An NGO partnered with Phnom Penh’s municipal government in a scheme to help poor children get off the street Wednesday blasted the city’s ongoing catch-and-release strategy.
In June, City Hall partnered up with two NGOs in a campaign to remove beggars from Phnom Penh’s streets. The campaign soon stalled after the NGOs complained about the city’s strategy of arresting, detaining and then releasing beggars into its care.
But on Monday, seven more street children were rounded up by authorities, held at a social affairs center and then handed off to Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE)—an NGO that cares for and educates children—which returned them to their families on Tuesday evening.
“They should not have been rounded up at all,” said Pin Sarapich, program director at PSE. “There’s a better way to do this. It needs to be done slower and with more care.”
Mr. Sarapich said street children suffer psychological damage when anti-human trafficking police round them up arbitrarily.
“It’s very difficult to treat [them] after,” he said. “The kids feel that they are guilty.”
Instead of rounding up street children, shuffling them around to different centers and then returning them home, from where they will likely head back to the streets again, Mr. Sarapich wants to place observers at intersections where beggars gather.
“We want to understand what they need,” said Mr. Sarapich, explaining that the observers would be able to establish a rapport with the children and offer tailored guidance to get him or her off the streets for good.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche, however, defended the government’s tactics.
“It improves the situation of beauty in the city and protects the security of children from labor exploitation,” he said.
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