To the untrained eye, Cambodia is an exotic vacation destination with ancient cities, bold colors, legendary temples and remarkable beauty. What you don’t see is the horrendous crimes that are going on behind closed doors. Inside the world of Cambodian child sex trafficking, each year, by some estimates, hundreds of thousands of girls and boys are bought, sold or kidnapped and then forced to have sex with grown men. MSNBC news) Human trafficking or modern-day slavery is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world; and in my opinion, least discussed and prevented. Specifically the child sex trade is an epidemic not recognized by Americans nearly enough. Unborn children in South Korea are being sold by their pregnant mothers over the internet. What happens to these children after they are sold is unknown.
They can be sold to people who are looking to adopt but having a hard time being approved, or more likely circumstances, they end up in a darker place; the human sex trafficking world. The illegal sale of children makes up more than half of all the cases of human trafficking around the world, according to recent estimates. (Al-Jazeera/News Europe) Traditionally it has involved the exploitation of children in poorer nations, like Cambodia, Vietnam and India but there are findings of more and more cases amongst developed countries such as America.
There are countless exploited children that are unaccounted for around the world; Argentina’s child-snatching plague, Turkey’s severely high number of missing children, which has increased annually, Sri Lanka’s children being taken from their homes to be “child soldiers”, South Korean selling of babies, Bangladesh’s child brides who are sold by their families and taken away by their dramatically elder “husbands” and never heard of again to list a few. Twenty years ago the United Nations adopted the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
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The CRC or UNCRC, it sets out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of children. As of December 2008, 193 signatories had ratified it, including every member of the UN except the U. S. and Somalia. The treaty restricts the involvement of children in military conflicts and prohibits the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The UNCRC has been used as a blueprint for child protection legislation around the world. But, as you can see, the treaty's promise to protect children has not always been kept.
After watching an Al Jazeera News broadcasting, in an interview with a woman who would know better than anyone about exploited children around the world; Lisa Laumann from Save the Children Charity stated "Intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations provide the framework around which governments can come together to agree on what good practice is and how governments should behave legally on behalf of their citizens, but it's up to the governments themselves to draft that legislation, develop the systems and institutions that guarantee those rights. (Lisa Laumann, from Save the Children charity, Al Jazeera Interview) Laumann also goes on to state, “There also has to be an effort made to help communities, families and children themselves, to understand what rights mean for them and how they can support them. ” (Lisa Laumann) I feel so strongly more effort needs to be put forth, and that something needs to be done soon about this epidemic that is given a blind eye. People need to be educated about what is going on not only in the world, but right here in America.
Despite what Americans bialy choose to ignore; it’s going on in Connecticut, and quite possibly New Haven as we speak. When you walk by the missing children ads and see all of those young girls’ (and boys) faces, they may not have run away from home, maybe they were forcefully taken, and being forced into child prostitution. Or, another scenario, maybe they did run away from home, got into a little trouble as a misguided young female, and are in a lifestyle they are having difficulty getting out of. These are instances more common than you would think.
Sex-tourism, or travel to engage in sexual intercourse or sexual activity with prostitutes, typically undertaken internationally by tourists from wealthier countries has become a multibillion-dollar industry. But the business is not all about adult prostitution. There are some places you might have never heard about, notorious places, the kind of places a sexual predator would be willing to travel halfway around the world to reach -destinations like a dusty village in Southeast Asia, where the prey is plentiful and easy to stalk.
My focus for this paper will be on Cambodia. This country has the highest amount statistically reported of children in the child sex trade, in an interview with Chris Hansen of Dateline NBC, with Mu Soc Hua, Cambodia’s minister of women's affairs, Hua states that there is a staggering number of "…around 30,000 girls in the sex-trade industry, and although Cambodia has a lot of problems, I rank sexual trade, sexual exploitation of our children as top — on the top of my list. I’ve also chosen Cambodia because of a separate interview/documentary I’ve watched where an accredited news channel, Dateline NBC goes undercover with a human rights group to expose the sex trafficking in Cambodia, and they actually follow through with a dramatic operation to rescue the children, and take the measures to have the “pimps” or men and women that run these brothels arrested along with an American doctor who is purchasing these girls for sex to be prosecuted. I’d like to discuss both aspects of this crime, the seller and the buyer.
Many, if not most of the men buying these exploited girls in Cambodia are Americans- thinking that they're involved in nothing more than prostitution, but by any definition it is rape. (Dateline NBC news) Prostitution in Cambodia is illegal, but finding a girlfriend for the night at a nightclub could be as simple as a few words, a few dollars, and a stroll out the door. The producers and investigators of NBC begin their journey inside this dark world, across from what looks like a local cafe, but really a brothel.
You see many deceiving brothels that to the untrained eye, appear to be cafes, clubs or gated storefronts along the streets of the rundown village Svay Pak, on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. Svay Pak is notorious for child trafficking, and it only takes a few minutes for a pimp to approach the undercover reporters. The pimp turns out to be a fifteen-year-old boy who tells the reporters he's grown up in the village and even introduces his mother - who knows exactly what he's up to and takes a cut of the money he brings in.
Po tells the reporters he can get them girls who are even younger than the ones they’ve seen thus far in the trip. And despite all they’ve seen, they’re stunned at just how young he says they are - 8-year-olds. It's hard to believe, and even harder to stomach. The dimension of a fifteen-year-old boy promoting the sales of possibly his sisters or cousins is confusing. He is doing the selling of a girl who is the same age as he, and could be in his school class. Is there a connection between male and female status and does gender play a role, or hold a higher status in relation to trafficking is something I will be looking into further in this paper. ) He brings them through some alleys to a ramshackle house so they can see for themselves. The dirty faces of the girls are seen through the shadows on the documentary, and little-girls-shoes litter the house. The house is guarded by men and women, heavily armed with guns, clearly visible when the producers walk in. In the documentary, all of the natives, children and adults alike know a little English.
When they talk about sex, they use simple child-like terms anyone can understand. "Yum-yum" means oral sex. "Boom-boom" means intercourse. They meet dozens of children at the various brothels they enter. One girl that really caught my attention throughout the documentary was a girl that said she's nine, accompanied by another who says she's ten. Both say they know how to perform oral sex. And they even tell the reporters how much it will cost: sixty-dollars for two girls. A pimp says,” If two girls aren't enough, how about three? (Dateline NBC news) It is repulsive, and a grim reality the thought of what is done to these innocent, young girls when it isn’t undercover American producers doing the buying. And the sad thing is that there would’ve been no future for these girls if the producers of NBC along with Bob Mosier, the International Justice Mission’s chief investigator hadn’t stepped in. In figuring out as to why these girls are being sold or taken from their families in the first place, I’m taking a look at what status the male and female roles hold in a family.
For example, in Japan it is preferred by parents to have a son over a daughter because of the one baby law, only allowing one child to a household. This means, it’s more desirable to have a son to carry on the family name and get an education, opposed to a daughter who marries off. In Cambodia, females tend to be talked about as being "relatively equal" to men, though with little discussion of how this equality is related to the larger picture of hierarchical social organization. Judy Ledgerwood 120) However, gender is only one of a range of factors that influences where a person is ranked in Khmer society. On the one hand daughters are suppose to be protected, on the other, a teenage daughter might bicycle daily to the city to sell vegetables to help support the family; or a young woman might move into the city to work in a garment factory. Orphans and widows must live with little or no male supervision, because there are no surviving family members. This can cause their neighbors to "look down on them," they lose status in society because they have no men to protect them.
Women in Cambodia today must undertake all sorts of employment that involve being in office, factory or other situations alone with men. These kinds of circumstances lead to accusations regarding the virtue of individual women and to the general idea that "women just don't have the value that they used to. " What is of critical importance to Khmer women during the interviews done by Judy Ledgerwood, was their concerns, it was not their particular concern with social status or gender ideals, but hard economic realities and the difficulties that they face trying to feed their families.
An explanation of this, as to why these children are being sold into sex is because of the lack of funds and resources their families are facing. In many cases, poverty is to blame for making worse the plight of the most vulnerable. Cambodia is still suffering from a traumatic past. In the 1970s and ’80s, an estimated 2 million Cambodians died because of war, famine and a brutal dictatorship. During the Khmer Rouge period, 1975-1979, people died of starvation and disease as well as from execution. More women than men survived the traumas of this period.
Women are better able to survive conditions of severe malnutrition, fewer women were targeted for execution because of connections to the old regime, and fewer women were killed in battles. Many women told Ledgerwood that they survived those years of horror because they had to care for their children (Ebihara and Ledgerwood page 143). During the 1980s and early 90s, men continued to be drained off from society to go to serve as soldiers. This was particularly evident in rural areas where one could enter a village and find no men between the ages of about 15 and 50.
Many men were killed or disabled; others might still have been alive but were off with their military units, with resistance factions at the border, or hiding from conscription. This may add to the bigger picture as to why men are exploiting children for money. The poverty plays a large role, all they have to offer are their children, and being disabled, there isn’t much work physically possible. Also, the return of the men reflects the extremely high birth rate during the 1980s and 90s, 2. 5 to 3 percent annually, meaning more children to sell.
A child's tragic journey into the sex trade often begins in a family struggling for survival. This is a country where the average income is less than $300 a year. (Hanlen 323) Most children are sold by their own parents. Others are lured by what they think are legitimate job offers like waitressing, but then are forced into prostitution. It’s become clear that Cambodian parents don’t have enough money to feed eight children in a family, so selling two of them could get them a (measly to us) one-hundred U. S. dollars. Or, for example, during the ocumentary broadcasted on NBC, a female pimp by the name Madam Lang tells undercover reporters (with undercover cameras, on tape) that “her” virgins go for six-hundred-dollars, as if the virgin part is an extra attraction, and for that price she says they can take a girl back to the hotel and keep her there for up to three days. When she brings out the girl, the 15-year-old native looks paralyzed with fear. It is hard to prevent the exploitation of children in this country not only because it takes a caring parent, but because it takes a caring community.
The people are governed by money and it’s hard for them to turn it down and put morals before reality. Even the police of the village are in on the illegal activity occurring. In one of the videos, a police officer requests one-hundred-fifty dollars from the NBC producers posing as sex tourists, as a pay-off for insurance that the tourists wouldn’t get arrested by Cambodian officials. One-hundred-fifty dollars is the equivalent of five months pay for a Cambodian Officer. (Hanlen 325) The Cambodian Police have set up a unit to deal with sex trafficking, but have yet to be proactive in dealing with the issue.
There are no guarantees in real justice because many of the cops are in the pimps’ pockets. While it's good to prosecute the people who sell children for sex, if you want to solve the problem; you also have to go after the tourists who buy them. But who is going to confront these sex tourists? It’s difficult to say with the corrupt Cambodian legal system. As far as the documentary goes, in the end, at least seven of the suspects seen on tape, including a man who supplied little girls for a sex party, were recently found guilty by a Cambodian judge and sentenced to up to fifteen years in prison.
In months following, Madam Lang, the woman who offered virgins for six-hundred-dollars, was also convicted and sentenced to 20 years behind bars. That's believed to be the longest sentence of its kind ever in Cambodia. (NBC) There are a many people fighting for these oppressed girls, but little change has been noted because the education of human trafficking is so sparse. Efforts from people that I would like to note are the International Justice Mission, a Faith-based human rights group specializing in victims of sex trafficking and bonded labor who have been working in Cambodia for the last six years. IJM web, NBC) Also, Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances (AFESIP), an advocacy group for children and adolescents at risk that runs a group home in Cambodia for victims of sex trafficking. (AFESIP web, NBC) The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), "Child Protection" section discusses the problem of trafficking in children, and donates money for this cause. (UNICEF web, NBC) When you see the UNICEF boxes come around in the fall on Halloween, donate whatever change you have because now you know where that change is going and it is making a difference in someone’s life across the world.
The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Civil Rights (LICADHO) is a Cambodian group that advocates for human rights, focusing on women and children in Cambodia, who provide (limited) shelters, with limited funds for battered women and children. (LICADHO web, NBC) Not to forget ECPAT International, an international child advocacy group focusing on the problems of child prostitution, child pornography and trafficking of children for sex, and educating people on these issues. ECPAT International web) And lastly, The Protection Project, the Human rights law research institute at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Washington, D. C. , who conduct studies around the world in countries with high rates of human trafficking, report their findings, enact laws, educate the people in harm’s way, and people around the world on preventative measures and serve as an advocate. (The Protection Project web, NBC) Although the groups listed above are fighting for these girls, the reality is, is that not many get out of their oppressors’ hands.
For the girls that do escape the places where they lost so much, and hopefully never to return, the road to recovery is a long one; but their darkest days are behind them. The treatment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases along with the rehabilitation physically, mentally, and emotionally of these girls has just begun. In standard procedure, girls are brought to a safe house for a few days. Then they are placed in group homes: one for the younger girls and one for teens, and in the case of the NBC Documentary, their group homes were run by the charity AFESIP (noted above).
The director of AFESIP, Pierre Legros, stated, “Getting the girls out of the brothels is tough, but keeping them in the group home is even tougher. ” He estimated that on average 40 percent of the rescued girls return to a life of prostitution. (AEFSIP) That is disheartening, but all hope cannot be lost, these children need help. It'll take years to overcome the extreme poverty and widespread corruption that cause the child sex trade to flourish, but I see the current wave of prosecutions as a step forward for this country and its people. That's why there is hope and we have to continue to fight.
Prosecution is the key word, the message has to be very strong and forget about prosecuting the big fish, prosecuting everybody who is involved in it, I think, will be most effective. If we all as human beings come together internationally and take this up as a global issue, I think there could be a change not only for the children of Cambodia, but missing and exploited children around the world, even in our own country. America has been busy fighting a one-sided war in Iraq since 2001 with nothing to show but casualties on both sides. No “weapons of mass destruction” were ever found and yet our troops are still there.
I think that where our funds and efforts really needed to be are on the frontlines fighting for the children of our future. Works Cited Dateline NBC News “Children For Sale” Jan 9 2005. NBC News. Al Jazeera/ News Europe “Child Sex Trade Soars in Cambodia” October 2008. Al Jazeera News. < http://english. aljazeera. net/news/asia-pacific/2008/10/2008102110195471467. html> Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI) 2002 Economy Watch – Domestic Performance, Cambodian Development Review 6(2):14. 2001 Policy Brief, Land Ownership, Sales and Concentration in Cambodia, March. 001 The Garment Industry, Cambodia Development Review 5(3):1-4. 2000 Prospects for the Cambodian Economy, Cambodian Development Review 4(1):8-10. Judy Ledgerwood, Meaghan Ebihara 2002 Hun Sen and the Genocide Trials in Cambodia: International Impacts, Impunity and Justice. IN Cambodia Emerges from the Past. Steve Heder, ed. , DeKalb, IL: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University, pp. 106 - 223. Hanlen, Marcus. "Police Pay of Underdeveloped countries. " Police Information and Statistics of the World (2007): 323-325. Web. 12 Dec 2009. Dateline NBC news “IJM Operation Frees Families from Slavery” Jan 2005. NBC news.
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