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MAY 17, 1999 VOL. 153 NO. 19

But in Kampong Thom, which according to the joint UNICEF/WFP survey suffers the highest rates of child malnutrition in the country, it quickly becomes apparent that the heart of the problem is mind-numbing poverty. "I had no choice. I had no other way except to send my children away," says Hol Ny, her eyes wet with tears. The 40-year-old widow, bereft of land or cattle, recently allowed three of her six children to go work for other families, some of them total strangers; the $15 she received per child must feed her and her three youngest for the next year. In her village of Srayou Cheung, at least six other families have similarly sold their children into bonded labor; some say they have had to forage in the forest for food. Hol Ny's neighbor, a 41-year-old divorcee named Pich Mom, sold her two sons for two years each. "I was sick and couldn't earn any money," she says. "It's hard for me to live without my children, but I think I did what was best for them."

For the past four years, Cambodia has actually recorded a small rice surplus--estimated to reach 30,000 tons this year. This bounty, however, is distributed poorly, and many farmers simply cannot afford to buy what is available. (In a country with a per capita income of only $300 a year, about 36% of Cambodians live below the official poverty line; last year the WFP assisted 1.4 million people, 15% of the population, with its food-for-work program.) Even those who have rice often have little else--perhaps a little salt, or the fermented fish paste called prahoc--to round out the dish. That little is not nearly enough: rice, while high in calories, has relatively few nutrients.

The WFP says Prime Minister Hun Sen was shocked by the U.N. surveys, and he now insists that eliminating malnutrition is a top priority. "Now that the fighting is over, we expect everyone to work on this issue," says Nouv Kanun, the energetic secretary general of the newly created Council for Agriculture and Rural Development. A conference of Cabinet ministers and provincial authorities last month endorsed a 10-year, $90 million plan to tackle the root causes of malnutrition, focusing on crop diversification and awareness campaigns about nutrition, health and hygiene. Still, the damage that is already evident will plague Cambodia for years to come. "If you are malnourished from six months until you are five, you are going to be handicapped for the rest of your life," warns Davies. "You will never be able to develop your full mental or physical capacity." Perhaps now that warning can be heard.

Reported by Caroline Gluck/Kampong Thom

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This edition's table of contents | TIME Asia home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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