A prominent child protection NGO said it had found that, with a lack of information and reporting mechanisms, cases of online child sexual abuse were on the rise.
Khoem Vando, a child protection specialist with Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), said his organisation had found that 128 cases of online child abuse had been received in 2021, while there had been 140 complaints from January to November of this year.
“There has been a rise in reported cases of online child sexual abuse. The negative impacts on children as a result of sexual exploitation on the internet are very serious, especially with regard to mental health.
"They can suffer feelings of shame, hopelessness and depression, and a lack of confidence and self-esteem, which can lead to self-harm and even suicide. It is a very serious crime that leads to long-term suffering,” Vando said.
A lack of information on reporting mechanisms prevented children from telling of online sexual exploitation, while victims felt looked down on, having failed to meet social standards and fearing for their safety, he added.
Vando said all relevant parties must play an active role and coordinate their work in tackling the issue, for example by raising awareness on social media, and with in-person campaigns and training sessions.
"Parents, guardians and caregivers have to closely monitor children's activities on the internet. They must instruct their children to be aware of the possible dangers online, such as by talking about the problem and refraining from scolding their children should they encounter it as it can never be the fault of the child.
“The private sector, including internet service providers, content creators and other related businesses, have to play their part in preventing this and should include the topic of sexual abuse and exploitation in meetings.
"They should also establish reporting mechanisms linked to the national reporting mechanisms,” he said.
Vando added that policy makers had to continue strengthening policies, law enforcement and relevant legal frameworks to guarantee children are protected from online child sexual abuse.
Touch Channy, director-general of the General Department of Technical Affairs at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, said the ministry had been working with partner organisations on the issue.
"Despite not having data on whether such abuse is on the rise or is decreasing, the ministry is not ignoring the problem.
“We continue with our concerted efforts and work with the police and partner organisations to find solutions and increase protective mechanisms to keep Cambodian children safe online,” Channy said.
The ministry also received reports from other relevant departments and parties, and had established a hotline as well as a Telegram channel for reporting cases of sexual abuse, he added.
“Many institutions are working to protect children, not just the social affairs ministry. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training also play a part,” he said.
"The Disrupting Harm in Cambodia" report found that 16 per cent of children had been subjected to sexual comments that had made them feel uncomfortable, with 31 per cent saying this had occurred on social media.
Sixteen per cent said they had been sent unwanted sexual images, with 36 per cent saying they had received such images on social media.
Nine per cent of the children surveyed said they had received unwanted requests to share sexual images of themselves.