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Cambodia needs exploitation laws to protect children, group says

A student looks out the window at a school in Siem Reap in 2014 where the director was arrested for trafficking students. A new report urges the government to amend laws to protect children from being groomed by predators. George Nickels
A student looks out the window at a school in Siem Reap in 2014 where the director was arrested for trafficking students. A new report urges the government to amend laws to protect children from being groomed by predators. George Nickels

Cambodia needs exploitation laws to protect children, group says

Cambodia must develop measures to protect children from online sexual exploitation, while a “culture of silence” continues to muzzle child abuse victims, according to a new report from global group End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT).

The research, released last week, found that despite Cambodia’s legal framework to prevent the “rife” sexual exploitation of children, the Kingdom fails to allocate enough funding to combat it.

“The sexual exploitation of children is still prevalent in Cambodia and its root causes, including poverty and corruption, have yet to be addressed,” Rangsima Deesawade, regional coordinator for ECPAT in Southeast Asia, said in a statement.

“The culture of silence about the sexual exploitation of children prevents victims and survivors from coming forward with their testimonies and that allows perpetuators of crime to go unpunished.”

This taboo and stigma doubly victimises children and lets their abusers off the hook, she said.

The report provides a sweeping overview of child sexual exploitation in the Kingdom, touching on subjects such as so-called voluntourism, child marriage, the lack of support for boy victims, online grooming and the “virgin trade”, in a bid to identify gaps in preventing and prosecuting child pornography and prostitution.

It recommends educating children on the risks of using the internet and says current laws should be amended to “criminalise solicitation for sexual purposes (online grooming)” and the possession of child pornography, as opposed to merely possession with the intent to distribute.

Nhep Sopheap, Secretary-General of the Cambodian National Committee for Children, yesterday said she shared some of the concerns in the report.

“There is the threat and violence through online [channels],” she said. “Even though our government has taken action to prevent it with many mechanisms . . . there are loopholes in this issue.”

“There is no law yet [that says] when someone is doing this [sexually exploiting children online], you will be met with punishment.”

Sopheap said her group would launch a study next year to determine the scale of online exploitation.

The report also claims cheap flights in a booming tourism industry, as well as the dubious practice of voluntourism in orphanages, raised the “spectre of sexual exploitation”. While perpetrators from the West were more visible, most abusers were Cambodian or from other Asian nations.

James McCabe, of the Child Protection Unit, said while he couldn’t comment on the report directly, authorities needed to adapt to the changing techniques abusers used in the online sphere.

“The sexual exploitation of children, especially by international pedophiles, is a fluid situation in that they’re always looking for new ways to gain access and to exploit children,” he said, adding that the CPU was investigating unregistered and fraudulent NGOs targeted by pedophiles.

“Online grooming will be another challenge as the internet becomes more and more accessible,” he said, saying perpetrators often used apps such as Facebook, WeChat and WhatsApp to groom their victims.

“We can’t take our eye off the ball.”

Additional reporting by Mech Dara

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