Tens of thousands of children in Cambodia are employed in the sex industry. About a third of sex workers in Cambodia are between the ages of 12 and 17. Many are sex slaves who given no money, just food and are threatened with guns f the escape. Many were sold into the trade by family members or lured away from their villages with false promises of good jobs. Some repeatedly have had their hymen stitched up so they can be passed off virgins.

These children are coerced into having sex and are exploited abused and put at great risk of contacting AIDS. According to a report by the World Tourism Organization, “Painful injuries, disfigurement, disease and social ostracism, often await those who are forced, lured and coerced into sexual relations...Violence, mistrust, and rejection can become norms, and the children may become dependent on their exploiters for emotional stability and support.”

The Los Angeles Times described one 15-year-old girl who was sold for $400 to a 50-year-old American tourist who wanted to spend four days with a virgin. After that she was forced to sleep with a 25-year-old Japanese man for $50 and then a Chinese man for $30, After spending a month in a rented flat with a Frenchman she went to work at a “club.” She eventually was freed by police and was given se assistance.

In the early 2000s the child sex industry operated quite openly in front of authorities, who did nothing about it and were paid quite well to do nothing. One Cambodian couple that set up a home to help rescued sex workers routinely received death threats, had their home firebombed and once were forced to flee for their lives to Laos.

Nicholas D. Kristof wrote in the New York Times, “On a reporting trip to Cambodia in 1996, I met a 15-year-old Cambodian girl who had been kidnapped off the street and imprisoned in a brothel. Her mother finally tracked her down, and they had a loving reunion in the brothel. But the pimp had paid good money for the girl and refused to give her up. The police protected the brothel, so the mother had to leave without her daughter. That girl, now probably dead of AIDS, haunts me still. [Source: Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, January 29, 2005]

Horror Stories of Children in the Sex Industry

A 14-year-old Cambodia girl told the Independent her first client was a Chinese man. “He wanted sex with me. I said no. He beat me until I was nearly unconscious, then tore my clothes off and raped me. Afterwards the boss of my brothel ordered me to have sex with many men. I said no. I don’t want to, he screamed at me and put a gun to my head.”

The girl told the iIndependent “I worked from 9am to until 3am. Sometimes I was sick and the boss cursed me and said I’d be a prostitute until I died because I owed him so much money. One day a man came and took me to a village outside Phnom Penh. When we got there, there were 10 men waiting for me. I had to have sex with all of them. I was taken to the same place many times again.”

One eight-year-old told the Independent she was sold int prostitution after having sex with her stepfather and nine other men. When she refused to have sex with clients she was given electric shocks. When she complained that she was too sleepy hot chilies were placed in her eyes.

Describing a sex workers rescued by Somaly Mam’s AFESIP, Mariane Pearl wrote in Glamour, “Somaly introduces me to Pouv, a 15-year-old former prostitute...Pouv begins to tell her story, in a low, broken voice. Somaly translates: “She says she was sold by her mother when she was seven. She gripped her mother’s ankles and begged her not to leave her with strangers.” The price for Pouv: the equivalent of $10. Somaly continues the tale. First Pouv was “fattened up and given treatments to whiten her skin,” a common beauty practice in Asia. Then she was sold to a man who chained her to a bed and raped her until she fainted. Angry, he returned her to the brothel, where she was punished by being held in a chicken cage; the pimps put chili peppers in her vagina and beat her. “She finally broke,” Somaly says. “For the next three years, she had up to 30 clients a day.”[Source: Mariane Pearl, Glamour, August 1, 2006 [Source: Mariane Pearl, Glamour, August 1, 2006]]

Children and the Sex Tourism in Cambodia

Guides often offer even ordinary tourists young girls. They are said be valued for both their youth and the fact they are too young to have contacted AIDS (you can have sex with them without having to wear a condom).

One study in the early 2000s found that 45 percent of travel agents had witnessed tour guides supply children to foreign tourists. More than 70 percent of the children in the Angkor Wat area said that had been approached by foreign tourists for sex.

Ground zero for child sex tourism in the early 2000s was Svay Pak, a shanty town 11 kilometers north of Phnom Penh. Men of all age came here to find young girls and boys to have sex with. Many of the 20 or so brothels in the town specialized in sex with children. Oral sex with a child costs $5. For $500 could can rent a six-year-old for an entire week.

Describing the scene at Svay Pak, Kathy Marks wrote in the Independent, “Several girls in skin-tight trousers and spaghetti-strap tops are dancing around a group of Japanese men, giggling and flirting, sitting on their knees. A waif in a pajama-like outfit whispers in the arm of a prospective punter, suggesting boom-boom (intercourse) or yum-yum (oral sex). ‘Very good, very nice,’ she promised, massaging his shoulder, then leans over and kisses him firmly on the mouth...The prostitutes look no older than 12 or 13, but there are younger models inside the brothels, where the girls are instructed to lift up their tops and skirts to show of their childish bodies.”

A Cambodian Girl’s Tragedy: Being Young and Pretty

Nicholas D. Kristof wrote in the New York Times, “Take a rutted dirt path in northwestern Cambodia to a hut between a rice paddy and a river, and meet a teenage girl named Noy Han. The girl, nicknamed Kahan, suffered the calamitous misfortune of being pretty. Kahan’s village is isolated, accessible most of the year only by boat. There is no school, so she never attended a day of class. [Source: Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, December 12, 2006 ++]

“One woman in the village, Khort Chan, had left as a girl and then reappeared years later. One day last year, when Kahan was 16 or 17 (ages are fuzzy here), she ate ice cream that Ms. Khort Chan gave her — and passed out. Ms. Khort Chan took the unconscious girl away in a boat and disappeared. Kahan’s parents sounded the alarm, and the police quickly found Kahan being held upriver in the hut of Ms. Khort Chan’s grandmother. “Chan was planning to traffic her to Pailin,” a brothel center near the Thai border, said Leang Chantha, the police officer who found her. ++

“Typically, a girl like Kahan would be imprisoned in a trafficker’s house, tied up and beaten if she resisted, inspected by a doctor to certify her virginity, and sold for hundreds of dollars to a Cambodian or Thai businessman. Virgins are in particular demand by men with AIDS because of a legend that they can be cured by having sex with a virgin. Afterward, Kahan would have been locked up in a brothel in Pailin, and sold for $10 a session for the first couple of months. The price eventually would drop to $1.50, and by then she would be given greater freedom. ++

“By being rescued, Kahan was spared all that — but she had suffered an overdose of the drugs. “Kahan seemed like a dead person,” said her mother, Sang Kha. “Her eyes were rolling, she was drooling.” Even weeks later, Kahan’s face remained partially paralyzed, she could not speak, and she was weak and sickly. Desperate to get medical treatment, Ms. Sang Kha borrowed $200 from usurious money lenders charging 20 percent per month, and the girl’s uncle mortgaged his home to help pay for treatment. ++

“But the family is now broke and heavily indebted, and Kahan still can only mumble. “I’m still very weak,” was all I could coax out of her. The police had released Ms. Khort Chan after two days, and I was unable to track her down. But neighbors at two of her former houses said she had fled after apparently trafficking her own sister. Some of the neighbors added a layer of complexity to her story: They believe that Ms. Khort Chan herself had been sold to a brothel as a young woman. She escaped or worked her way out, and then became a slave trader herself.” ++

Pedophilia and Foreign Men Arrested on Sex Charges in Cambodia

Cambodia is regarded as major hunting ground for pedophiles who take advantage of the country’s poverty and poor law enforcement to exploit children. Pedophiles reportedly prey on the large population of orphaned or poor children. In some cases pedophiles that formally operated in Thailand have moved on to Cambodia.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A survey conducted in 2000 by World Vision Cambodia, an NGO, found that about 19 percent of Cambodian children who acknowledged having sex with tourists for money said Japanese were among their customers. The Japanese made up the third largest tourist group among those the children said paid for sex with them, following French at 28 percent, and Chinese at 26 percent. Americans accounted for 12 percent, followed by Cambodians at 8 percent and Thai at 5 percent, according to the survey. [Source: Harumi Ozawa, Daily Yomiuri, September 24, 2005]

In March 1997, Cambodian authorities arrested a Frenchman named Hennion Amedee and accused him of having sex with up to 200 children. The arrest was intended to send a message to pedophiles to stay out of Cambodia. One of his victms, a 14-year-old boy, said he was paid 10,000 reils ($4) on two separate occasions to perform oral sex on him. More than 50 photographs of young boys were seized as evidence from the man’s apartment. Amedde faced a 20 year prison sentence.

In 2003, a 69-year-old British man was arrested with a naked 12-year-old girl at a brothel in the village of Svay Pak. He was found not guilty because the court found there was no firm evidence that he had sex with girl. According to one account the man was framed after the girl was pushed into room he was in and a photograph was taken of them together. One Englishman who was convicted in November 2000 and spent a year in jail for making pornographic videos with young girls in a park exploded during the trial when his sentence was read because he had paid the judge $2,000 for an acquittal.

In January 2005, a Cambodia court sentenced Olivier Frenoy, a French tourist, to 15 years in jail on charges related to having sex with two teenagers.

In May 2008, AFP reported: “An Australian man convicted and imprisoned in Cambodia in 2003 for raping underage girls has been found dead in his jail cell, a court official said. Former English teacher Bart Lauwaert, 41, was sentenced to 20 years for raping his nine maids, aged between 12 and 14, in Siem Reap province. "He died Saturday night," prosecutor Bou Bun Ham said. "He didn't commit suicide. We just found him dead on the floor." [Source: AFP, May 4, 2008]

Bou Bun Ham refused to give any further details on the cause of death, and said Lauwaert's body had been sent to the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh. Lauwaert had denied the rape charges, but in June 2006 lost an appeal against his sentence. The nine girls had recanted their original statements and said they had never been assaulted, but the appeal court upheld the sentence amid accusations that the victims had been pressured to change their stories.

Frenchman in Cambodia Gets 7 Years for Child Sex

In August 2013, Associated Press reported: “A Cambodian court sentenced a Frenchman with a history of allegations of child molestation to seven years in prison for paying for sex with minors. Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Jacques Philippe Albertini, 71, guilty of sexually molesting three boys and paying them up to $10 per encounter. The court ordered Albertini to pay 15 million riel ($3,750) in compensation to each of the boys, all aged 12 at the time they were abused. [Source: Associated Press, August 27, 2013]

Albertini has maintained his innocence, and his lawyer says they will appeal the decision. During his trial on Aug. 13, Albertini said he had given the boys money out of simple kindness. The child protection group Action Pour Les Enfants said Albertini has a record of alleged child molestation spanning 16 years and three countries. It said French authorities questioned Albertini in the 1990s about alleged sexual acts with minors, and he was charged in Thailand in 1999 and 2000 with abusing boys, but the charges were dropped.

Since coming to Cambodia in 2004, he was arrested twice previously on suspicion of child abuse, the group said, but avoided judgment when the children's families dropped their complaints in the first case and the court declared there was insufficient evidence in the second. He was arrested again in May 2012 after police received fresh complaints from families.

Gary Glitter in Cambodia

In December 2002, former glam rocker Gary Glitter, the former pop star who was imprisoned for downloading child pornography off the Internet, was discovered in Cambodia, living with a young Khmer girl and her mother. The British tabloids got a hold of the story. Glitter slipped into Vietnam to avoid being deported but quietly slipped back into Cambodia when the media attention died down.

Glitter—whose real name is Paul Francis Gadd—lived in Cambodia until 2002, before being permanently deported to Vietnam, due to suspected child sexual abuse although Cambodian officials did not specify any crime or file charges. From March 2005, Glitter resided in Vung Tàu, Vietnam.

In the 1970s, Glitter was a pop icon in Britain famed for his sequinned jump-suits, platform heels and bouffant wigs. Glitter had hits with "Leader of the Gang" and "Do You Wanna Touch" but is perhaps best known for his crowd-pleasing rock anthem "Rock and Roll (Parts 1&2)," which is still played at sporting events. His fall from grace began with a conviction in Britain in 1999 for possessing child pornography. He served half of a four-month jail term.

Cambodia: No Longer a Pedophile’s Haven

In recent years police and courts have increasingly cracked down on sex offenders. Dozens of foreigners have been jailed for child sex crimes or deported to face trial in their home countries since Cambodia launched an anti-paedophilia push in 2003, in a bid to shake off its reputation as a haven for sex predators.

In November 2010, Newsweek reported: “Cambodia’s pedophile saga has provided no shortage of headlines in recent months. A Russian investor convicted of buying sex with 17 girls as young as 6 years old had his prison sentence reduced from 17 years to eight, with a chance for early release. A Swede suspected of sexually abusing children was recorded on tape by Swedish journalists, bragging about how easy it would be to bribe his judge for a shortened sentence. And another Brit, who in 2005 went free despite overwhelming evidence that he molested children, is now back in court, having returned to Cambodia seemingly undeterred by the legal system. [Source: Newsweek, November 16, 2010 \/]

“But these ignominious developments are actually an improvement over years past. Rewind a decade, and disgraced British glam rocker Gary Glitter led a cast of foreign pedophiles whose presence in Cambodia made the impoverished Southeast Asian country infamous as a refuge for child-sex offenders. Those were days when children were openly sold for sex in Phnom Penh’s Svay Pak district and NGO raids on child brothels were invariably foiled by corrupt police on the take. Lax law enforcement and pervasive local demand for prostitution have long made Southeast Asia a destination for sex tourists of all stripes—and in Cambodia, in particular, the social, economic, and legal foundations that militate against the sexual exploitation of children were shattered by years of debilitating rule and civil strife. \/

“Today, the likes of Glitter no longer can break the law with impunity in Cambodia. Following pressure from local activists as well as the United States, Australia, and some European countries, Cambodia launched a campaign in 2003 to fight its reputation as a pedophile’s carefree playground. By most accounts, the effort has achieved results. Now, articles about arrests of North American and European nationals pepper the pages of the local press. The crackdown and accompanying PR campaign helped lift Cambodia from the gutter of the U.S. human-trafficking watchlist, making the donor-dependent country eligible for a greater variety of direct aid. \/

“For Western pedophiles, Cambodia is no longer a safe haven,” says Samleang Seila, the head of the local child-protection group Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE). The change is evidenced by a rising number of arrests for “debauchery” and “indecent acts,” which grew from just eight in 2003 to 36 last year, according to APLE. The organization tracks sex tourists, gathers evidence against them and hands their cases over to local police. That’s when things can easily unravel: inexperienced and under-resourced, Cambodia’s police and judiciary are prone to corruption and poor implementation of the law. But despite its shaky foundation, the legal system has made strides, says Joerg Langelotz, of APLE. Case in point: the same judge in the town of Siem Reap who a year and a half ago declined to deliberate on a child-molestation charge because the alleged abuse didn’t exceed fondling has now agreed to hear the case. “There is less complacency and more commitment,” says Langelotz. \/

“As policing improves, Western perpetrators are taking greater cover. In two different arrests involving British men in the past few months, the suspects had founded child-care NGOs that now appear to have been fronts for them to prey on children. Kao Thea, the head of Phnom Penh’s anti–human trafficking and juvenile-protection division, is confident his police officers can stay ahead of the curve. “Now we can stop sexual abuse of children from foreigners who come to Cambodia because we are much more experienced than we were before,” he says. That may be true, but rights groups say a greater scourge has been largely undeterred by the crackdown: a thriving child-sex market fueled by locals. \/

“Among the 141 arrests for “debauchery” and “indecent acts” in Cambodia since 2003, only 37 of the suspects were Cambodian and just 19 were men from other Asian countries, according to APLE. And yet, Western men represent only a minuscule fraction of the population in Cambodia that is sexually exploiting children. According to a report released last month by the juvenile-protection NGO, ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Abuse and Trafficking), the vast majority of former child sex workers say their clients were local men. It may not seem like much of a revelation given the disparity in numbers between Western and local men but, as ECPAT points out, the findings run contrary to “the usually held assumption that pedophilia is a Western problem.” \/

“Cambodian men prefer beautiful, fair-skinned, and younger-looking sex workers—basically minors,” Chin Chanveasna, head of ECPAT’s Cambodia office, told a conference attended by government and NGO officials in October, adding that sexual exploitation of children by locals is overlooked because of a single-minded focus on targeting Western men. Says Steve Morrish, executive director of SISHA, an NGO that investigates human trafficking: “A lot of the Cambodian men I speak with, they want the young ones and they don’t see it as anything to hide.” Moreover, in Cambodian culture, it is often the reputation of the victim, rather than of the perpetrator, that is blighted. According to a report on Cambodia by Amnesty International released earlier this year, girls who are sexually abused often become outcasts in their community, while convicted offenders face little stigma. \/

“Given the obstacles to changing such widely held attitudes, it’s not surprising the government has targeted Western men, whose crimes are more conspicuous. But, says, Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, “Western pedophiles are the low-hanging fruit. Now should come the climb up the tree to catch local sexual abusers of children.” \/

Cambodia’s King Pardons Russian Pedophile

in December 2011, RIA Novosti reported: “The King of Cambodia pardoned pedophile Alexander Trofimov, jailed for molesting 17 Cambodian girls aged between six and thirteen. Prison chiefs appealed for a royal pardon on the grounds that the businessman convicted in 2008 “was a reformed individual.” Before his conviction, Trofimov chaired Koh Pous, a large investment company based in Cambodia and was developing a $300-million “mega resort” near Sihanoukville. [Source: RIA Novosti, December 22, 2011]

“He was arrested during the search for another offender, Canadian pedophile Christopher Neil. Unlike Trofimov, Neil was paying to have sex with young boys. Photos of Neil having sex with children leaked online in 2004, but his face was blurred and it took three years for the police to identify the criminal. In the course of their investigation, the authorities discovered another serial pedophile operating in the country. In October 2007, Trofimov was arrested.

“Originally Trofimov was charged with abusing six children but later 13 more victims brought charges. The court found him guilty on 17 counts. Trofimov’s defense claimed he was a public figure and could not be accused simply because a young girl pointed her finger at him. In August 2010, the court slashed Trofimov’s term to eight years after he apologized to his victims and the people of Cambodia, and admitted his lack of understanding of local laws. He was quoted by the local media as saying: “In admitting my guilt, I want to beg forgiveness of the people of Cambodia and the families of my victims, and ask the court to give me a minimum penalty.”

“The victims and their attorneys were livid. Lawyers described the Russian pedophile as “a dangerous man who must not be released” as “he doesn’t just invest money in resorts, he also uses his money to pay for sex with children.” In 2011, in a stroke of luck, Trofimov was one of the 360 prisoners to receive the king’s pardon. According to the Sihanoukville prison chief, prison officials appealed for Trofimov to be amnestied because “he had reformed in his time behind bars.”

“Earlier, Russia requested the extradition of Stanislav Molodyakov (aka Alexander Trofimov) in connection with child abuse allegations in his home country but the Cambodian government rejected the request. Trofimov’s case has been the highest profile case in Cambodian history as it involved the largest number of underage victims molested by one person. The country is riddled with poverty and police corruption, and has long been known as “pedophile heaven.” Several years ago, the government of Cambodia decided to fight for a better image of the country and started a campaign against the child sex industry.

Japanese Men Arrested for Having Sex with Children in Cambodia.

In November 2010, Kyodo reported: “A 33-year-old Japanese man has been arrested on suspicion of purchasing sex with underage boys in Cambodia's northern province of Siem Reap, a provincial court official said Friday. Ty Sovannthal, chief prosecutor at the Siem Reap Provincial Court, told Kyodo News that he charged Nobuyuki Oi on Thursday with paying for sex with the two child prostitutes aged 15 and 16. He said Oi was arrested late Wednesday in Siem Reap after villagers reported seeing him having sex with the two boys. Ty Sovannthal said Oi admitted to paying the boys $10 each for sex. [Source: Kyodo. November 12, 2010]

If found guilty, Oi faces a jail term of between two and five years for abusing children, according to Cambodia's Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation. Oi, from Hyogo Prefecture in western Japan, entered Cambodia as a tourist on Nov. 5 and was due to stay in the country until Dec. 6.

In October 2010, Associated Press reported: “A Cambodian court sentenced a Japanese man to seven years in prison for repeatedly abusing a 13-year-old girl and paying her $10 each time. Atsushi Kato, 41, was convicted of paying a child for prostitution. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court also ordered him to pay 400,000 riel ($95) in compensation to the girl's family and to be deported after serving his sentence. [Source: Associated Press, October 12, 2010]

Kato, who is from Aichi prefecture in central Japan, was arrested in the capital in September when he visited his victim at a rehabilitation center after she was rescued from a brothel. The Japanese man confessed during testimony that he had had sexual relations with the girl about a half dozen times, each time paying her $10. "I thought the girl must be over 18 because she wore cutie makeup at night," Kato testified through his translator.

Efforts to Combat the Sexual Exploitation of Children

Cambodia has long been a magnet for foreign pedophiles because of poverty and poor law enforcement, but by the mid 2000s police and courts were increasingly targeteing sex offenders. Nicholas D. Kristof wrote in the New York Times, “On my first visit to Cambodia, brothels openly sold 11-year-old girls. Then, because of pressure from the State Department, Cambodia began prosecuting certain pimps (like those who do not pay enough in bribes to the police). So many brothels have calculated that they are safer peddling quasi-voluntary 16-year-olds than imprisoning 13-year-olds.[Source: Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, December 16, 2006]

The World Tourism Organization worked with the Cambodian government to try and ban children from hotels used by foreigners. As of 2000, 60 percent of hotels had no policies preventing foreign tourists from luring Cambodian children to their rooms. In the United States, there is a law enacted in 1994 that imposes heavy fines and imprisonment up to 10 years for anyone caught having sex with a minor overseas.

Harumi Ozawa wrote in the Japanese newspaper the Daily Yomiuri, “"With respect to our children," reads the Cambodian leaflet in five languages, "child abuse ruins a child's life and it will ruin your life, too." The leaflet, printed in English, French, Chinese, Khmer and Japanese, was distributed earlier this year to hotels, guesthouses and travel agencies throughout Cambodia. The leaflet is part of the Cambodian government's campaign against child sex tourism, which it is conducting jointly with foreign nongovernmental organizations and public entities. Japan was represented by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. [Source: Harumi Ozawa, Daily Yomiuri, September 24, 2005]

Leaving the Brothel Behind

Reporting from Battambang, Cambodia, Nicholas D. Kristof wrote in the New York Times, “A year ago, a pimp handed me a quivering teenage girl. Her name was Srey Neth, and she was one of the hundreds of thousands of teenagers who are enslaved by the sex trafficking industry worldwide. Then I did something dreadfully unjournalistic: I bought her. I purchased Srey Neth for $150 and another teenager, Srey Mom, for $203, receiving receipts from the brothel owners. As readers may remember, I then freed the girls and took them back to their villages. Now I've come back to find out how they coped with freedom. [Source: Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, January 19, 2005 ~]

“At first, it turns out, everything went well for Srey Neth. Our plan was for her to start a shop in her village, near Battambang. She invested $100 I had given her to build a shack and stock it with food and clothing. For a few months, business boomed. The problem was her family. Srey Neth's parents and older brothers and sisters had a hard time understanding why they should go hungry when their sister had a store full of food. And her little nephews and nieces, running around the yard, helped themselves when she wasn't looking. "Srey Neth got mad," her mother recalled. "She said we had to stay away, or everything would be gone. She said she had to have money to buy new things." ~

“But in a Cambodian village, nobody listens to an uneducated teenage girl. Indeed, the low status of girls is the underlying reason why so many daughters are sold to the brothels. So by May, Srey Neth's shop was empty, and she had no money to restock it. "It was our fault," her father told me, looking ashamed. "It was not Srey Neth's fault." Srey Neth worried about her father, who was coughing up blood from tuberculosis. She also worried about her older brother, who could not afford to get married, and about the family debts, which could cost her family its land. It was that kind of concern for her family that had led her, at the suggestion of a female cousin, to sell herself to the brothel in late 2003 and send the proceeds home. ~

“This time, she thought about looking for work as a dishwasher in neighboring Thailand for $1.50 a day. A trafficker said he could smuggle her into Thailand and get her a dishwashing job, but only if she promised him $100. Fortunately, I'd arranged for American Assistance for Cambodia (, an aid group, to keep track of Srey Neth. It offered her something less risky: a move to Phnom Penh to learn to be a beautician. So, with money sent to the group by New York Times readers a year ago, Srey Neth started in the beauty school. ~

“That's where I met her again. She was beaming, and she proudly told how she had learned to give manicures and haircuts. She placed third in her class in applying makeup, and she's even studying English. She bubbles with happiness in the way a teenager should. "I'm happy with Srey Neth," said the beauty school's owner, Sapor Rendall. "She studies hard." Ms. Rendall added that there was only one problem with Srey Neth: "She doesn't want to do massage. ... I've talked to her about it many times, but she's very reluctant." Massages are routine in beauty shops in Cambodia and are not sexual, but for Srey Neth, they scream danger. I'm delighted. ~

“Srey Neth cut my hair - I was her first paying customer - and she is excitedly talking about starting her own beauty shop so she can support her family again. She says she'll call it Nick and Bernie's, after me and Bernard Krisher, the chairman of American Assistance for Cambodia. Today Srey Neth steers clear of the boys trying to flirt with her - she's still deeply distrustful of boys and men - but she has learned to laugh again. She is a happy, giggly, self-confident reminder that we should never give up on the slaves of the 21st century. I couldn't be more proud of her. ~

Rescued from a Cambodian Brothel Only to Return

Nicholas D. Kristof wrote in the New York Times, “After I purchased Srey Mom from her brothel for $203 a year ago and brought her back to her village, the joy was overwhelming. Her parents and siblings had assumed she was dead, and they shrieked and hugged and cried....So I'm devastated to say that a year later, I found Srey Mom back here in the wild town of Poipet, in her old brothel. She's devastated, too - when she spotted me, she ran away to her room in the back of the brothel until she could compose herself. [Source: Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, January 22, 2005 /]

"I never lie to people, but I lied to you," she said forlornly. "I said I would not come back, and I did. I didn't want to return, but I did." Yet, sadly, such an experience is common. Aid groups find it unnerving that they liberate teenagers from the bleak back rooms of a brothel, take them to a nice shelter - and then at night the kids sometimes climb over the walls and run back to the brothel. It would be a tidier world if slaves always sought freedom. But prostitutes often are shattered and stigmatized, and sometimes they feel that the only place they can hold their head high is in the brothel. /\

“Srey Mom, too, has zero self-esteem, but in her case no one in her village knew her background, and she was clear of debts. The central problem, as best I can piece together the situation, is that she was addicted to methamphetamines, and that craving destroyed her will power, sending her fleeing back to the brothel so that she could get her drugs. Over the last year, an aid group looking after Srey Mom, American Assistance for Cambodia, gave her several more chances, once bringing her to Phnom Penh to enroll in school to become a hair dresser. But each time, Srey Mom fled back to drugs and the brothel. /\

"Ninety-five percent of the girls take drugs," Srey Mom told me. Some girls inject morphine, but brothel owners worry that needle holes make girls look unsightly, so methamphetamine pills are most common. Some brothel owners welcome addiction, because it makes the girls dependent upon them. But Srey Mom said that is not true of her brothel owner, Heok Tem, whom she calls "Mother." /\

"Mother doesn't want us to use drugs," Srey Mom said. She has an eerily close relationship with Mrs. Heok Tem, and these days that emotional bond keeps her in the brothel as much as do her debts. Mrs. Heok Tem seems to feel genuine affection for Srey Mom and truly helped in the effort to get Srey Mom to start a new life, but she also cheats Srey Mom ruthlessly - I examined the brothel's account books - and rakes in cash by pimping the girl, which exposes her to AIDS. "It's wrong," Mrs. Heok Tem admitted. But for now, she says, she needs the money. /\

“Srey Mom still says her dream is to start life over in her village. "I want to go away," she said. "I don't want to stay here long. I'm not happy here. ... I will just look after my younger sisters. I'm already bad, and I don't want them to become bad like me."I don't believe it will ever happen. I hate to write anyone off, but I'm afraid that Srey Mom will remain in the brothel until she is dying of AIDS (36 percent of girls in local brothels have H.I.V., and eventually it catches up with almost all of them). I finally dared tell her my fear. I described some young women I had just seen, gaunt and groaning, dying of AIDS in Poipet, and I told her I feared she would end up the same way. /\

"I'm afraid of that, too," she replied, her voice breaking. "This is an unhappy life. I don't want to do this." Maybe that's what I find saddest about Srey Mom: She is a wonderful, good-hearted girl who gives money to beggars, who offers Buddhist prayers for redemption - but who is already so broken that she seems unable to escape a world that she hates and knows is killing her. /\

Locking Up the Pimps: a Solution to Cambodia Child Prostitution Problem

Reporting from Poipet,Cambodia, Nicholas D. Kristof wrote in the New York Times, “I climbed to the top floor of the Phnom Pich Guesthouse (past the sign asking guests not to bring in their machine guns or hand grenades) and found the room that used to be Srey Neth's world. But now the entire floor is empty. It turned out that the police had raided the guesthouse and arrested Srey Neth's pimp. So now the local sex traffickers are more careful about peddling virgins. There's a lesson there. In the long run the best way to address the problem is to educate girls and raise their status in society. But a law-enforcement model - sending traffickers to prison - is also very effective in reducing the worst forms of sex slavery. [Source: Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, January 29, 2005]

"It's pretty doable," said Gary Haugen, who runs International Justice Mission, a Washington-based organization that does terrific work in battling sex trafficking. "You don't have to arrest everybody. You just have to get enough that it sends a ripple effect and changes the calculations." He added wryly that his aim is to "drive traffickers of virgin village girls to fence stolen radios instead."

With that aim in mind, the West should pressure nations like Cambodia to adopt a two-part strategy. First, such nations must crack down on the worst forms of flesh-peddling. Second, they must crack down on corrupt police officers who protect the slave traders. Here in Poipet, local people whispered to me that one brothel kept terrified young virgin girls locked up in the back, awaiting sale. So I marched in the brothel's back entrance and looked around.

As it happened, this brothel was undergoing an expansion, which will make it the biggest in town, and the back rooms were all undergoing renovation and empty. But then the owner rushed in - and introduced himself as a senior police official. I asked him if he imprisoned young girls in his brothel, and he replied: "That's impossible, because I work in the police criminal division, and so I clearly know the law."

Two girls, age 4 and 6, were being quietly offered for sale in Poipet earlier this month. That kind of child abuse can be defeated, as has been shown in the Cambodian hamlet of Svay Pak, which specialized in pedophilia. When I first visited it, 6-year-olds were served up for $3 a session, but after foreign pressure, those brothels are now shuttered.

Getting countries like Cambodia to confront the sale of children is easier than one may think. I'm generally very suspicious of economic sanctions, but the U.S. State Department's office on trafficking has used the threat of sanctions very effectively to get foreign governments to take steps against trafficking (such as the closing of the pedophilia brothels at Svay Pak). But it shouldn't be just one lonely office in the State Department demanding crackdowns. Where's everybody else?

'Cambodia's Child Prostitution Can Be Ended'

Kumi Matsumaru wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “It was in 2003 that Sayaka Murata learned the true cruelty of child prostitution in Cambodia and decided to devote her life to eradicating it. On June 12, Murata published a book summarizing her efforts to solve that problem as well as human trafficking through the Kamonohashi Project, a nonprofit organization she established. [Source: Kumi Matsumaru , Daily Yomiuri, June 19, 2009]

"In 2003, there were reports of between 8,000 and 15,000 children being forced into prostitution in Cambodia. But it remains difficult to get a hold on the actual numbers," said Murata. On a trip to Cambodia in 2003, Murata met a 6-year-old girl at an orphanage for children rescued from prostitution. The girl had been working in the sex industry until six months ago. "I was disgusted that such a small girl was sold for work in the sex industry. I was told that these young children were used for oral sex, and that they are always in high demand.

"She and her 10-year-old sister were forced to work, being subjected to electric shocks to make them obedient. What they were put through — physically and emotionally — goes beyond mere cruelty," Murata said. All of the nearly 40 children sheltered at the care center suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and were unable to express themselves for a time after being brought there. "The caregivers explained to me that their therapy begins with them being taught that they're allowed to cry."

In the area of local commerce, Kamonohashi operates a factory in the Sout Nikom district of Siem Reap Province. There, villagers learn to make and sell their handicrafts, mainly for the domestic market. The income helps to stabilize their situations, making them less likely to sell their children or women because of poverty. "I'm happy to say that the factory has helped to change some of their lives," Murata said. "Some parents have been able to send their children to school, while the workers cultivate their own self-esteem."

Kamonohashi gets most of its income through its IT endeavors, including Web sites for Japanese companies. This side of the business brought in 56 million yen in fiscal 2007, up 40 percent over the previous year. Kamonohashi also offers memberships at 1,000 yen a month. With their membership fee, supporters receive updates about Kamonohashi's community factories and other information about Cambodia, while the monthly dues are used to fund the group's activities.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

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