A UNICEF survey concluded that 35 percent of Cambodia's 55,000 prostitutes are children under the age of 16. The oldest girls in the sex industry today are teenagers, says Sao Chhoeurth, who works with AFESIP, a French NGO that rescues and rehabilitates child prostitutes.
With recent media attention on pedophiles such as Gary Glitter in Cambodia and Matthew Kelly in the United States of America, child prostitution and pornography have suddenly become extremely important to Cambodia's cultural image.
With the death of Pol Pot and the end of the Khmer regime in 1998, Cambodia prospered as a sex attraction for the many pedophiles keen on exploring new avenues after Thailand, Vietnam and other South-East Asian nations.
The main brothel areas in Cambodia's capital city, Phnom Penh, are Toul Kork, Keo Chandra and Svay Pak. Svay Pak, a dusty village 11 km north of Phnom Penh was a thriving village with 50 odd brothels and child prostitutes as young as 6 years old till last Wednesday when the police raided the village. The village which received at least 50 tourists every night, who paid a measly US$ 3 for sex with a child, and scores of locals is now a ghost town. No one was arrested although there were dozens of pimps and customers in the brothels at the time of the raid.
Phnom Penh police chief General Soun Chheangly said a decision was made to shut down Svay Pak becuase it's bad name that affects the Cambodia's cultural reputation.
It took continuous campaigning by women's rights groups and the Mu Sochua, Cambodia's women's affairs minister, for more than 2 years and a high profile ASEAN meeting, for the Svay Pak raid to occur and the brothels to close down. Only a few of the child prostitutes released from the brothels have reached AFESIP and the Ministry of Social Welfare. The majority have been sent on to brothels in other tourist centres, including Siem Reap, the service town for the ancient Angkor Wat temple complex, and Sihanoukville, a popular beach resort in the south of the country. The police action had been widely advertised in advance.
It is no secret that the brothels in Cambodia flourish because of their friendly relations with influential officials in the Hun Sen government. Pimps are reported to imprison young children who are virgins and not put them to work until they've been presented to a series of bidders such as high-ranking military officers, politicians, businessmen and foreign tourists. Much of this lucrative industry is controlled by senior police and military officers, and successful arrests/prosecutions are rare. Evidence is mysteriously lost, brothels are tipped off before raids, and pimps slip their handcuffs on the way to court.
WHILE I WAS AT SVAY PAK: LIVES OF CHILD PROSTITUTES IN CAMBODIA
The young girls working in brothels like those in Svay Pak are , in effect, sex slaves; they receive no money, only food, and armed guards stop them running away.
Chantala, possibly 14, recounts that her a woman approached her aunt and promised to give her a job as a live-in cleaner at a shop in Phnom Penh. The shop turned out to be a brothel in Svay Pak. Her first customer she recounts was a Chinese man who beat her till she was unconscious because she refused to have sex with him. He then tore her clothes and raped her. She worked everyday from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. and still owed a huge sum to the brothel owner.
She was one day taken to a village outside Phnom Penh. When she arrived she found 10 men waiting to have sex with her. She had to have sex with all of them. She went to the same place many times after that.
Avy, 8-years-old, was sold into the sex trade after being raped by her stepfather and nine other men. She was hit across the face and given electric shocks when she refused to have sex with clients. When she grew sleepy after working long hours, the pimp thrust chillies in her eyes.
Chantala and Avy are two among the thousands of young children who are being ruthlessly violated every day of their precious lives. Being treated worse than slaves for the luxuries of influential politicians, the children in Cambodia's brothels hope that the international humanitarian community will come to their rescue.
Note: Both Chantala and Avy are in the care of AFESIP.
Pierre Legros, the director of AFESIP expressed concern that though the activity at Svay Pak has decreased after the police raid by 90 percent, the trade has shifted temporarily to other regions within Cambodia. It is has not yet been driven out of the country. He feels that there is a dire need for a national strategy to combat child prostitution in Cambodia or else each raid will only result in a shift of trade from one place to another.
[This article is sourced from the Independent, UK]
APPEAL LETTER TO PRIME MINISTER HUE SEN
Write to Cambodian Prime Minister Hue Sen urging him to work towards a national plan to combat child prostitution and sex tourism in Cambodia.
Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen
Office of the Prime Minister
Khemarin Palace, Phnom Penh
Telephone: (+855 23) 725103; 722803; 722903
Facsimile: (+855 23) 725432
Dear Prime Minister Hue Sen,
Sub: 19,250 Children trapped in Cambodia's Sex Industry
I am writing to you to express my deep concern over the high number of children who are being forced into prostitution and the sex trade within Cambodia. a recent study by the UNICEF shows that there are currently at least 19,250 children involved in the sex industry which includes children as young as 6-years-old. The recent police raids in Svay Pak and the closing down of the brothels in this village is a commendable move by your government. However, this may only result in the shifting of trade locations unless all such prostitution houses are shut down and human traffickers and pimps prosecuted.
As a signatory of the UN Convention on Rights of the Child, I urge to adopt a national strategy to combat the growing number of children being trafficked into Cambodia for purposes of prostitution. Cambodia has today developed a reputation as a haven for pedophiles. I urge you to work towards erasing this reputation associated with Cambodia by developing a holistic, national policy that will effectively fight against this inhuman violation of children and allow them their childhood.
Posted on 2003-01-29