Sexual abuse of boys is as common as cases involving girls, albeit far less reported due to difficulty in identifying it, according to Yam Chamroeun, president of First Step Cambodia. Consequently, he said, fewer male victims are able to access child support services.

Speaking at an August 16 child protection seminar in Phnom Penh, Chamroeun said that research by UNICEF – in collaboration with the National Institute of Statistics (NIS) – in 2015 found that 5.6 per cent of boys and 5.4 per cent of girls in Cambodia have experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives.

He said this major problem occurs not just in Cambodia, but in many countries. In India, for instance, 60 per cent of boys in its capital New Delhi have experienced sexual abuse, with no access to support services. In China, between 20 and 40 per cent of boys have been abused.

“This issue has been around for a long time. First Step began offering support services after noting that they were not widely available. To date, we have supported a total of 375 children and 57 adults. Of the 432 victims, 70 per cent were male,” he said.

Phang Chenda, programme manager at First Step, said that sexually abused boys do not speak easily of abuse, due to social norms where males are expected to be strong and not discuss their problems.

“I think society still adheres to the old axiom that sons are like gold – if they fall into the mud, we simply take them out and wash them and they are good as new. This concept means that boys are in a way more vulnerable,” he said.

He added that many organisations have implemented child protection programmes, but there are still gaps in the protection of children. Many of those who act as child rights workers, he explained, have no academic knowledge related to child sexual abuse.

Chenda said 120 million children under the age of 18 worldwide have been sexually abused.

In Cambodia, 6 out of 10 children suffer physical or emotional abuse, with five to six per cent of Cambodians under the age of 18 reporting sexual abuse. The actual numbers may be higher, as it was often unreported especially in the case of boys, he warned.

“We have not been able to find recent data for the country as a whole. We have carried out research, but acknowledge that it is not widespread enough to represent the nation,” he said.

Sok Sambo, coordinating officer at First Step, said LGBT children are more likely to experience abuse. This can happen when a family refuses to accept a child, discriminates against them, or blames them for the way they feel.

This can lead to the child seeking warmth and understanding outside of the family unit, which can sometimes result in sexual predators or groomers taking advantage of the child, as they appear the support the child craves.

Li Hua, an official at Beautiful Life Organisation, said that one important way to support LGBT youth is to use their preferred terms for their gender or sexual preference, and avoid hurtful stereotypes.

Sambath Sokunthea, deputy secretary-general of the Cambodia National Council for Children (CNCC), said she was aware that the subject had been researched, but the government body had no comment as the research was conducted solely by NGOs.

“We cannot confirm this data as they did not engage with the government while carrying out their research,” she told The Post on August 17.