A bare-chested boy clutching a toy cap gun runs around with his friends outside
a glitzy Phnom Penh nightclub. Just a kid at play - waiting for someone to
beckon him over and inquire: "Go sleep?"
It's 11pm and the boy, who gives
the name Pros and says he's 12 but looks older, is ready for business.
might be a brief encounter in a nearby street for a few thousand riels. Or the
start of a longer liaison, with the prospect of a place to sleep and food and
toys - like the cap gun in his hand, a present from a Filipino man he lived
with. Pros has done it all.
At this nightclub, not everybody comes for
the alcohol, music or prostitutes inside. The band of children who gather in its
car park are the attraction for some - often foreign - men.
I just wait to see if there will be foreigners coming to look for us," says
"I have slept with the foreigners a few times. I get 3000 or 4000
"Sometimes they come on bicycles and take me, as well as my other
friends, to sleep with them."
Pros says he first "went to sleep" with a
foreigner a few years ago soon after he began living on the streets.
foreigner asked me to go and live with him. I didn't know he wanted to sleep
"I cried. It hurt. I was bleeding," he says of the experience.
There was a bonus though - the foreigner, apparently new to the game
too, paid him $20, a fortune to a street kid such as Pros.
The boy has
since learned that the going rate is far less, but he still regularly sells
himself for sex. He dislikes the oral and anal sex the foreigners want but "I
have no money".
What Pros really wants is not those customers who ask him
to just "go sleep" with them, but those who take him to live with
For three months until recently he was living with a Filipino man
at a Phnom Penh hotel.
He says it was outside the nightclub that he met
the man, who gave him money to go and buy cigarettes for him.
he liked living with the man, because he got 5000 riels a day, food, clothes and
toys. Asked if the cap gun was a present from the man, he nods and says: "Sa buy
He says he slept in the same bed with the man, but they did
not have sex.
That may or may not be true, but child care workers who
have befriended Pros to try to get him to give up the sex trade have few doubts
he is abused sexually.
They tell harrowing stories of finding the boy in
alleyways after clearly having had sex with customers. The number of men he has
spoken of living with at various times is close to 20, they say.
says both his parents are dead but that too is not the truth. His father died
when he was young, and his destitute mother now lives on the streets.
is well on the path to a similar life, but one in which his earnings - based
upon his fading youthfulness and 'innocence' - are destined to dry
"The foreigners like the other kids more than me," he says. "They
like the smaller boys. For those they love the most, they will give them 5000
His Filipino benefactor, meanwhile, recently left, telling him he
was leaving the country. Pros is again bedding down on grimy streets, hoping for
a new patron.
As a Mail on Sunday reporter gets up to leave, after
interviewing him via a Khmer translator, Pros delivers a fluent sentence of
English: "Take me home to live with you?"