SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia, October 2013 – Ochheuteal Beach in Sihanoukville, five hours by road from Phnom Penh city, is among most beautiful beaches in Cambodia. It attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world. Five years ago, 17-year old Sopheak used to work on Ochheuteal beach selling hand-made accessories to tourists to help support her four siblings, sick father and stay-at-home mother. Though she managed to go to school in the morning, every afternoon was spent trying to earn money. “I usually raised five to eight dollars per day,” said Sopheak. “Sometimes I could earn US$15 but often I earned nothing, especially in the rainy season.”
Six days a week from 7:30am to 11:30am Sopheak still wanders along the beachfront, but now she is a youth volunteer helping other children who make a living on the street to avoid becoming victims of abuse.
|©UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Rui Nomoto|
Sopheak talks with children working at the beach to check if they face, witness or hear of any abuse.
M’Lop Tapang holds these training events twice a year for young people who live and/or work on the street as part of its community-based and outreach programme for vulnerable children and their families. The NGO also provides education, vocational training, counselling, medical care, drug rehabilitation and family reunification services, emergency shelters, sports and arts activities. It is one of nine NGO members of the Partnership Programme for the Protection of the Children known as ‘3PC,’ which aims to strengthen and coordinate civil society’s involvement in the child protection system. The partnership advocates for national policies to protect children, and raises awareness on child protection issues at local level in an effort to improve the quality of child protection services.
|©UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Rui Nomoto|
Sopheak and Jane work together to eliminate child abuse around Ochheuteal beach in Cambodia.
Director of M’Lop Tapang, Eve Sao Sarin says, “We have always believed in youth involvement in our programme and do not regard them only as programme beneficiaries. Working with youth is vital to make our programmes successful. Children and youth helping with M’Lop Tapang’s programmes know about the vulnerability of street children better than us as they have spent longer time on the street…At the same time, youth and children also gradually change themselves as they actively get involved in the programmes, because they have more responsibility in the society and gain increased confidence. It is always important to connect children and youth with communities, including police, local authorities, tuk-tuk and moto drivers, in order to create a holistic child protection system.”
Sopheak enjoys her new role. ““I usually talk with 30-50 children per day around this beach to check if they have faced, witnessed or heard of any abuses,” said Sopheak. She reports to M’Lop Tapang any incidents of child abuse that occur in the beach areas.
“The case I remember the most is about my friend,” said Sopheak. “She used to sell craft to foreigners at this beach like me, but one day she told me that she was harassed by a foreign tourist. I talked with her and reported the case to M’Lop Tapang through the Child-Safe 24 hour hotline. The staff immediately went to the beach to follow-up with my friend and found the offender. Because we patrol the beach every day, we could easily identify him. The police were called and the case was reported. My friend received counseling and now attends informal education classes at M’Lop Tapang’s drop-in centre.”
Youth volunteers like Sopheak also oversee M’Lop Tapang’s ‘Kid’s Beach Network’ a ‘child safe programme’ organized with 70 children under the age of 15. Members of the Network help in reporting child abuse cases to Sopheak and M’Lop Tapang staff. Their distinctive T-shirts send a strong message to tourists to help end child abuse and also deter abuse by declaring children’s membership of the Network.
|©UNICEFCambodia/2013/Chhaya Plong |
Message on the Kid’s Beach Network T-shirt. The shirts are made by young people at M’Lop Tapang’s Vocational Centre