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Prize-winning activist returns

Prize-winning activist returns

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081204_05.jpg

Founder of anti-trafficking NGO Afesip Somaly Mam is lauded abroad while defending herself at home against criticisms of her efforts to fight exploitation

Photo by:
Christopher Shay

Somaly Mam receiving a prize from the German ambassador at a ceremony Wednesday.

ANTI-trafficking activist Somaly Mam returned from abroad Wednesday after receiving her most recent international award, ready to defend her efforts to fight sexual exploitation amid criticisms of her organisation, Afesip.

"We are against forced sexual exploitation," she said, after receiving recognition from German embassy officials in Phnom Penh for being given  the coveted Roland Berger Dignity Award.

German Ambassador Frank Marcus Mann, who presided over the event, praised the work of Afesip, using the opportunity to address allegations of malpractice by the NGO.

"There has been a comment from a human rights activist in Cambodia saying that children who are being cared for by Somaly Mam's shelter do not have the right to contact their parents," the ambassador said.

"These [comments] are not acceptable."

Somaly Mam said that she treats all the victims of trafficking she works with the same, adding that criticism from parents of the sex-trafficking victims in her care is unjustified.

"I make sure that we care for the victims because [I have been] a victim too," she said, adding that Afesip welcomed all parents.

But if the NGO suspected parents of visiting their children with the intention of bringing them back into prostitution, they would be denied access.

Somaly Mam had just returned from the award ceremony proper, held in Berlin  on November 24, at which she received a one million euro (US$1.3 million) cheque to support her future work. The 38-year-old was herself a victim of sexual exploitation, and has been fighting against sex trafficking since she founded Afesip in 1996.

"We are proud to present the prize to the Somaly Mam Foundation and to help her continue her work," Mann said. Somaly Mam said she will split the award money between all the programs Afesip works with.

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