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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Officials turn blind eye to child trafficking

Officials turn blind eye to child trafficking

HUMAN rights groups and individual police officers are noticing an increase in child

trafficking and prostitution and a lack of enthusiasm by the authorities to address

the problem.

The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) and

Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) told the Post that trafficking

in children for sexual purposes is booming, because of the lack of law enforcement

and the culture of impunity.

LICADHO and ADHOC said that there were people in the police, judiciary and military

making substantial profits from the trade, which is regularly supplied with children

from financially desperate parents.

As an example, a brothel visited by the Post offered virgin girls for $600 for a

week's use. The owner assured the Post that full discretion was assured and that

there would be no problem with the authorities because the owner's father was the

district police chief.

Dr Kek Galabru, the President of LICADHO, said that though safeguards for children

were built into Cambodia's constitution, in practice, abused children were being

ignored by the legal system and stigmatized by society.

She said some very important first steps have already been taken by the Government,

but they cannot be carried forward in the absence of the authorities refusal to recognize

a child's right to protection under the law.

She said the authorities are still giving protection to traffickers and that brothels

were often owned by Government officials.

"We know of cases of human trafficking in which NGOs have provided information

to the authorities in order to take action against the traffickers, but the authorities

ignored the cases," said Galabru.

A police official from the Ministry of Interior acknowledged that the trafficking

in children for sexual purposes is a serious problem and said little was being done

to stop it.

"No specific department in the Ministry of Interior is working on the issue

of human trafficking, and it's terrible situation," said the official.

He said that the National Police Director, Hok Lundy, planned to establish a new

department against sexual exploitation of children.

The new department will be created by next month and once it is operational they

will try and gauge the size of the problem.

"Now, the police in each commune or district are responsible for fighting against

traffickers by themselves, therefore the Ministry of Interior has no statistics about

the situation," said the official.

Lim Mony, the Head of the Women Section of ADHOC, said part of the problem was the

attitude of Cambodian parents to the physical wellbeing of their children. She said

that in Cambodian culture, people do not regard violence as necessarily a bad thing,

and often punish children by beating them. She said violence was often linked to

the stresses brought on by poverty, debt, lack of family support, marital breakup

and unemployment.

She said around half the number of children involved in child prostitution were sold

by family members, others were provided by brokers.

There has, she said, been a noticeable drop, albeit anecdotal, in the starting age

of prostitutes, with pre-teen sex workers becoming more common.

However the lack of research meant little is known about the extent of the problem

and often what little research has been done is contradictory. An ADHOC investigation

yielded 87 reported cases of trafficking in nine provinces in 1999. But at the same

time other NGOs put the number of child prostitutes at more than 2,000 nationwide.

Sun Vanna, chief of the bureau for prevention of trafficking from the Ministry of

Women and Veteran's Affairs, said the exact number of sexually exploited children

is hard to discover due to the clandestine nature of the industry.

Vanna said there were no updated, accurate statistics on the number of women and

children who are trafficked, from where, and to what destinations.

She quoted studies by the Human Rights Commission in 1996-1997 which estimated nearly

15,000 women were involved in the sex industry - 81 per cent Khmer, 18 per cent Vietnamese

and one per cent from other countries.

A survey by the UNDP in 1994 of five provinces had a total of 13,000 female sex workers,

of which 7,000 were Vietnamese. But little was known about the age of the women.

The only conclusion Vanna said she could make from the information available was

that the problem was getting worse.

"I found that the situation of human trafficking has been increasing from year

to year since 1993," she said.

Mony said that not only was trafficking in Cambodian children for sexual purposes

getting worse locally, it had now become an international business, with children

being sent to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan.

According to LICADHO and ADHOC, the sexual exploitation of children recognizes no

borders. Although the problem is widely discussed internationally, especially around

the tourist trade, more information and monitoring is needed, as is increased co-operation

between national police and border officials.

Meanwhile there is still a steady source of children, with parents either selling

their children through desperation or often because they were duped into believing

the children were going to work as maids or be adopted.

Galabru said the current price of a child was US$100-to-$200 in rural areas and $500-to-$700

in Phnom Penh.

Mony and Dr Galabru said the results of a childhood spent in the sex trade were profound.

Those who survive the physical injuries and manage to avoid diseases such as HIV

are left social and emotional cripples.

Mony said the problem was nationwide, though large population centers such as Phnom

Penh and Sihanoukville or border areas have the greatest number of child sex workers.

Mony and Galabru said the issue of child prostitution is complex: lack of education

and job opportunities, family breakup, and the regional economic crisis all have

an impact. The threat of HIV/AIDS makes virgins attractive prey, hence increasing

the demand for young sex workers. But the single biggest problem was a lack of will

to stop the trade.

"Weak law enforcement gives leeway for brothel owners and those trading in human

beings," said Galabru.



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