CAMBODIAN children face an increased risk of abuse by Australian pedophiles due to
the cancellation of a specialized Australian police operation, according to an Australian
child protection organization.
The Australian office of End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT) says the
decision in October of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to disband Operation Morocco,
which investigated Australians suspected of committing child-sex crimes abroad, would
result in increasing numbers of Cambodian children being victimized by Australian
pedophiles each year.
"There are many Australian pedophiles who travel to Cambodia to take advantage
of the poverty and vulnerability of the children ... [and] Cambodia is high on the
list of destinations for Australian child sex tourists," said Bernadette McMenamin,
National Director of ECPAT Australia.
"Without a dedicated policing squad who monitors these offenders, I'm afraid
more and more Cambodian children will be victims of Australian pedophiles."
Operation Morocco investigators were instrumental in the 1996 arrest and prosecution
of John Holloway, former Australian Special Envoy to Cambodia. Holloway was later
acquitted due to questions about the reliability of evidence of two Cambodian child
Australian Embassy officials in Phnom Penh denied suggestions that the disbanding
of Operation Morocco was a reversal of Australia's commitment to combating child
"The Australian government is still committed to stopping child-sex tourism,"
Australian Ambassador Louise Hand told the Post.
Hand speculated that the disbanding of Operation Morocco was a matter of a "reallocation
of funding" within the AFP rather than a funding cut.
"The Australian government shall continue to combat child sex tourism,"
Hand said, adding that Australia is "one of the few countries in the world"
to enact an extraterritoriality law that allows the prosecution of Australians suspected
of committing child-sex offenses abroad.
Reaction to the news of the disbanding of Operation Morocco in Cambodia was mixed.
The Minister of Women's and Veteran's Affairs, Mu Sochua, expressed concern that
the program's cessation would harm efforts to control the trafficking of women and
children in the region.
"I'm very disappointed that the government of Australia, which I perceive as
very supportive of the rights of women and children, has done this," Sochua
said. "For Cambodia, it's very disappointing in the context of Australia play[ing]
a powerful role in assisting governments, civil society and NGOs in combating the
trafficking of women and children. By pulling out [of Operation Morocco], it hurts
the whole region."
Yim Po, Executive Director of the Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children's
Rights (CCPCR), said the relatively minor role played by Australians in child-sex
crimes in Cambodia lessened the impact of the cancellation of the Australian initiative.
"There are not an excessive number of child sex crimes committed by Australians
in Cambodia," Po said. "Australians are around number four on the list
of foreign child-sex offenders, behind the Chinese, Japanese, British and Germans."