More than 500 children and rights activists braved Phnom Penh traffic Wednesday in a march to celebrate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Organized by the NGO Committee on the Rights of the Child, the marchers gained an audience with both Prime Minister Hun Sen and King Norodom Sihanouk. The committee is comprised of 23 NGOs, most of them local. Children in Cambodia face numerous perils, from labor and trafficking, to prostitution.
“We want the government to ratify [the convention],” said Buth Saman of the Children and Love Association.
The UN child rights convention was drafted as a part of its charter in 1989. It has been ratified by more than 100 countries since, but Cambodia is only a signatory.
Marching in columns of four and stopping heavy morning traffic at intersections, the marchers, mostly children, beat drums, waved banners, and sang out slogans.
Hun Sen addressed them in front of his house near the Independence Monument, acknowledging a human rights problem for children exists in Cambodia.
“We are struggling to reduce the difficulties the children face, which relate to their welfare, education and other issues concerning their growth,” said Hun Sen, who had arrived by helicopter. “Those who trade children or need the virgin girls must be punished the most seriously.”
Prum Samnang, 13, then watched as the premier doled out a T-shirt and 5,000 riel to each child. “I was a street child before,” he said. “But now I am taken care of by the Krusar Thmei Phsar Depol organization.”
Some of his friends still are addicted to drugs, he said.
The marchers, many of them with similar stories, held banners slogans like, “The child should have time to rest and play.” But, as the noisy procession passed, two street children, clothed in rags and rummaging through the trash, didn’t seem to notice.