Authorities rescued 263 people from human trafficking in the first six months of the year – an increase of nearly 150 per cent on the same period last year – with a large number of the victims being children, the Ministry of Interior said.
Of the 263 victims that were rescued, 101 were under the age of 18, and senior ministry officials and members of civil society voiced concerns over the increase on Tuesday.
The ministry has said that some 250,000 tourists a year travel to Cambodia to sexually exploit children.
The abuse is carried out in public places and the community, in entertainment establishments, through NGOs and on the internet, the ministry said.
Chou Bun Eng, the permanent vice-chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking of Cambodia (NCCT), spoke at the Prevention and Response to the Sexual Abuse of Children in the Tourist Sector workshop in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.
Bun Eng, who is also secretary of state at the ministry, said that with Cambodia receiving millions of tourists annually, some opportunists had taken advantage of the booming industry to sexually exploit children.
A lot of Cambodian children did not receive enough care or warmth while growing up because they were forced to make money, she said.
While human trafficking cases had increased, she said the number of victims – especially children – had also risen alarmingly and called for the participation of everybody in the fight against exploitation.
In the first six months of this year, relevant authorities had seen a considerable increase in human trafficking, with 78 cases uncovered compared to the same period last year – an increase of 25 per cent, she said.
“Police in the first half of the year detained 97 suspects, while the same period last year saw 85 arrests. In the first six months of this year, 263 victims were rescued, while 106 were rescued last year.
“This means the number of victims has risen considerably, with an increase of 148 per cent compared to the same period last year.
“But what is especially shocking is that 70 children under the age of 15 were among the victims, with 31 aged between 15 and 18. So the victims of human trafficking who are minors number 101. This is an incredibly high number of victims at this stage of the crackdown,” Bun Eng said.
The tourism sector in Cambodia has grown, with the number of visitors to the Kingdom possibly growing to up to 12 million by 2050 – a rise that carries an increased risk of the sexual exploitation of children, she said.
Samleang Seila, the country director of child protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfant (APLE), said child sex tourism presented a global problem, and one which seriously affected Cambodian children.
Several reports showed that offenders travelled to Cambodia to find underage sexual services as the child protection system remained weak, as was parents’ safeguarding of their children.
“Greater demand for the sexual services of both boys and girls has increased the growth of sexual services in the tourism sector. Children have suffered from being cheated and trafficked to supply the demand for sexual services,” Seila said.
Apart from sex tourism, recent studies showed that the posting of child pornography on the internet had also increased.
This had led to a rise in child sexual abuse and timely prevention is needed, he stressed.