Phnom Penh and Svay Pak: Child Sex Trafficking in Cambodia


In a few hours, we at Made For Freedom will be picturing Dawn arriving in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on an elephant. (Is the name of the city tripping you up? Here's how you pronounce Phnom Penh) We've got another Made For Freedom team member joining her today as well, so Tara gets an elephant, too. 

Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia, located in the south-central part of the country. It is also the largest city in Cambodia and has a population of just over one and a half million people. 

Before we get into the details of what trafficking looks like in Phnom Penh, let's talk about what it looks like in Cambodia as a whole. We put together this infographic to give a general overview of what the 2014 US State Department TIP Report has to say about Cambodia:

Though the labor trafficking and sex trafficking of non-minor women is a huge part of the issue, we're going to focus on child trafficking today, as it is one of the biggest issues in Phnom Penh. NGOs from all over Cambodia collaborated their information in 2011 and found that 75% of sex trafficking victims in Cambodia are children. Their study also showed that as years go by, the age of those trafficked decreases. When Dawn started to get passionate about doing something to fight trafficking, she saw this video about child sex trafficking in Cambodia, and it moved her further to go to work for freedom. 

Somehow, though adult trafficking is unjust and heartbreaking, the exploitation of young children is even more so. It can be hard to learn about the circumstances these young ones are living through, but knowing what is going on is a first step in providing justice and freedom for them - because Cambodian children are made for freedom!

Svay Pak, a region just outside of Phnom Penh, is an area internationally known for child sex trafficking and child sex tourism. Men from all over the world come to purchase minors for sex, but Cambodian men still provide the most demand for child prostitution. Svay Pak was officially shut down as a red light district in 2005, but instead of actually doing away with the practice, the brothels and prostitution operations went underground. 

The Diplomat and an article in the Canadian Encyclopedia have reported that the children being sold for sex are as young as five years old, though the age range of most of the victims is 13-17. A large part of this is the demand for virgins; men will pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to spend the night with a virgin, most often a child. 

NGOs in Cambodia tell the stories of children rescued from these horrors; many were forced to live in a small room with seven other children and only allowed to leave when servicing a john (one who buys sex). Once rescued, though they may have opportunities through a restorative program, many children are unable or don't want to return to their families because the shame they feel for having been a prostitute is so strong. 

What makes these children so vulnerable to trafficking? Traffickers are particularly coercive and deceptive with children. The same study that found that 75% of victims are children reported that traffickers are mostly females in their 30s, presumably women who feel they have no other way to make money than to exploit others. Parents who live in extreme poverty without hope of a job that pays a dignified wage will sell their children, thinking they will get enough money to support the rest of their family if they do. 

What can dignified employment do to stem the flow of child trafficking and child sex tourism? When parents have a way to keep their families supported, their children are less vulnerable as they may be able to attend school, and a trafficker's offer will be less enticing. 

As Dawn and Tara keep traveling, we'll keep learning about each city they visit! On to Bangkok next!


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