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NGOs: Child sexual abuse on the rise

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Children most at-risk to become victims of sexual abuse were those who did not have regular caregivers or a stable family situation. First Step Cambodia

NGOs: Child sexual abuse on the rise

Organizations working to protect children in Cambodia have found that child sexual abuse in the country has occurred with increasing frequency over the last few years.

These organisations said more needs to be done by the government and NGOs to prevent such abuse from taking place and to increase public awareness of the issue.

First Step Cambodia programme manager Yourn Sarath told The Post on January 26 that from 2010-2020 the number of child sexual abuse cases they have dealt with for both boys and girls totalled 830. The boys were aged eight to 17 years old.

He said that in general the children most at-risk to become victims of sexual abuse were those who did not have regular caregivers or a stable family situation.

The parents often worked long hours and could not pay enough attention to their children and so they often had no knowledge the abuse was taking place.

Their parents would often trust the care of their children to others far too readily due to a lack of other options while they worked.

He said First Step Cambodia is making efforts to educate the public and train them to recognise signs of abuse and be aware of the available resources to help protect children whom they suspect are being abused such as non-governmental organisations or police authorities.

Sarath continued that First Step Cambodia has been cooperating closely with state institutions such as the ministries of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation; Women’s Affairs; Education, Youth and Sport; and the Ministry of Interior’s National Committee for Counter-trafficking.

He said the organisation also provides services directly to minors, usually in cooperation with the local authorities.

Child protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfant (APLE) executive director Samleang Seila said four years ago the authorities were not willing to discuss investigation of child sexual abuse cases, so awareness of the issue was low.

But currently, he said efforts to spotlight the problem had begun to increase.

“One problem is providing services to boys because in Cambodia they don’t think of this as being a problem for boys like it is for girls. But we know that it is. Boys who are victims of abuse are suffering right now due to a lack of services for them,” he said.

Seila added that APLE had received more reports of child sexual abuse of boys than those about girls.

Some of the offenders were identified as foreign travellers and tourists, while cases with Cambodian abusers often involved family members and tended to be drastically under-reported.

“When we looked at our data from 2003 to 2020, it actually showed that out of a total of 980 child sexual abuse cases we had worked on, 56 per cent involved abuse of boys and 44 per cent were girls,” he said.

Seila said child sexual abuse of boys was less frequent five years ago but over the last few years the cases have been on the increase including a worrisome trend of more cases involving Cambodian nationals molesting boys.

Social affairs ministry spokesman Touch Channy acknowledged that child sexual abuse on boys did happen in Cambodia but he claimed that most of the abuse was committed by foreigners visiting Cambodia.

“We don’t know if the number of cases with boys has increased or decreased. But we know they were happening before and are still occurring today,” he said.

Channy said the ministry is committed to stopping child sexual abuse and has instructed its anti-human trafficking department to stamp out such offences in cooperation with relevant partner organisations.

First Step Cambodia, on its part, has recently published a pamphlet entitled “Child abuse: It happens to boys.”

The pamphlet points out that boys are equally affected by sexual abuse, but for many reasons the cases were under-reported. Only six per cent of cases involving boys were reported compared to 40 per cent for girls.

First Step Cambodia said its goal is to have all cases of sexual abuse of children – of either gender – reported and investigated 100 per cent and will continue to work towards achieving that.

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