smuggle
whole groups without the involvement of nationals from both countries, as
well as officials."

Seng Saroeun, arrested in March in the border town of Poipet, is one of the
few suspected traffickers to face court in Cambodia.

"There are many cases of child trafficking, but the local authorities have
never arrested anyone until now," says Nou Danna, director of the Krousar
Thmei (New Family) child shelter in Poipet.

The woman was arrested after she tried to claim Noy and two other children
as her own. A group of visiting aid workers recognised her from the illegal
immigration detention centre in Bangkok, where she had been several times
to claim other children arrested for begging.

Nou Danna has a book full of photos of children who have been trafficked
and repatriated. She points out several women she says are known
traffickers but who so far have not been stopped at the border.


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