Those who work with street children divide them into two broad categories.
The first are those who are on their own, with little support or contact with their families. They are the ones fending for themselves, and a 1993 Childhope study on the issue indicated that they make up approximately half of the street-children population.
Because these children are especially at risk for exploitation and falling into a life of drugs and crime, they are the ones whom shelters target, giving them a place to live, education and vocational training.
But there is another, more complex, category of street children in Cambodia. These are children who live with their families and beg or work the streets to supplement the household income.
Sometimes the family has a home, or lives in one of the capital‘s squatter villages. Sometimes the entire family lives on the streets.
It is one of the hardest problems to find solve because most NGOs do not want to take a child away from a family that is intact, however poor, said Benoit Duchateau Arminjan, founder of Krousar Thmei (New Family).
In extreme cases, Krousar Thmei tries to provide support, sometimes a home or financial capital to start a family business.
But there are many families on the streets—and with this year’s rice crop failures, more are pouring in from the provinces every day.
They can’t all be helped, and Arminjan says there is a danger that providing too much support will only encourage more poverty-stricken families to migrate from the provinces.
That is precisely why the problem of street children must be addressed not just with NGO projects, but with long-term rural development, improved access to education and societal support for the poor, child advocates say.
“You could put one-fifth of the children in Cambodia in shelters” because their families cannot afford to support them, Arminjan said. “We have to think about development, not just what is best for the short term.”