T he trafficking of children into prostitution is still increasing because necessary laws have not yet been drafted, according to a human rights official.
Yim Po, executive director of the Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children's Rights (CCPCR), said the government had to date used the laws made during UNTAC and SoC periods, but they were not enough since the courts could use them "completely or incompletely" because of a lack of strictness.
"The courts give offenders very light punishments, they just compromise. Sometimes they make light judgments for economic reasons," he said.
A recent CCPCR report said that in three cases in Battambang, people convicted of smuggling and selling children were sentenced to just one to two years in jail.
Two women caught smuggling children to Thailand were just warned and released by local police, the report said.
The provincial court maintained it had judged according to existing laws, the report said.
Meanwhile, CCPCR said that there were too few police specializing in such crimes.
CCPCR, along with other human rights groups, had drafted child trafficking and prostitution laws and sent them to the Ministry of Justice a year ago. CCPCR was recently told that the ministry had still not done anything concrete with them.
"The laws are sleeping... they are not going ahead," Yim Po complained.
Yim Po said that the groups were pushing the Ministries of Justice and Social Action to "reconsider" the draft laws.
If adopted, the laws would treat child traffickers and rapists "as serious as murder," he said.
Yim Po said the laws - which he hoped could be ready by the middle of next year - provided for five million riel fines and up to 15 years jail.
The laws are similar to those now in Thailand and Vietnam. Yim Po said that once publicized, he hoped they would scare potential offenders and help reduce the trade in children.
According to a recent CCPCR survey, done with help from local authorities, up to one third of the sex workers are aged under 18.
However, CCPCR doubted the accuracy of the figures, saying that the number of sex workers in Phnom Penh alone had risen from 1,500 in 1990 to more than 17,000 in 1994. Yim Po said that 35 percent of them were children under 18; some were as young as 12.
A common tactic now was to trick young girls into the sex trade.
Girls would be promised jobs as house servants or hotel employees by neighbors whom they trusted, only to be sold to brothels, or sold abroad.