Twenty-two child street sellers rescued in a police operation in Phnom Penh will be returned to their families as soon as their parents sign an agreement promising to never again sell their sons and daughters as laborers, an official said Wednesday.
The children were found and freed on Tuesday morning when police raided a house in Chbar Ampov district’s Chbar Ampov II commune and arrested Khen Vandy, 30, and her husband, Chea Sady, 28.
Police say the 22 had been forced to work as fruit sellers at the city’s beer gardens and restaurants after their parents agreed through a middleman to receive money from the couple in exchange for their children’s labor.
“The 11 boys are staying at PSE [Pour un Sourire d’Enfant] and the 11 girls are staying at the Hope for Justice organization,” said Yu Sopheak, a representative of the municipal social affairs department who accompanied police during Tuesday’s raid.
“Before we return them to their parents, we will need the parents to fill out everything in our agreement,” he said, adding that city social affairs officials were still working to locate the parents.
Leakhena des Pallieres, PSE’s social director, said Wednesday that the boys temporarily staying at her NGO could be reunited with their parents as early as Friday.
“Their health is fine and on Friday, if their parents sign the contract made by the social affairs department, then we will give them to the parents,” Ms. des Pallieres said, explaining that the contract stated that the parents would not allow their children to be used as laborers again.
Na Neang, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department, said authorities had finished questioning Ms. Vandy and Mr. Sady on Wednesday evening and would send the couple to court today.
“During questioning, the children told us that the suspects paid their parents 150,000 to 200,000 riel [$37.50 to $50] for a month of work,” she said.
Eric Meldrum, investigations director at Agape International Missions, who assisted with the police operation, commended the plan to make the parents sign a contract promising not to exploit their children again.
“It’s quite effective in terms of domestic violence, so it could, and I think it would, be an effective tool as well in terms of trafficked children,” he said.
James Sutherland, communications coordinator at child protection NGO Friends International, though, expressed doubts about the efficacy of such agreements, saying they distracted from the issues at the center of child trafficking, namely poverty.
“If it is just ‘please don’t do that again,’ there’s a possibility that the family may be driven to putting the kids at risk again. You really need to get at the core of what’s causing them to do this in the first place,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Anthony Jensen)