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Refuge on margins of society

in CAMBODIA, 05/01/2014

In a dilapidated building nestled in the heart of Phnom Penh, two slumbering girls lay curled on a mattress in a room shaped like a matchbox. As the door to their room inside a safe house swung open, they remained balled up on their bed, lightly exhaling in unison. The pair are among eight between the ages of eight and 20 who reside at the Cambodian Women’s Development Agency’s (CDWA) Safe Shelter, created to protect up to 20 women and girls at
a time from trafficking, rape and gender-based violence.

“If they weren’t here, they would probably be at high risk of more violence or sleeping on the streets. Women and girls needs safe havens like this in Cambodia,” said Fiona Mann, 26, an advocacy and policy adviser for CWDA.

Pich* was six years old when her father died of hepatitis, leaving her mother with five young children to feed and no money for groceries. Pich’s mother sold her as collateral to a loan shark, who then, in turn, forced her to work in a local market until she was 12.

Now 19, she has just hit her seventh year living in the safe house and hopes to start university next year. When she’s not lending an extra hand at the shelter, volunteering for a local youth-oriented NGO is one way she loves to spend her days.

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