Anti-human trafficking police on Wednesday arrested a man and his wife for attempting to cross the Poipet border checkpoint in Banteay Meanchey province with a six-month-old baby girl they had bought in Phnom Penh so that they could beg with her in Malaysia, police said Thursday.
Brigadier General Prum Santhor, deputy Phnom Penh police chief in charge of human trafficking, said that Heng Chhun, 48, and Sam Na, 38, were arrested at the checkpoint with the baby and two physically disabled men, whom they intended to escort to Malaysia to beg on the street.
“We received information from our secret police unit that a baby was going to be trafficked to Malaysia via Thailand,” Brig. Gen. Santhor said during a press conference at the Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Police headquarters in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district.
“[Mr. Chhun and Ms. Na] bought the baby for $400 in cash in Phnom Penh,” he said.
Police declined to provide any details regarding when or from whom the infant was purchased.
The couple, their 20-year-old daughter, the two disabled adults, and the infant were all present at the press conference.
Phnom Penh anti-trafficking police chief Lieutenant Colonel Keo Thea said the suspects will be sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court tomorrow and charged with “buying a human being for cross-border transfer,” which carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
“What would have happened to this baby? Maybe, they would have sedated it, or cut its arm or leg to get pity from people,” Lt. Col. Thea said.
Mr. Chhun, however, protested his innocence.
“I am poor, I am also a beggar and I had no idea that what I was doing was illegal,” he said, adding that he had been begging in Malaysia since July, where he made 40,000 to 50,000 riel (about $10 to $12.50) per day.
Yi Moden, deputy director of field operations at anti-pedophile NGO Action pour les Enfants, which assisted police in the investigation, said the two disabled men—both of whom suffered from a lame leg—had agreed to go to Malaysia to beg only because they were deceived by the couple.
“They [the disabled men] are very poor and they are not educated and they were persuaded very [strongly],” Mr. Moden said, adding that the men had been promised food and housing for the first month in Malaysia. However, the two men would have been required to repay the couple six million riel (about $1,500) from their earnings as beggars, he said.