Eight young girls were placed in the care of the Social Affairs Ministry on Thursday after Thai authorities found them begging and selling flowers in Thailand and sent them back to Cambodia, according to the ministry.
Seven of the girls, aged 7 to 13, were taken by their parents to panhandle across the border, but the eighth was kidnapped from her home in Cambodia and sold to traffickers who use children to sell goods on the street, according to Chhea Manith, director of the ministry’s Poipet Transit Center, which received the girls from Thai police.
“This afternoon, I received eight young Cambodian girls at the Poipet border checkpoint, and while we are happy that they have returned safely, we are sure that this problem is ongoing in Thailand,” Ms. Manith said.
“One of the eight was stolen from her parents by three people and sold to sell flowers in Thailand and the other seven were beggars,” she said, explaining that the seven were escorted to Thailand by their parents, then abandoned there.
Ms. Manith said five of the girls were from Banteay Meanchey province, two were from Battambang province, and the origin of the eighth was unknown. She said it was unclear where in Thailand the girls were taken, but that some had been working in Bangkok.
The girls are being held at the Poipet Transit Center, but will be sent to the Cambodia Women’s Crisis Center in Phnom Penh, which will attempt to locate their parents, she added.
According to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the girls were taken in by Thai authorities, who then alerted the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, which facilitated their return.
Sam Sovannarith, head of Damnok Toek, an NGO that works with vulnerable children, said that including the eight sent back Thursday, 14 or 15 children—mostly girls—had been repatriated under similar circumstances this year.
Mr. Sovannarith said the children are usually taken to Thailand by their parents, neighbors or traffickers. “We are not sure exactly how the process works, how they are passed from one to another,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Matt Blomberg)