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A Lost Childhood

October 16, 1994|From Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — He salutes as cars approach, bows from the waist, then clasps his hands together pleadingly.

Most of the drivers pass on, but some slow down and drop a few bills onto the potholed road for 9-year-old Han to scoop up.

Han is one of half a dozen children who work a stretch of highway 35 miles south of Phnom Penh. The children say that they only come out when they aren't needed in the rice paddies, and that they make the equivalent of 40 to 60 cents each on an average day.

Tony Culnane, manager of a street-children project run by World Vision international of Monrovia, Calif., says begging has increased during his two years in Cambodia. He estimates Phnom Penh has 7,000 street children who survive by "stealing, begging and digging through rubbish."

Cambodia, one of the world's poorest countries, was devastated by more than two decades of war. Its recovery has been slowed by the hit-and-run tactics of Khmer Rouge guerrillas, who have scared off foreign investors and tourists.

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