C OMMUNITY leaders have urged the government to pass child protection laws and implement a UN rights convention to impede both foreigners and locals exploitation of children.
Unicef Project Officer Margaret De Monchy said that many foreigners and locals had taken advantage of the lawlessness in the country to seek young virgin girls [under 18] to have sex with to avoid catching Aids.
She said: "First of all the government has to establish the laws to charge people who violate the rights of the children....
"I think the government could not [completely] stop child abuse, child exploitation or paedophilia, but they can reduce or stop it growing."
She said there were many sorts of child abuse problems in the country and so far the government had done nothing to protect children because they did not have the laws to do so.
Princess Marie Ranariddh said children have to be respected according to the UN convention on the rights of the child to which Cambodia is a signatory.
The prime minister's wife made her comments at the opening of workshop, held at the Cambod-iana Hotel on Sept 15, to discuss implementation of the convention and the situation of childrens' rights in Cambodia.
During the workshop several children shared their bitter life experiences with the audience.
A 15-year-old girl described how her father had a second wife and her mother sold her to a Phnom Penh restaurant owner for $500.
She said her mother had not wanted to do this but was forced into it because of severe debt problems after the family house had been burnt down a few months earlier.
She said the restaurant owner subsequently sold her, without her knowledge and while she was still a virgin, for $200 to a policeman working at T3.
She said the policeman then forced her to have sex and subsequently returned her to the restaurant refusing to pay the agreed fee of $200, claiming she was not a virgin.
The girl said there were four or five young girls who are still working as prostitutes in the restaurant.
She said some of the girls working in restaurants were sold by their parents and others were kidnapped and subsequently sold without their parent's knowledge.
She added: "The restaurant owners want to keep the young girls because they can earn a lot of money from them."
The workshop discussed several issues including child prostitution and trafficking, exploitation, children with disabilities, adoption, education and development.
The discussion also compared the current child rights situation in Cambodia with the experiences of other regional countries such as India, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The former Supreme National Council of Cambodia, the government during the Untac transitional period, signed the UN Convention on the rights of the child in 1992.
Cambodia is required to make a report to the UN about the implementation of the convention by the end of this year, according to De Monchy.
The Unicef officer said her organization had begun cooperating with the government with the drafting of laws and finding ways to prosecute child abusers.
Princess Marie said that some people had said the implementation of the UN convention was very difficult in a poor country such as Cambodia.
But she added that it was a big task that lay before the government to improve the rights of the country's children.