Children living in poverty are vulnerable to various forms of abuse. Child protection remains M’Lop Tapang’s primary focus and includes prevention, advocacy, victim support, recovery, and reintegration.

One of the cases referred to the Arts Therapist recently was that of 18 year old Sreymom*.  She had been referred by our Child Protection Team social workers who had found her on the streets. They helped her move into safe temporary shelter at M’Lop Tapang’s Transitional Home while they tried to locate her family, but the young girl was not providing them with any information, stating that she couldn’t remember any relatives or homeland address

It was a challenging case for Theary, our Arts Therapist. Sreymom was very quiet, preferred to always sit alone, and never initiated conversations with others. When first working together, Sreymom would only sit together for a few minutes before walking away.  Theary continue to meet the young girl very often but only for short periods and tried using a variety of art therapy methods to reach her. It was only after working together for two months did Sreymom start to open up; asking how long she could stay at M’Lop Tapang and did they want to send her home.

What we learned was that Sreymom was afraid to go home. When she was much younger her step-father had tried to abuse her and she ran away. After finding her, he sold her to a family to be their housekeeper. She was 11 years old. Forced to work very hard and treaty violently, she later ran away from that family and made her way to an uncle’s home in another province. Her uncle helped to find a job in Phnom Penh working at a tailor shop. When she returned to visit her uncle to celebrate Khmer New Year he took all the money she had saved and told her to go away. She next moved to live with her grandmother. A neighbor of her grandmother met Sreymom and asked her to move with them to Sihanoukville to help look after their children. It was only after arriving in Sihanoukville that these people forced her to beg for money on the beaches and if she didn’t they would hit and not feed her. It was on the beach one day that she met a shop owner who immediately called M’Lop Tapang’s 24-Hour Hotline after hearing a little bit of Sreymom’s story.

It was only through the dedication and persistence of our arts therapist that the details were uncovered. In this particular case, since Sremom did not like drawing, Theary found that using puppetry and toy animals was most effective (eg. Tiger represented her step-father). The information gained through the art therapy session was instrumental for the Child Protection and Outreach teams in case management planning. It was clear that trying to reintegrate Sreymom back to her family was not the appropriate action to take and other plans would have to be made. For now Sreymom is continuing to stay at our Transitional Home and attending classes at our Education Center while our Outreach Team is assessing more long term living arrangements that will provide her with safety and security.

When asked what she liked most about M’Lop Tapang, Sreymom said “I love learning. I love having many friends. And I love that I am allowed to sleep enough.

*name and photo changed for confidentiality