More Than Arrests Needed to End Child Begging, NGOs Say

Anti-poverty NGOs on Tuesday said an adequate social safety net and change in the public’s attitude toward panhandling would be needed for Phnom Penh’s social affairs department to reach its goal of eliminating child begging in the capital by year’s end.

“To reduce begging rapidly, we need to have a few things: employment, social services and a social net that will protect people sufficiently so they do not have to beg,” Sebastien Marot, Friends-International’s executive director, said in an email.

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Mr. Marot said the general public also needed to reduce or redirect their gifts of cash to child beggars. The organization says giving them money makes them more vulnerable to drug and sexual abuse, and keeps them out of school and in the streets.

In an effort to stop child begging, at least five adults have been charged and jailed for crimes related to child exploitation or compelling children to beg in Phnom Penh in the past two weeks, and 20 children—from 3 months to 17 years old—have been identified as victims, officials said.

Fewer than 10 adults were estimated to be forcing about 30 children to beg in Phnom Penh, Sorn Sophal, director of the social affairs department, said on Monday.

Mr. Sophal said authorities had been forced to crack down on those who make children beg because attempts to educate and push them toward finding jobs failed to stop the phenomenon.

“First is educating and advising, second is implementing the law,” he reiterated on Tuesday.

In addition to more public education about the risks of begging and support for poor people in finding jobs, a deterrent is needed, he said.

“I wanted to make an announcement so that they understand that if they do this, they can be found guilty,” he said.

Aimyleen Gabriel, World Vision’s technical manager for child protection, said ending child begging would require a long-term strategy that addresses more than the economic factors that push families and children to beg.

“Prevention also requires putting in place services for at-risk children and their families,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Phan Soumy)

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