Don’t trust others who promise to take care of your children! Because of poverty and divorce, Chomnit’s mother gave him away to someone she trusted. It turned out the person she trusted trafficked Chomnit and forced him to become a begger in Thailand.
Ratanakmondul, Battambang, March 2019: As soon as social worker Ms. Kim Veth entered the house, 10-year-old Chomnit* ran and hugged her. “Mother! I missed you very much!” he exclaimed.
When Chomnit was 3 years old, his mother gave him to a woman she trusted to care for him and send him to school.
“Chomnit’s mother gave him to a person after she divorced her husband,” said Ms. Kim, a Damnoek Teuk social worker. She had no house and hardly any food,” she added. “The main reason for the divorce was that the husband did not believe that Chomnit was his son.”
The person who took Chomnit was a trafficker.
“The trafficker transported Chomnit to Thailand and forced him to work as a beggar,” said Mr. Chandara, Chomnit’s uncle. “The trafficker regularly slapped him, hit him with an electric wire, twisted his ears, drugged him with sleeping pills and forced him to beg for money.” Chomnit endured this harsh violence and abuse for four years, and scars from injuries on his fingers and ears are still visible.
Thai police arrested Chomnit while he was working on the streets. He was sent to a rehabilitation centre in Thailand, from where he was repatriated to Poipet in December 2015 and admitted at Damnok Teuk’s reception centre. He received protection and rehabilitation services for two years. “The trafficker was arrested and imprisoned in Thailand for three years,” Ms. Kim said.
“Chomnit was not able to walk or speak because of the severe violence and the sleeping pills he was forced to take,” Ms. Kim said. “He had no strength, he was slow and fell down while trying to walk. He was half asleep,” she added.
A safe and supportive environment has helped Chomnit slowly recover and gain confidence. He has improved his verbal communication skills in Khmer and has been able to form relationships with his social workers and peers. The reception centre provides children like Chomnit with vital care, such as safe shelter, food, medical care and psychotherapy.
With support from Damnok Teuk, Chomnit was reunified with his uncle, Mr. Chandara, in March 2017. Chomnit continues to receive treatment from the Sangke medical clinic in Battambang town.
“We were very happy to hear from Damnok Teuk about the whereabouts of Chomnit, as we didn’t have information about him for four years, although we had been looking for him,” said Mr. Chandara.
This reintegration would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Damnok Teuk’s staff. It has transformed Chomnit’s life and given him hope for the future.
“Chomnit is healthier, stronger and happier,” Mr. Chandara said.
“I feel safe, I go to school and I want to become a monk in the future,” said Chomnit. He will join Grade 3 in the 2018-2019 academic year, where he can focus on his favourite subject, mathematics.
The Damnok Teuk reception centre opened in Poipet in 2001. The centre focuses on helping Cambodian children who have been repatriated from Thailand. It was set up to prevent the immediate re-trafficking of children after their rescue. There are currently 21 children who are survivors of trafficking, living at the centre.
UNICEF, through a collaboration with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, the NGO Friends International, and other civil society organizations that are members of the Partnership Programme for the Protection of Children (3PC), has been working to strengthen the national child protection system in Cambodia to ensure that the most vulnerable children are better protected from violence, abuse and exploitation, including children affected by trafficking.
*No real names were used in this story.