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