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Stereotype danger

Stereotype danger

The Editor,

In response to the extensive coverage given to 'pedophile'

activities in Cambodia in your most recent issue, I should like to raise a

concern based on Save The Children Fund's knowledge of the situation here and

our experience in other countries in the region.

Sexual exploitation is a

particularly disturbing and emotive issue and one which is of great concern to

us. As your articles illustrate, there are many "push" factors which lead

vulnerable children to become involved with commercial sex work, whether

informally, on the streets, or in brothels.

In some ways, cases of

commercial sex involving foreign men and boys living on the streets of Phnom

Penh are just the most noticeable and "newsworthy" in the eyes of the press and

the public.

It is very important to stress, however, that these cases,

while certainly worthy- of condemnation if they involve breaking the law, are

generally a minority. It is our experience that the greater proportion of cases

involves commercial sex, by mainly local men, with under-age girls. (The same

pattern was documented in our study of the situation in Thailand in 1993, 'Wish

You Weren't Here'). The exploitation and abuse of Cambodian girls is certainly

of equal concern to the agencies working to protect children here.

It

could be argued that the girls' position is more desperate, as they are largely

invisible and may be kept virtual prisoners in brothels. (In a third of

interviews recorded at the Tuol Kork dyke clinic during 1994, girls said they

had been sold into commercial sex work, and they have to continue to work until

the 'debt' which the brothel owner has incurred by buying them, has been paid

off).

By using the term 'pedophile' exclusively to describe foreign men

who have commercial sex with under-age Cambodian boys, and devoting so much

space to this aspect of the issue, the Phnom Penh Post is in danger of

reinforcing stereotypes and playing down the scale of the 'mainstream'

commercial sex trade, which to an increasing extent involves girls under 18 (as

one of Jason Barber's articles acknowledges). There is a risk of implying that

this latter activity is somehow condoned, which I am sure is not your

intention.

- Joan M. Anderson, Field Director, Save the Children Fund

(UK).

(The Phnom Penh Post, in its three year history, has published a

large number of news stories and features about under-age girls in prostitution.

The series of articles in the Post's last edition was the first time the issue

of men prostituting boys has been covered in any depth. - Ed.)

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