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Hotels to fight child sex abuse

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A sign posted outside a boutique hotel in Phnom Penh warns customers that the establishment is not open to sex tourists. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

HOTELS and guesthouses that do not take action to report child sex abuse in their establishments will face closure, government officials warned yesterday.

Hor Sarun, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Tourism and chairman of the Child Safe Tourism Committee, told hotel representatives from Phnom Penh and other tourist hotspots such as Siem Reap and Sihanoukville that they were the first line of defence against child sex abuse.

“We are training hotel staff to report child sexual harassment to the police, because otherwise their hotels will be closed,” Sarun said.

He said that hotel staff should report sightings of warning signs, such as adults – particularly foreigners – taking children into their rooms.

Hotels also ought to keep tighter records of children’s and adults’ entry and exit of their premises and ask to see ID cards, he said.

The influx of two million international tourists to Cambodia in the year’s first 10 months – a 23.7 per cent increase from the same period last year – coincided with 103 reports of tourists suspected of having sex with children, Sarun said.

He added that the government is working on stricter sex tourism laws, but for now is focusing on educating hotel staff.

“In Phnom Penh, there are hundreds of hotels and thousands of rooms,” said Touch Sarum, deputy governor of Phnom Penh. “So it is up to hotels to report child sex abuse.”

Chin Chanveasna, executive director of NGO End Child Prostitution, Abuse and Trafficking in Cambodia (ECPAT), said that it was in businesses’ interest to report such incidents, which otherwise could undermine their reputations and their large material investments.  

ECPAT has trained staff in over 121 hotels to detect and report child sex abuse, he said.

Grace Basion, manager of Phnom Penh’s Pavilion Hotel, said that whether it was fair to close hotels that are the site of child sex abuse depended on those establishments’ management, but noted that the Pavilion was already taking precautions, including checking ID cards when visitors looked like they might be underage.

The Hotel Association of Cambodia’s president, Lou Meng, said that yesterday’s was not the first government appeal for hotels to buckle down on child sex abuse, and urged government co-operation.

Since 2007, 798 suspects of child sex abuse have been arrested and 322 prosecuted, according to the Anti-Human Trafficking department.

ECPAT recommends that the Cambodian government close gaps in bringing offenders to justice by, for example, cracking down on their ability to use hush money.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JUSTINE DRENNAN

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