Partner NGOs Again in the Dark Over City’s Street Sweep

Rin Ren thought that her grandchildren had gone to study English with NGO Mith Samlanh and would return to their home along the railroad in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak II commune by nightfall, just as they had done many times before.

Instead, friends of the children on Monday came running into Ms. Ren’s ramshackle home to tell her that police had arrested two of them.

“I don’t know what to do,” Ms. Ren, who cares for seven grandchildren, said Tuesday. “I don’t know how to get them back.”

As part of City Hall’s sporadic efforts to rid the streets of beggars and sellers, seven children and one adult were collected at the intersection of Russian and Mao Tse Toung boulevards on Monday and sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Social Affairs Center, according to police.

Ms. Ren, 58, said her grandchildren sometimes beg at the intersection on days when they do not study at Mith Samlanh, which picks them up at a service station across the road on days they do.

“I don’t order them to go beg,” said Ms. Ren, who is caring for her grandkids while their parents work in Thailand. “They do it because they see other kids doing it.”

The municipality in June announced a fresh campaign—in partnership with NGOs Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE) and Mith Samlanh—to move vagrants from the city’s streets.

However, the project stalled after the NGOs complained about City Hall’s methods, which included herding women, children and the elderly into caged trucks and dumping them unannounced at the doorstops of PSE.

In the days following, all but one of the children were placed by PSE back in the care of their parents.

Lieutenant Colonel Keo Thea, chief of municipal anti-human trafficking police, said Monday’s roundup was part of an ongoing effort to clean up the city’s streets.

“It is not a particular case,” Mr. Thea said. “Our police forces cooperated with Phnom Penh Municipal Social Affairs to round up children along the streets to keep public order.”

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche confirmed Tuesday that the campaign has been relaunched in a “testing” phase.

“We have a partnership with Pour en Sourire d’Enfant, so we have cooperated together,” he said.

However, Pin Sarapich, program director at PSE, said Tuesday he was unaware of Monday’s roundup or the resumption of the campaign.

“I don’t even know what time these roundups happened,” he said.

Mith Samlanh was also unaware.

Mr. Sarapich said the city only contacted PSE on Tuesday after having collected the children to ask if the NGO could take care of them.

“We will take care of the seven children, but not the adult,” he said, adding he was not sure the children would leave the Social Affairs Center and come into his care.

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