Homeless Children Rounded Up and Dropped on NGO Doorsteps

Authorities rounded up 48 homeless children off Phnom Penh streets this week and sent them to three NGOs on Tuesday, officials said. But 10 children accepted by one NGO left its care later in the day, including an 8-year-old girl who was quickly returned to her parents.

Sorn Sophal, director of the municipal social affairs department, said police detained the children, as well as 10 homeless adults, and sent them to his office.

“They had been walking to beg for money,” Mr. Sophal said. “They have no careers, so we rounded them up for counseling. Then we requested relevant organizations to take them for vocational training.”

“We are no longer allowing them to walk along the road because it is inappropriate,” he added.

Sebastien Marot, NGO Friends International’s executive director, said its program Mith Samlanh received 10 children on Tuesday, all of whom left its care.

“We’re an open center,” Mr. Marot said. “It’s their decision if they want to stay or not.”

“My feeling is they’ve been forced to go to the government shelter and then they were forced to come to Friends,” he explained. “How many will come back later, that is what is really important to us.”

An 8-year-old girl was returned to her family. “The team did a quick assessment, placed her back with her parents in Chbar Ampov [district] and initiated support to the family,” he said.

Mith Samlanh can provide housing, education, health care and vocational training to the children if they return, Mr. Marot said, adding that its staff would try to remain in contact with them.

City authorities regularly sweep the streets of homeless people, sex workers and vagrants, often ahead of public events or visits by foreign dignitaries.

Mr. Marot said the social affairs department understood how to address social ills, but could be put in a difficult position.

“Often the roundup is done by another department. It’s done by the police,” he said. “The department of social affairs is given the responsibility after the fact.”

City Hall spokesman Met Sopheakdey said the homeless children were a problem for themselves and others.

“It is so dangerous for them if we think about their safety,” Mr. Sopheakdey said. “If we think about order, we can see the disorder from them.”

Representatives of Daun Penh and Tuol Kok district police could not be reached.

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