Cambodia's sex industry could be worth as much as a billion dollars a year, according
to a new report released by the Future Group, a Canadian NGO.
The publication's authors argue that if trafficking of women and children in South-East
Asia remains unchecked, it could dwarf the African slave trade of the 16th to 19th
centuries. In the last decade, the group said, up to 3 million women and children
had been sold for sex across South-East Asia.
The report on child sex slavery and trafficking provides a damning indictment of
the UN's role in creating today's Cambodian sex industry. Citing Unicef figures,
the report states that UNTAC turned prostitution from a cottage industry into a fully
fledged sex trade.
In 1990 there were only 1,500 prostitutes working in Phnom Penh; by the time the
UN's 15,000 troops left town there were more than 20,000, many of them sex slaves.
It claims that the country has between 80,000 and 100,000 sex slaves and prostitutes.
Around 15,000 of these are in Phnom Penh, and a third of these are younger than ten.
Not all are paid, but those who are earn an average of $1.50 per day for seeing at
least ten clients.
"Many of them are beaten and raped and they wind up with very serious psychological
problems," said Robert Baltus of Agir Pour Les Femmes En Situation Precaire
(AFESIP), which works to free and reintegrate women trapped in sex slavery.
"They are not like street kids who know how to look after themselves,"
he said of the women.
The report's authors worked with NGOs, undercover Cambodian police, and rescued child
victims to record a variety of victim accounts. 'Yin' was one such victim.
Yin was trafficked by her neighbors from Vietnam to Cambodia when she was just twelve.
In Phnom Penh she was imprisoned for three years in a brothel in Tuol Kork district,
where she was forced to service three clients a day and was regularly tortured with
electrical wires and beaten by an armed guard.
Police eventually found her in brothel in Stung Meanchey that had 'bought' her. She
had already contracted AIDS. Baltus said that growing numbers of tourists visiting
Cambodia would mean more cases like Yin's.
"It will get worse before it gets better," he said.
According to the report foreign sex tourists have filled the void left by the UN
troops to maintain high rates of sex slavery and prostitution across the country.
However, it is not only foreigners who frequent the country's prostitutes. The report
states that the trade, which is often integrated with legitimate businesses from
nightclubs to carwashes, also attracts many Cambodian men.
Each year around 40,000 Cambodian women are trafficked for sex, with Kampong Cham
province the largest source of sex slaves. However, many girls are brought from outside
Cambodia and taken to other countries, including Thailand, Malaysia and North America.
Vietnam was the most common place of origin for foreign sex slaves, but Chinese,
Thai, Lao and Filipino girls had also been traded to work in Cambodia's sex industry.
AFESIP's Baltus said that using official channels to repatriate girls to Vietnam
simply led to double punishment.
"We sent a few girls back through official repatriation channels," he said.
"They have been in a re-education camp for the last one and a half years."
Many others simply lose hope and return to prostitution even after they've been freed,
he said. However those who were determined were most likely to escape the cycle of
violence and exploitation.
"The ones who never give up are the ones we usually find," Baltus concluded.