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Cambodia’s Children are Most At-Risk for Sex-Trafficking

When it comes to sexual assault, Cambodia’s most at-risk citizens are its children. Sephak, a 13-year-old girl who lived in Phnom Penh, a fishing village close to the country’s capital, is just one of the many who have been affected by the country’s child-sex market.

Sephak’s story was told in a CNN documentary. It was the girl’s own mother who sold her into sexual slavery. Racked with debt, she accepted an offer from a woman who promised her a large sum of money for her daughter’s virginity. For $800, Sephak’s purchasers raped her in a hotel room for several days.

Today, Sephak says the country is moving in the right direction. Of her own village, she says, “We would say when we came [to Svay Pak] it was 100% — if you were a girl born here, you were going to be trafficked. We would say today it’s significantly below 50%.”

Sephak was saved from sex trafficking by Agape International Missions (AIM), where those who are rescued work making clothing.

“Today,” Sephak says, “I feel more much stability than before. Not a lot of stability, but enough. Now I have a decent job. I really want other people to have the kind of work that I have.”

Sokha Chan, another girl rescued by AIM, told ABC News that she cried in the backseat of her rescuers’ car. She thought she would be going to jail with her captors.

While Cambodians are reportedly most often the ones keeping girls captive, men from all over the world take part in the sex trade. “Nightline” released footage of a Western man who agreed to have sex with a girl who was only eight years old.

While Sephak speaks positively of her country’s progress, SHE Rescue Home, a safe-haven for victims and at-risk girls, reports that the sex market is still growing. From 2007 to 2010, the organization reports that the median age of rape victims dropped from twelve years old to just ten.

The nonprofit also reports that 64% of children asked personally knew a child who had been sexually abused.

Not all sources agree on these statistics, though. The Cambodian government claims that the situation has vastly improved after its recent efforts to outlaw public brothels.

The government also recently banned AIM from operating in the country, putting the organization under investigation and stating that it exaggerate its claims to increase the amount of donations.

Unsurprisingly, Don Brewster, the co-founder of AIM, disagrees. He says that it’s the underground business that is thriving now.

“Today’s child exploitation starts on the street, where a pedophile is approached by a pimp. The client places his ‘order’ and is met at a hotel by the seller and the ‘commodity’: a child used for sex.”

“The crime is less obvious. Valid statistics are even harder to come by. Prosecutions are more difficult. This is how criminals succeed: They adapt.”

Despite the group’s successes, AIM will be unable to operate in the country going forward. In addition, the survivors that were rescued by the organization and that work for it will be taken into the government’s care.

Brewster previously warned that celebrations must not come too quickly.

“Decrying ‘mission accomplished’ in the fight against child sex trafficking in Cambodia is premature. The danger in doing this too soon is that, by exaggerating the success, we will turn the international spotlight away from an area of the world that still needs it. Worse, we will stop listening for the cries of girls who are exploited.”
Featured Image by Ira Gelb on Flickr
Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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