One of the Independence Monument "orange girls" peels her trade
THE LAST blushes of sunset have only just drained away from the skies behind the
Independence Monument, but already Davi is carefully staking out her patch of grass
in the park below.
A trio of leering teenagers on an embarrassingly undersized motor scooter cruise
past her, prompting a call that Davi will be making for the rest of the evening.
"Come sit down with me... Would you like to have an orange?" Davi says,
prompting a chorus of hoots and laughter from the boys.
Davi is just one of Independence Park's approximately 20 krouch chrorbach, or "orange
girls", young women who constitute a little-known corner of Phnom Penh's ubiquitous
Every evening Davi and the other young women serve a stream of overwhelmingly young
male patrons peeled oranges, small talk, and if requested and the price is right,
"I sell oranges ... and anything else they might want," Davi says candidly.
"That's what orange girls do... That's why men come here."
With thick layers of white-powder makeup on their faces, Davi and her fellow orange
girls wait for their customers on pieces of protective plastic, peeling oranges and
smiling coyly at the young men cruising past them on motorbikes.
"Some people just want to eat an orange and talk," says Charya. "Others
sit down and want to touch different parts of my body... but they have to pay for
At 500 riel an orange, however, the orange girls interviewed by the Post conceded
that the price of an orange entitled their customers to fondle them. Those customers
wanting sexual intercourse are expected to pay much more.
"We agree on a price and then we go to a nearby guest house," Charya said
of a typical encounter with her patrons, adding that on a good night she could sell
"between two or three dozen" oranges.
The road that leads these young women into prostitution in the shadow of the Independence
Monument is a reflection of the constant migration of rural dwellers seeking a better
life in the city.
"I was told I'd get a factory job here in Phnom Penh, but instead I was twice
sold to brothels," says Nita, who arrived from a farm in Prey Veng six months
Another woman, looking far younger than the 20 years she claims, says that high commissions
charged by "headhunters" for much-sought-after garment factory jobs forced
her to become a krouch chrorback. "It's not possible for a girl to get a 'normal'
job in this city," the Srey Veng native added bitterly.
Nita, who tonight is working opposite Davi, says her experience of working in brothels
made her choose the life of an orange girl.
"I want to be here rather than stay in the brothel because here we have more
freedom to choose who we go with and are not beaten [by brothel owners]."
The girl sitting next to Nita added "In the brothel they force us to have sex
with any client... Here we have the option to choose who we want to sleep with."
However, one woman, who refused to be identified, admitted that the "freedom"
of her work also exposed her to danger.
"I've been kidnapped by gangsters who forced me to have sex with them,"
the girl said quietly, holding her knife tightly in her hand. "They didn't use
According to Chanthol Oung, Executive Director of Cambodia Women Crisis Center (CWCC),
an ongoing, if sporadic, crackdown on brothels was feeding the development of increasing
numbers of "freelance" prostitutes such as the orange girls.
The result, Oung said, was to make prostitution "uncontrollable" as well
as encouraging the spread of AIDS among sex workers out of reach of traditional health
Dr Tea Phalla, Deputy Secretary General of the National AIDS Authority, described
the emergence of the krouch chrorback as part of a new trend of "non-brothel-based"
prostitution in Phnom Penh that included "restaurant dancing girls", "beer
girls" and "karaoke girls".
Phalla described the krouch chrorback as "unique" in the local sex industry.
"There aren't many of them, and their customers are primarily poor people or
young school boys."
Inspector Pol Phiethey of Khan Daun Penh police headquarters conceded that he had
registered the orange girls as a problem. He assured the Post that as with last month's
brief kite craze, a crackdown against the girls would be occurring in the near future.
A future, however, is what many of the orange girls have little conception of. "What
do I want to be doing a year from now? Davi mused. "I can't think that far ahead."