"CAMBODIA - the New Frontier". The catchphrase, cited from an Australian
pedophiles' newsletter, provides a graphic example of how Cambodia's destitute,
vulnerable children are viewed by some foreigners.
As child prostitution
in places like Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Philippines comes under increasing
scrutiny, pedophiles are believed to be turning to easier targets such as
An abundance of poor, often homeless children, cheap
accommodation and a weak police and judicial system make the country ideal for
"We suspect people are coming here because of crackdowns in other
Asian countries," says Tony Culnane of a World Vision street kid center near the
"It's only speculation, but it sounds reasonable and
Culnane and other NGO workers report a steady increase in the
number of pedophiles on Phnom Penh streets in the past few years.
are 10-12 pick-up places, well-known to child prostitutes and those looking for
them, where soliciting sex is done with surprising openness.
blatant here," says Culnane. "If that blatancy gets known, that it's easy to do
this here, it encourages more people to come here to do it."
a sophisticated network of pedophiles, exchanging information on how and where
to get sex with children, has developed in Cambodia is something NGOs are
"Child welfare groups in other countries like the
Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka say there are networks of pedophiles there.
Is there a network of people here? We don't know yet," says Culnane.
is known is that international pedophilia has grown increasingly organized.
Pedophiles form groups, such as the United States' BLAZE - Boy Lovers and
Zucchini Eaters - and exchange magazines, newsletters and
The Internet computer system is reported to be their latest
method of communication, operating under code names often beginning with the
letters BL (Boy Lovers).
In Cambodia, pedophiles appear to have no
problem finding where to go to satisfy their appetite for children. Certain
guest-houses, hotels, nightclubs and public places such as parks are the points
"To begin with, a pedophile goes out to find the kids at
certain places, but once he becomes known the kids wait outside his house or
hotel," says one NGO worker.
Many of the victims are homeless. Thousands
of kids live on Phnom Penh streets; many are believed to have sold themselves
for sex at some time.
"Almost all the boys, especially the older ones,
have slept with pedophiles", says one worker, who will not be named for fear of
jeopardizing his work.
Those who are entrenched in the sex trade, relying
on it for a living, are far fewer - but still more than 100.
"quite well" off the proceeds of their work and, surprisingly, not all were poor
to begin with.
Street kid prostitutes from "middle-class" backgrounds are
not uncommon, and do well. Chances are they have a smattering of conversational
English and are more outgoing than their poorer peers.
They may be simply
rebellious or feel unable to live at home because of family disputes -
step-mothers who refuse to accept their step-children are said to be one cause
of kids taking to the streets.
But poverty, homelessness and domestic
abuse are still the key paths to prostitution. The majority of those who fall
into the trap in Phnom Penh come from the provinces; some are
They may have chosen to come to the capital to earn money, or
been sent by their families.
"The children are sometimes encouraged to
make money and their families may or may not know about how they do it," says
For each sexual encounter, the children are paid anything
from 3000-10,000 riels, though it's more likely to be at the lower end of the
"Five thousand riels is good, plus whatever they can steal from
the foreigners," he says.
For those kids "lucky" enough to get taken to
live with a pedophile, there is also a roof over their heads, food and
In some cases, the children have family approval.
parents tend to think of the foreigners as nice people who adopt their children,
who look after them. They think they sleep with them only as fathers - they
don't know their child is doing fellatio or whatever."
Culnane says NGOs
have reported that streetkids are living with pedophiles but "we don't know
whether it's 100 or 10".
He says NGOs' observations show most street kids
involved in the sex trade are boys, though there are some girls, and that their
customers include Khmers as well as foreigners.
Condoms are not an issue
- the vast majority of pedophiles simply don't use them and the kids, even if
wise to the danger of Aids, are in no position to insist.
There is no
HIV/Aids testing of street kids. Some have been diagnosed with other
sexually-transmitted diseases and Culnane says it's "a matter of time" until
Aids hits the street kid population.
NGOs workers fear the repercussions.
They say that, as well as their customers, child prostitutes sleep with each
other - sex may be the only way they know to express affection - and the
potential for the spread of HIV is huge.
Whether it be boys selling
themselves on the streets or the more organized trafficking of girls to
brothels, children look set to continue to become increasing casualties of the
Pedophilia is just part of the wider prostitution business
undergoing a resurgence since the early 1990s, after the oppressive Khmer Rouge
and later communist rule.
"Many attribute the explosive growth of
prostitution and sex trafficking in Cambodia to the influx of more than 20,000
UNTAC personnel," according to a Human Rights Task Force report presented at a
In 1991, as the Peace Accords which led to the UNTAC
election period, Phnom Penh was estimated to have 6000 prostitutes. A year
later, the number had risen to more than 20,000.
Since UNTAC's departure
in 1993, the number of prostitutes has fallen - but so too has their
Cambodian Women's Development Association surveys show most
prostitutes in October 1992 were aged 18 or over. Within six months, the minimum
age had fallen to 15.
A February 1994 survey found 35 per cent of Phnom
Penh sex workers were aged under 18. That was supported by the most recent
survey, by the Vigilance human rights group, three months ago.
that about 31 per cent (1878 out of 6110) of sex workers in Phnom Penh and 11
provinces were aged under 17. The youngest were aged 12.
"The surveys do
not reflect the significant number of street children frequenting certain public
places where they are picked up for sex by pedophiles," says the Human Rights
Task Force report.
Culnane says NGOs have followed the growth in foreign
pedophiles on Phnom Penh's streets for the past two and a half years.
is not a "huge wave" but more of a steady increase which NGOs, the government,
courts and police are still struggling to come to terms with.
me angry that affluent people come here just to exploit young children," says
"They're abusing the culture and hospitality of this country and
hurting the children emotionally and possibly physically.
learned that anger doesn't help. We must keep going step by step