Main Menu
Human Trafficking

Prevalence, Abuse & Exploitation of Street Children

In the first decade of the 21st Century                                             

Kingdom of Cambodia

The garment industry currently employs more than 320,000 people and contributes more than 85% of Cambodia's exports.

The major economic challenge for Cambodia over the next decade will be fashioning an economic environment in which the private sector can create enough jobs to handle Cambodia's demographic imbalance. More than 50% of the population is less than 21 years old. The population lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the poverty-ridden countryside, which suffers from an almost total lack of basic infrastructure.  [The World Factbook, U.S.C.I.A. 2009]

Description: Description: Description: Description: Cambodia

CAUTION:  The following links and accompanying text have been culled from the web to illuminate the situation in Cambodia.  Some of these links may lead to websites that present allegations that are unsubstantiated or even false.  No attempt has been made to validate their authenticity or to verify their content.



If you are looking for material to use in a term-paper, you are advised to scan the postings on this page and others to see which aspect(s) of street life are of particular interest to you.  You might be interested in exploring how children got there, how they survive, and how some manage to leave the street.  Perhaps your paper could focus on how some street children abuse the public and how they are abused by the public … and how they abuse each other.  Would you like to write about market children? homeless children?  Sexual and labor exploitation? begging? violence? addiction? hunger? neglect? etc.  There is a lot to the subject of Street Children.  Scan other countries as well as this one.  Draw comparisons between activity in adjacent countries and/or regions.  Meanwhile, check out some of the Term-Paper resources that are available on-line.


Check out some of the Resources for Teachers attached to this website.


Eat To Live: Feeding Pol Pot's children

Julia Watson, Posted at, Phnom Penh, 21 May 2007

[accessed 1 September 2011 January 2011]

These, though, are not the food of the poor, but popular snacks. What the city poor eat in this staggeringly impoverished country is what they can scavenge from garbage dumps, those putrid-smelling piles of rubbish mixed with plastic bags and food scraps piled on every street corner and in every gutter.  The visible city poor are children, as young as 5 years old. Their parents more than likely have HIV/AIDS, or have sent them in from the countryside to support the family.  This is a nation of no contraception. When foreign NGOs distribute birth control methods in the villages, they are seldom used; farmers need workers in the fields.  In the city and towns, children are useful earners as beggars or prostitutes -- for their families if they have one, for themselves if not. So long as tourists support them, there is no incentive to seek out the few opportunities for education.

As you sit on the sidewalk outside in the steaming Cambodian night, eating the mild local fish curry happily named Fish Amok, children below the age of 7 stagger by barefoot with small babies on their shoulders. Some drag boxes behind them. When they want a break from their begging, they crawl into them for a brief rest and to bottle-feed their tiny charges as the tourists buy a 10 cent shoeshine while sipping their ice-cold beer.

Tots doing trade

Debbita Tan, The Star (Malaysia), September 20, 2008

[accessed 13 April 2011]

[accessed 25 November 2016]

But the essence of Cambodia that affects most visitors, if not all, must surely be the resilience of its street children.  They teach you that survival means taking a step forward each time you are about to be shoved a step back.  In short, if you are a street kid in Cambodia, it is all about survival. Earning another dollar means buying a bit more time and a bit more of life. A dollar can go a long way here.

Visitors often arrive with images of the Angkor temples in their minds and leave with memories of the local folk in their hearts.  Even harder to forget would be the faces of the street children. They don’t have the luxuries of their counterparts in other countries.  They are trying to sell something every other minute just to ensure their survival.  One child told me, “No, no school for me. No play for me. You buy postcards, please? I give good price.”  These kids will do anything to get through the day. They will play you a medley of tunes using the handmade flutes they are hoping to sell.  They will pose with snakes coiled around their little necks in exchange for payment. Their desperate situation also means that they are a prime target for child prostitution and child sex trafficking.


*** ARCHIVES ***

The Department of Labor’s 2004 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

U.S. Dept of Labor Bureau of International Labor Affairs, 2005

[accessed 26 January 2011]

INCIDENCE AND NATURE OF CHILD LABOR - Street children engage in scavenging, begging, shoe polishing, and other income generating activities.

Human Rights Reports » 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

U.S. Dept of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 8, 2006

[accessed 7 February 2020]

CHILDREN - Child abuse was believed to be common, although no statistics were available. A domestic NGO estimated that more than 1,200 street children in Phnom Penh had no relationship with their families and more than 10 thousand children worked on the streets but returned to their family homes in the evenings. It was estimated that there were between 500 and 1,500 children living with their families on the streets in provincial towns. A local NGO reported a monthly intake of approximately 60 street children into its shelter for vocational and literacy training. The NGO reported observing 80 to 100 new children on the street every month. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation (MOSAVY) provided lower statistics, reporting 3,084 street children nationwide.

In June 2004 the governor of Phnom Penh began a controversial roundup of street children who were deemed "an eyesore to the outside tourists." The media reported that government officials stated the children were being sent to an NGO in Banteay Meanchey Province for drug rehabilitation. Many children were released on the roadside outside the city and subsequently returned to Phnom Penh; however, some children were never accounted for, and no NGO claimed to have received them.

Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 2 June 2000

[accessed 26 January 2011]

[28] The Committee recommends that the State party ensure that all the rights enshrined in the Convention are enjoyed by all children, without any distinction. The Committee further recommends that the State party take effective measures to eliminate discrimination against girls, in particular with regard to their access to education. Efforts need to be made to eliminate discrimination against children living and/or working on the streets and children belonging to minority groups, especially of Vietnamese origin.

On the mean streets of Poipet [PDF]

May Titthara and Eleanor Ainge Roy, The Phnom Penh Post, Poipet, 22 June 2009

[accessed 13 April 2011]

GANGLAND RULES - According to Kheav Bory from the rights group Adhoc, most of Poipet's street children are organised into gangs, which are usually about 50 to 60 members strong.  The older gangsters, generally aged between 20 and 25 years, make their living "leading" the group, and the younger members pay the older members to take care of them.  I know the things I do are bad for society, but society does not care about me. In return they are offered protection from rival gangs, food and often drugs - usually glue or metamphetamine - to feed their addictions, which Adhoc claims many gang members actually encourage as a means to control the children.  Drug use is endemic, while physical and sexual abuse is common and likely to go unpunished, Kheav

Bory said.  "The local authorities largely ignore the gangs of street children, as they have no way to make money off of them," Kheav Bory said.  "They will only act when the gangs turn violent towards each other, or robberies become too frequent."

CAMBODIA: Methamphetamine usage rising

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks IRIN, Phnom Penh, 21 August 2008

[accessed 10 March 2015]

Shirtless, with crude tattoos and scabs on his upper arms, 24-year-old Thom has been living on the streets of Phnom Penh for the past four years, one of a growing number of youths struggling with their addiction to crystal methamphetamine, also known as “ice”.

NEW DRUG OF CHOICE - The NACD report also says there has been a shift in usage, mainly by Cambodian youth who have switched from glue-sniffing to “ice”.  In 2000 a survey produced by Mith Samlanh, a local NGO that rehabilitates street children in Phnom Penh, found that 12 percent of street children were using methamphetamines. By 2007 the number had jumped to 87 percent.  But what is more alarming is the increase of methamphetamine use among street children aged 12-18, while usage among those in those aged 19-25 declined over the same period.   “In 2000, when the substance users first started using drugs, it was sniffing glue,” said David Harding, technical adviser for drug programmes at the NGO Friends International. “Now, over the years, `meth’ has become easily available and turned into the new gateway substance for street kids.”   “We are now starting to see small numbers of kids at the age of eight using meth,” Harding added.

Travel Blog: Cambodia - country of children - Wednesday, 30 Jan 2008 10:17

Anna Kainberger, Travel Blog, 30 Jan 2008$485000.htm

[accessed 13 April 2011]

Phnom Penh is also a city full of begging street children; orphans living in the street trying to survive on the money they are able to beg from tourists.  In perfect English these children will explain to you that they want your half-drunk can of coke because they are starving.  If you want to do something for these kids you should gather them together and take them to dinner or lunch at any of the local food stalls.  You can feed ten kids for as little as US$3-4. There is also a lot of organised begging and book selling going on in the capital and I was not sure if the kids were actually able to keep the money or had to hand it to a superior.

Student documents plight of Cambodian street children

Clayton Norlen, The Daily Utah Chronicle, July 30, 2007

[accessed 16 January 2017]

In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, it is common for children living on the streets to beg, sell books, offer shoeshines or fall into the sex trade just to survive.

Alder described scenes in Cambodia where young children between the ages of six and 17 would carry around infants, rented from mothers, to aid in their begging.

According to the documentary, there are currently 24,000 children living on the streets in Cambodia. explains that the money tourists give to children who are begging or selling items doesn't help the situation because children are still on the streets and not in school. The money children make is often split between gangs they may be involved with or given back to the family members and bullies who sent them to work on the streets.  "Tourists are unaware that they are contributing to the problems with street children by giving money to children directly," Garcia said. "Tourists are adding to the problem because they feel guilty or want the children to go away."

Begging some difficult questions

Nattha Keenapan, United Nations Children's Fund UNICEF, Bangkok, April 2007 -- (Originally written for the Bangkok Post)

[accessed 13 April 2011]

Puen, 11, sits down quietly in the noisy classroom ready to begin his language class. This shelter is not new to him and many of his classmates are not strangers. The children at Ban Phumvet, who range from two to 17 years old, have been rescued from the street and will stay at the shelter before being sent back to Cambodia. Many, like Puen, have been through this process before; and many will be back again.

"I went back to Cambodia [after being caught last time] and found that my father had left us for another woman" said Puen. "Now my mother and I don't have a home. My mother told me to come here again to beg so that we will have enough money to build a house. She said I can go to school when we have the house and she will buy me a bicycle.

Festival with a heart for change

The Star (Malaysia), December 17, 2006

[accessed 13 April 2011]

They recorded the struggle of the street children’s parents who grew up in a country that had practically returned to medieval times. And they’ve been recording the lives of those children, too.

But they grew tired of taking pictures of dead-end kids living in sad conditions. Stepping out of the detached, journalistic role they’ve had to play all these years, these photographers decided to do something for the children.

About Angkor Photography Festival

Stuart Isett, Consulter le lien, actuphoto, 2007-12-08

[accessed 13 April 2011]

OUTREACH: STREET CHILDREN AT THE HEART OF THE FESTIVAL - The Angkor Photography Festival organizes an outreach program for Siem Reap’s street children. In October 2005, two workshops were conducted for them: one on photography and another on self-expression through a combination of dance and photography.

Antoine d’Agata introduced the children to photography as a means of articulating their perception of the world. The children, the majority of whose parents are handicapped from landmine blasts or afflicted with AIDS, created a photographic mosaic with pictures of their lives.

Consortium for Street Children

At one time this article had been archived and may possibly still be accessible [here]

[accessed 21 September 2011]

There are 1,200 street-living children in Phnom Penh; 10,000 to 20,000 street-working children, and hundreds of children who are living with their family on the streets.

Children In Cambodia

Mith Samlanh Friends, Cambodia

At one time this article had been archived and may possibly still be accessible [here]

[accessed 21 September 2011]

During this period of rapid change in Cambodia, in Phnom Penh in particular, lone children as well as entire families are finding themselves in new situations. The entire structure of many families was destroyed as a result of the massive killings and separations during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Mealtime of Street Children

Editorial -- Submitted by: ThaRum, 26 May 2005

[accessed 13 April 2011]

As a shoes polish boy in the city of Phnom Penh, he work more than 8 hours a day, much more than ordinary people. Unfortunately he earns much less than them

Rays of Hope on Dark Streets in Phnom Penh

Antonio Graceffo, Readers' Submissions, Tales of Asia

[accessed 13 April 2011]

[accessed 25 November 2016]

The boys told me that they could buy a large quantity of glue for only 5,000 Riels ($1.20 USD), which they could earn in a day of begging and shinning shoes. But if they didn't have the 5,000 Riels, there was a nice Khmer lady who purchased bottles of glue, and resold it in smaller containers for as little as 500 Riels.

Information about Street Children - Cambodia [DOC]

This report is taken from “A Civil Society Forum for East and South East Asia on Promoting and Protecting the Rights of Street Children”, 12-14 March 2003, Bangkok, Thailand

At one time this article had been archived and may possibly still be accessible [here]

[accessed 21 September 2011]

Malnutrition is high (35% of all street children registered in 2002 displayed stunted growth).  Poor mental health is an issue for street children who show low self-esteem and exhibit self-destructive behavior.

AIDS Orphans Turn to Streets for Survival

Vannaphone Sitthirath, Inter Press Service News Agency IPS, Phnom Penh, Jun 29, 2004

[accessed 14 April 2011]

[accessed 25 November 2016]

Samnang would soon turn to the streets of Phnom Penh for survival. ''His grandmother is old and cannot go on providing for him and his sisters. He will be forced to the streets,'' said Marot.

''Samnang will be treated with trepidation because he's sick and will be segregated. Other people in the community also treat him very badly. It really has an enormous impact,'' he added. ''He will have no choice but to turn to the streets.''

''HIV/AIDS is one of the main factors that push children into difficult circumstances like being street children, being beggars and so on,'' said Marot

Lost and Found  - Children Orphaned by AIDS are Finding a Home in the Pagoda

Michelle Vachon, The Cambodia Daily, Weekend Saturday, October 6-7, 2001

[accessed 14 April 2011]

[accessed 25 November 2016]

 “We try so hard,” said Muny Vansaveth. “For 10 years, it was very difficult—we had no funds. We wanted to protect them from being sold to prostitution.”

During a recent visit, Homeland had 409 children under its care—street children, AIDS orphans, kids returning after being sold to work in Thailand.   Children have to agree to discipline, to handle their share of chores and to go to school in order to live at the center; they are free to leave at any time.   Homeland workers send children back to their families only after investigation. Mao Lang refuses to let the older sister of 13-year-old Try Raksmei take her back home; she believes Try Raksmei’s sister will sell her again to the broker who took her to Thailand to work. Try Raksmei has been at the center one year.

Street children

World Vision Australia - Connect - Street Children

At one time this article had been archived and may possibly still be accessible [here]

[accessed 21 September 2011]

[scroll down]

SOKHOM’S STORY - As a young teenager, Sokhom thought he could help his parents escape poverty by finding work in the city.  He left their small farm in rural Cambodia and found a job as a construction working in the capital, Phnom Penh. But the heavy labor was too difficult for him.  Sokhom became one of the thousands of children living on Phnom Penh’s streets, begging for food and sleeping on the ground because he couldn’t afford to return home.

All material used herein reproduced under the fair use exception of 17 USC § 107 for noncommercial, nonprofit, and educational use.  PLEASE RESPECT COPYRIGHTS OF COMPONENT ARTICLES.  Cite this webpage as: Patt, Prof. Martin, "Street Children - Cambodia",, [accessed <date>]