Child Protection at M’Lop Tapang
Growing numbers of poor, vulnerable street children and a strong sense of legal impunity continue to attract sex predators to Sihanoukville. Given the precarious situations in which they live and work, unsupervised street children in Sihanoukville are at extremely high risk of sexual exploitation.
M’Lop Tapang focuses largely on prevention, helping children and their families to understand the very real dangers that exist and how they can best keep themselves safe from harm. Ti, our Child Protection team leader and his 3 fellow social workers, work very closely with vulnerable children and families in the community – working to educate them on the methods used by sex predators, particularly when trying to endear themselves to a family or a community. Using specially designed games, DVDs and art activities, the team is also able to reach a wide audience of younger children who are naive to the risks they face every day working in Sihanoukville’s streets.
M’Lop Tapang’s full-time counsellor works with victims of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Allowing abused children to express their mixed emotions of grief, anger and fear in a safe environment is a vital component in their healing process.
Although M’Lop Tapang does not carry out investigations or legal procedures, we continue to support victims and their families if they decide to take legal action against perpetrators, ensuring that each child is treated with dignity and respect at all times. M’Lop Tapang works in close partnership with Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), an investigating organisation which offers legal advice and support to child victims of sexual abuse.
M’Lop Tapang is proud to have joined Friends International in their ChildSafe program. ChildSafe takes a positive approach towards protecting the children of Cambodia. It is essentially a child protection network embedded within the local community, helping to keep children safe from all forms of abuse.
The ChildSafe project builds a network of key community members who are trained to look out for suspicious situations and help protect local children from all dangerous situations - from sexual abuse to road traffic accidents. Network members include people who are in jobs or positions that allow them, by developing new attitudes and adopting new behaviours, to improve the safety of children:
motorcycle taxi drivers (motodops) & tuk-tuk drivers
hotel & guesthouse personnel
internet cafe employees
restaurant staff members
communities/areas where street children live and spend a great deal of their time
tourists and non-locals
ChildSafe’s philosophy is ‘Good clients, Good business’. M’Lop Tapang aims to prove that child protection can benefit everyone – the program allows trained and certified ChildSafe members to gain financially from their responsible behaviour. Members are essentially acting as volunteer social workers and deserve to be rewarded for their service in the form of increased business.
This program has already succeeded in making Sihanoukville a more hostile environment for travelling sex offenders and Cambodian perpetrators. ChildSafe ensures that there is a 24-hour presence of well informed, trained, and caring community members looking out for the safety and protection of their children. Children can also call M’Lop Tapang’s Child Protection Hotline at any time of day or night, 7 days a week. In any given situation, the chain of information sharing is immediately activated and the Child Protection Team is able to decide whether further investigations or involvement of the local police is required.
M’Lop Tapang has officially been part of the ChildSafe program since August 2006. There are now 80 members who can be seen around town with their ChildSafe logo and ID cards. Please seek them out and encourage them to continue their good work. Be a responsible tourist AND feel good about yourself! You can make a difference to the safety and wellbeing of Cambodian children.
Youth Protection Network
Taking a proactive approach to child protection, we have developed a youth network of around 30 children at risk between the ages of 12 and 16, who work selling fruit and handicrafts to tourists on Sihanoukville’s public beaches. Meeting daily with this network allows our Child Protection Team to access a constant flow of information related to potential abusers and their contact with children.
Peer educators are provided with regular training sessions on child protection at the main centre and participate in peer discussion groups every month. They are also taken on various educational and recreational day trips. The team is taught how to look out for dangerous situations, given detailed information about grooming techniques used by paedophiles, and educated on the offenders’ perspective, enabling them to protect themselves more effectively.
This network is not only empowered to look after themselves, but their friends as well – the team has reached over 100 children who come into close contact with tourists, passing on information they have learnt and making sure they are aware of available services. Kids know to phone Ti and the Child Protection Team if they witness any suspicious behaviour and have built up a solid relationship of trust with our social workers.