Beggars & Street Kids

Being a developing country, Cambodia has its share of extreme poverty. During your stay in Sihanoukville, you're sure to encounter a fair share of beggars and street children begging for money. Since most travelers coming here have experienced street begging before in other countries, it comes as no shock to most. What does shock people are the beggars missing limbs or parts of limbs, most of whom are victims of land mines left over from the Vietnam war and Khmer Rouge. It's a blatantly grim reminder of Cambodia's ugly history.

How to Deal with Beggars

Beggar
Most adult beggars you will encounter come from impoverished rural areas and come to Sihanoukville (and other tourist areas) to beg for money (or empty cans off your table). Most all of them live and sleep on the streets, and buy whatever they can with what they collect.

Many of us will experience the following scenario: You're enjoying a nice meal or drinks at your favorite spot, and a beggar approaches your table and stands there waiting for money. Most will only pester customers dining outside (since many establishments here have mostly outdoor seating), but some will actually come inside the restaurant or bar. While we may think of this as trespassing, culturally, it's normal for people in the same village to walk right into others' homes to say hello or stop by for a chat. Whatever the reasons, most business owners struggle on a daily basis to keep beggars from bothering their customers. We advise travelers to not give to beggars who approach you in bars or restaurants.

Street Kids

Do not buy from young children. Many young children will stay out until all hours of the night not only begging, but selling flowers or bracelets. Buying encourages them to stay out late at night where they are vulnerable to abuse, and in some cases, the money these children earn go straight to the parents for drugs, alcohol and gambling. There are NGO's in town that specialize in providing housing, food and education to street children. Buying from them adds to their already monumental job by giving the children reasons to be out in town or on the beach after dark. Again, this is a cultural situation, but bear in mind there are people (Cambodian and foreign) of low morals who pose serious danger to these children. GoSihanoukville is vehemently against all forms of child exploitation, be it forced labor, sexual or otherwise.

Child Safety

Bracelet Kids
"C'mon, man - buy waaaan".
During your stay, you're sure to encounter many children on and around the beaches. Serendipity and Ochheuteal, being the most heavily touristed beaches has dozens of kids selling bracelets, fireworks and sunglasses, and many beggar children collecting bottles and cans off the beach. The "bracelet" kids are not shy, but outgoing kids who will approach tourists and try and sell useless bracelets or cheap-quality sunglasses. These kids generally do not come from extreme poverty, but are mainly lower-middle class, which can be seen by the better quality of their clothes and remarkably decent command of English. Some go to school part time, some do not. As stated above, buying from them (even buying a Coke or playing a game of pool with them) does encourage their continued presence on the beach where they can be lured into dangerous situations.

If you witness any suspicious behavior towards children, call the ChildSafe Hotline at 012-311-112. Do not be a hero and try to intervene yourself... you could end up being the one in trouble. It's also important to remember that many foreign men marry local women, some of whom may already have kids from a previous marriage - bearing this in mind, don't always assume the worst, the man you think may be a pedophile may actually be a loving father. On the flip-side, a single male (yes, that's sexist, but relevant) sitting at a beach bar with a dozen bracelet kids sitting with him is suspicious. Use your gut instincts when trying to interpret these situations, they're usually right.

Realistically, there isn't much anyone as an individual can do to combat these serious social issues facing Cambodia. But the collective good of responsible travelers can help. Instead of donating to random people you feel sympathy for, donate to one of the local organizations that can offer help. M'Lop Tapang and Let Us Create are two very worthy local NGO's that work with street kids. Visit their websites for more information.

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