Female students can easily get involved in the sex industry in Cambodia. According to recent reports, a lot of them end up being exploited by madams or run brothels themselves.
Last month, a female student, 23, was arrested for trafficking women: she sold two other female students, a 16 year-old and a 25-year old at a guest house near Neak Krovoin Pagoda for between $100 and $300, according to Khos Santepheap Daily Newspaper.
A small group of female students are working as prostitutes in Phnom Penh to fund their lifestyles, Keo Thea, head of anti-human trafficking and child protection in the city, says.
Srey Leak, 20, a high school student in Phnom Penh, is one of them.
She gets $500 as well as gifts like mobile phones, when she sells her body to wealthy men.
She has been doing it since 2010, when a close friend introduced her to an old man who she had sex with.
“I don’t know whether my friend took an advance payment for the old man or not. If she did, I’m glad to hear it, because she introduced me to a good guy who has a lot of money. Working as a prostitute is also a good way to earn money! It is not an issue,” she said.
Another 19-year-old female student, who studies at a high school near to Sorya Supermarket, described how she and three friends work at bars part-time to earn money and sometimes sleep with the customers. They also use drugs together.
“We always go to nightclubs, or work part time at bars. We sit with guests in order to get tips. Sometime, we have sex with our guests for money,” she says. “Don’t follow me,” she added, warning others not to follow her example.
Poverty and entrapment are the main factors that lead young women into prostitution, according to Keo Tha, who works at the Committee of Education for Women’s Networking.
“If young women realize someone is trying to traffic them, they should urgently contact the authorities or their family.”
Keo Thea adds that although working as a prostitute is not illegal, working as a madam or buying child prostitutes is a criminal offense punishable with a prison sentence.
Although an anti-trafficking law was introduced in 2008, much of the crime has now been pushed underground and takes place in massage parlours and karaoke bars.
“We have arrested more than 50 human trafficking cases and sent them to court,” said Ben Roth, a commissioner for Phnom Penh military police, adding that young sex workers who are arrested are usually around 14 or 15 years old
It’s an “abysmally low" number, says Pung Chhiv Kek, director of Licadho – a major anti-trafficking NGO.
“We know of approximately 60 low level arrests related to trafficking last year.” she said.
“A major area of concern is the almost complete lack of prosecution by Cambodia’s courts for trafficking offenses. Without credible investigations and prosecution of the highest levels of trafficking networks, very little progress can be made to combat trafficking.”
Ben Roth claims that the government has tried to strengthen the law and make anti-trafficking laws that protect children.
The Ministry of Youth, Education and Sport attempts to raise awareness about human trafficking and aims to offer peer-to-peer education in every school.
“In order to combat human trafficking, it is required full participation from government, youths, parents, and NGOs,” he says.
“Parents must be careful with their children, and in case they suspect they are involve or practicing prostitution they should urgently inform the police or authority and educate them.”