Capital’s Social Affairs Department Aims to End Child Begging

The Phnom Penh Social Affairs Department is aiming to end child begging in the capital by the end of this year and will continue prosecuting those who force minors to solicit strangers for cash, the department’s director said on Monday.

“By the end of 2017, there has to be no case of abuse of the rights of humans and children through begging,” director Sorn Sophal said. “This is the goal of the social affairs department.”

The department and NGOs spent last year trying to educate the parents of child beggars and others who may exploit children, and guide them toward vocational training, but their efforts failed to stop the phenomenon, Mr. Sophal said.

“Therefore, our last choice is that we have to implement the law,” he said.

In less than two weeks, five adults have been charged for crimes related to child exploitation or compelling children to beg in Phnom Penh and 20 children—from 3 months to 17 years old—have been identified as victims, police said.

In the most recent case, a couple was arrested on Wednesday and the husband, Thon Thy, was charged with inciting minors to beg for forcing his five children to ask for money, said Sen Komonn, chief of the municipal military police’s anti-human trafficking bureau.

The oldest daughter, now 17, told authorities she had been forced to beg by her parents since she was 5 and had lived in housing provided by Friends International and Pour un Sourire d’Enfant, according to a post on the Phnom Penh military police’s Facebook page.

Representatives of the two NGOs and a third, World Vision, which was also identified as having provided services to the family, either could not be reached on Monday or said they could not immediately comment on the case.

Mr. Thy faces up to a year in prison and fines of up to 2 million riel, or about $500, if convicted, and was being held in Prey Sar prison, Mr. Komonn said.

The court released his wife, Nuon Mom, and gave her custody of the youngest child, a 1-year-old daughter, after she signed an agreement not to force children to beg again, Mr. Komonn said.

The social affairs department placed the older four in the care of NGOs, he added, although he said he could not recall the names of the organizations.

Mr. Sophal, of the social affairs department, said authorities estimated there were fewer than 50 children who were regularly begging on Phnom Penh’s streets and about 30 of them were being exploited by adults. With five people recently prosecuted and sent to jail, there were fewer than 10 people currently running this type of operation, he said. Some were relatives of the children while others were complete strangers, he added.

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