Authorities rounded up at least 100 panhandlers, street musicians and disabled people from the streets during the three-day Water Festival in an effort to beautify Phnom Penh, an official at the municipality’s Department of Social Affairs said.
“I got an order from City Hall to collect disabled kids and other beggars from Phnom Penh streets during the festival,” a deputy director of the Social Affairs Department, who declined to be named, said Thursday.
More than 10 district police and municipal social affairs officials were deployed to collect those suspected of begging and detain them at an “education” center in Tuol Kok district, the deputy director said.
But Ouch Nimul, an administrator at a school for the disabled in Kandal province’s Takhmau district, said some disabled youths apprehended during the Water Festival were simply trying to enjoy themselves with their families. “Not all disabled kids on Phnom Penh’s streets are beggars,” Ouch Nimul said.
“It’s unfair for innocent disabled kids who have been on the streets with their families to be apprehended by police,” he said.
Ouch Nimul said police nabbed a 15-year-old from his institution, the Lavalla School, on Nov 7, the first day of the festival. He said the boy was sitting in his wheelchair near Phsar Chas, just off the riverfront, waiting for his mother to return from purchasing water, when police grabbed him.
“Police arrested him and took him into a car without asking where he came from,” Ouch Nimul said. “The disabled kid told police that he was waiting for his mother, but police didn’t listen and took him with other disabled kids to an education center in Tuol Kok.”
“Whatever police did to the disabled kids were acts of human abuse, because disabled kids are human and they have their own rights,” Ouch Nimul said.
He said the student from the Lavalla School was released from the Kolab Four Education Center the next morning, Nov 8, after being told not to beg anymore. Ouch Nimul said he saw many other people that morning who still were being detained.
The deputy director of the Municipal Social Affairs Department said that all beggars and disabled people taken into custody were released that same day after being instructed to stop panhandling. Other City Hall officials could not be reached in recent days to comment on the roundup.