Last August, 35-year-old Sophea sat on the edge of a wooden bed frame that occupied most of the single-room home she and her husband, Piseth, shared with their five children, who ranged in age from an infant son to an adult daughter.
The smell of burning plastic from a nearby dump wafted into the tiny, tin-roofed house in a slum on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. Since Piseth lost a leg after stepping on a landmine while serving in the Cambodian army, the money from his street begging and Sophea’s ragpicking – about 10,000 riels (US$2.40) a day – had not been enough to make ends meet. Sophea was pregnant with her sixth child.
A railway line separates the slum from a high-security gated complex. The pair often crossed the tracks to scavenge among the refuse of their wealthy neighbours. So when a woman who had arrived in the slum several months earlier, and who always seemed to be a little bit better off than everyone else, showed up with a proposal, a desperate Sophea was willing to listen.