One of the most effective approaches to combat child exploitation is to prevent it from happening in the first place, which is what Terre des Hommes Netherlands aims for. In Cambodia, poverty is a major risk factor for exploitation, with a significant number of the total population residing in rural areas experiencing poverty. Many poor families therefore migrate from rural areas to urban centers to seek work and income opportunities, where they involve their young children in helping to earn money, often without fully understanding the potential risks those children face. In such scenarios, parents are among the target groups for our work that contribute to ending  all forms of child exploitation.

Child trafficking

Crossing borders to beg for money

In recent years, Poipet, a town on the  Cambodian-Thai border, has been a popular place for poor families to migrate to, due to its diverse economic activities and the endless flow of tourists crossing the border between Cambodia and Thailand.

Thida, now nine, and her family found Poipet town to be promising place for re-settlement. In 2015, Thida’s family arrived at Poipet from Kompong Speu province with four children all under the age of ten. Her parents found work on a construction site and spent the rest of the evening scavenging through garbage. On regular occasions, Thida was encouraged and helped by her mother to cross the border illegally to beg for money at Thai Roungklue border market, where she could earn between 200 to 250 Baht a day (5-6 Euro). Her parents considered this to be an acceptable means to increase income for the family.  

Living in extreme poverty increases risks

Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ local partner ‘Friends International’ identified Thida through her frequent journeys to the Thai market and  an assessment identified Thida’s family as living in extreme poverty. Her family lived in a humble cottage built on a neighbor’s land and none of the children were attending school. Her parents had very limited knowledge of the risks related to child exploitation, and therefore sending Thida to cross the border alone was never a concern.

In Cambodia, children are often exploited by criminals in various forms - including being  trafficked to neighboring countries, forced into cheap labour, prostitution or orphanage residency. Among all these risks, being forced into prostitution is the most alarming consequence. In its 2013 study of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) in Cambodia, the International Justice Mission identified  that 15 to 30 percent of establishment-based sex workers were under 18 years of age.

Prevention as a strategy for lasting change

Ensuring long term change is an important  goal of Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ programmes and this can be achieved in many ways. Therefore, in line with the programme’s ‘Prevention’ strategy, children are placed in an environment where they are safe, supported and empowered by stakeholders across the spectrum of society, including their own family, community, local authorities and the government. On-going assistance is provided not only to the child, but also to the family such as awareness raising sessions related to child exploitative issues, school reintegration and support, vocational training and family income generation initiatives.

Therefore, since September 2016, Thida’s mother has been supported by Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ local partner Friends International in setting up a small business. She now owns a mobile fruit cart and makes a profit of at least 500 Baht (13 Euro) per day. To reintegrate Thida into formal education, she is now enrolled to a public school at her community and provided with school materials. She started her first day at school very recently.

“I did not like scavenging through garbage and begging money from people at all,” Thida recalled.

I am now very happy to see my mother have this small business and hope that all my younger brothers and sister can go to school as well.

Thida, 9, from Cambodia.

Now that the family has a stable income and better understanding of the risks their children might encounter while working across the border, Thida’s parents are determined not to involve their children in any income earning activity again. Instead, they are committed to send other three children to school when they reach the eligible age. In the meantime, our local partner continues providing support to sustain Thida’s mother’s  business and ensuring that Thida attends school regularly.

In the future, the education that Thida gains will hopefully ensure that she is able to gain regular, well paid and non exploitative work, ensuring that her own future family will be safer and not face the same risks.

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