Article 18 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia: “the state will protect the rights of children, particularly the right to life, education, and protection during times of war, in addition to protection against economic and sexual exploitation”.
At present Cambodia has around 14 million inhabitants, a number which has increased favourably in recent years due to the period of relative peace the country has experienced since 1993. Depending on the time of year, the capital, Phnom Penh, has between two and three million inhabitants.
In a country where 81% of the population gain their livelihood from agriculture, the climate determines everything. However, the extreme poverty in rural areas, the non-existence of technological farming, climatic instability, etc., are all factors which force the population to emigrate to the city in hope of finding a better life. Unfortunately, what usually happens in these cases is that life does not become better, but the complete opposite. Due to the parents’ inability to look after all the family members, Cambodian boys and girls have the tendency to start fending for themselves from a very early age.
In the capital, approximately half the children and teenagers who look after themselves have arrived alone from surrounding provinces, with only a few coins in their pockets. Some of the children will return to their villages after a few days, weeks, or even months. Others will spend so long on the street that it becomes impossible to return, simply because they forget who they are and where they come from. At their roots there is always a completely unstructured family unit, in most cases because of extreme poverty, AIDS, or alcoholism which almost always transforms into domestic violence.
Organised into small groups, the bonds that the children build amongst themselves are strong, deep and sincere; as primitive as the survival instinct itself. Malnutrition, illness, drug abuse, sexual harassment from tourists, traffic…these are all daily threats that the children face. Perhaps, above all of those, the lack of affection from society, the feeling of abandonment and the shortage of self-confidence could be seen as the strongest and most pressing threat of all. Forgotten by their politicians who are immersed in dismantling their country in the shortest possible time, at the moment the only valid option the children have to leave the street is to go through an NGO. This, however, will never be the solution to the problem.