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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Keeler's conviction seen as 'only first step'

Keeler's conviction seen as 'only first step'

keeler.jpg
keeler.jpg

John Keeler in his prison cell ... "I'm not going to eat until I die".

THE conviction and sentencing of British citizen John Keeler on debauchery charges

has been hailed as a major step forward in destroying Cambodia's image as a haven

for sexual exploitation.

But both government ministries and NGOs working to protect women and children from

sexual exploitation and trafficking are adamant that far more remains to be done.

Keeler, 55, a former director of the London School of English in Phnom Penh, was

sentenced to three years' jail on Monday, after he admitted making pornographic videos

of four young girls on August 26.

Mu Sochua, Minister of Women's and Veterans Affairs, said the case signaled the Cambodian

Government's determination to stamp out child sex crimes.

"I think this prosecution shows that no matter who you are, what your nationality

is, or what position of authority you hold, if you commit a crime like this you will

have to face the consequences."

She said the exploitation and trafficking of women and children was a cross-border,

multimillion-dollar industry. To deal with the problem, the Government is focusing

on strengthening legal protection for victims, and providing information on the dangers

of trafficking as a means of prevention.

Sochua has also authorized the creation of a controversial visa "blacklist"

of foreign child-sex suspects, regardless of whether they have ever been convicted

of such crimes.

"Seventy-five per cent of the women and children who become exploited and get

involved in trafficking are tricked into it," she said.

Despite the successful prosecution, Mu Sochua admitted she was confused by the punishment

handed down. Under Cambodian law, the charge of debauchery with a minor carries a

jail term of between 10 and 20 years. Keeler has been sentenced to three years in

prison, ordered to pay compensation of $1.5 million riels ($385), and is banned from

returning to Cambodia.

"I am satisfied with the process, but I am a little puzzled by the short sentence,"

she said.

NGOs spoken to by the Post were cautious in their appraisal of the effect of the

trial.

Sebastien Marot, Coordinator for Mith Samlanh/Friends, described Keeler as "the

tip of a very big iceberg".

"This case is only one out of many that are never investigated or brought to

trial," Marot said.

He said that although foreign nationals were usually portrayed as the main perpetrators

of sex crimes against Khmer women and children, the problem was widespread in Cambodian

society.

Marot said he did not expect any major improvement in the short term, but remained

optimistic. "At least people are talking about it now," he said.

Andreas Lind, coordinator of the Prevention of Trafficking of Women and Children

in Cambodia programme, said Keeler's prosecution would help to raise public awareness,

but that this case was just the beginning.

"Our next step is to gather information about cases of exploitation and violence

against women," he said. "We need to show the public and the decision-makers

that this is a real problem," he said.

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