Editor’s note: This is the conclusion of a two-part article about child trafficking in Cambodia. Read part 1 here .
Most NGO's (non-government organizations) use the U.N. Trafficking Protocol definition of child trafficking: the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of any person under the age of eighteen for the purposes of sexual or labor exploitation, forced labor or slavery.
In Cambodia, widespread corruption and poverty combined with a weak judicial and police force makes it difficult to prosecute child traffickers. But, big strides have been made with shelters established, successful prosecutions and growing awareness. In the community Riverkids works in, child trafficking is generally in three forms: illegal adoptions, child labor, and child prostitution. Trafficking is coercion and exploitation. Child trafficking is the separation of a child from family, culture, and a normal childhood primarily for profit.
Child trafficking for labor is when a family sells a child for exploitative labor. Exploitation can mean the child is too young to be working full-time, or that the work is dangerous for a child. Work that may include selling flowers, candy or food at night, often standing in the middle of busy roads, selling to white tourists.
The subject of child trafficking is an oft misunderstood subject in the “Western world,” where imaginations and misunderstandings conjure up images of kidnappers, high ransoms that can't be met, and a child or young woman getting smuggled off and sold to a wealthy man in a foreign country. Whether or not this actually happens, I cannot say.
The real faces of child trafficking come from the slums of poor villages, along the riverfront of Phnom Penh, or Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Someone approaches a family and offers to make their problems go away by giving them money for their starving child, and a promise that the home the child is going to will provide for them.
Desperate parents believe what is told to them, last kisses and hugs are given, and a child disappears.
The child's new “home” may turn out to be a “baby warehouse.” The type of place desperate “Western” parents go to adopt a child with fewer adoption costs, and without the hassles of so much red tape. Instead of going through state approvals and agencies with fees, Americans, Brits, French, and others fly into a country, go to the “orphanage,” and pick out the child that they want — often oblivious to the real situation, to the real face of child trafficking.
The Dangerous and Touchy Subject of Sex Workers
Family is important in Cambodia, but often the pressures and problems of living in a developing country work against a family. Women with no education or training become sex workers in order to bring home money and food, just as their mothers before them did. It is generational. A mother sells her daughter into sex trafficking, because it is all that she knows. The mother survived it, and in spite of how awful she knows it will be for her daughter, she knows her daughter will survive it as well.
But where does the cycle stop? How can families be saved in such a culture?
This is the other face of child trafficking — the scarier and more terrifying face. A child is sold by his or her parents to a trafficker, who in turn sells the child, or really, the body of the child, for sexual purposes. The child is not loved, not given a good home, but rented out for sexual abuse.
Cambodia is notorious for child prostitution. The worst places have been shut down, but foreign pedophiles still use the country as a corrupt and cheap haven, while local demand for prostitutes has grown for younger teenage sex workers. Do not envision dark seedy streets or acts that occur in back rooms, away from the eyes of the world; it happens everywhere. In just a short visit to a nightclub or even a high-end restaurant in Phnom Penh and you can see it all play out where older (foreign) men are seen dancing with much younger, provocatively dressed girls and women. Massage parlors will offer additional services for an extra dollar.
I met with a masseuse in one such massage storefront. Through a translator I asked her about her family and education. She had no education and could not read or write. Her husband has a small business, but it isn't enough to support the family. She has three children, and she proudly told me she works so that her children can attend school. (State school is not free here.)
She has been a sex worker for more than eight years, starting just after her youngest child was born. She occasionally is hired just for a massage, but most customers come in for the other services. For a massage she earns about one US dollar. For a “happy ending” (the expression she uses although she does not speak English) a customer pays about $1.50, of which half goes to the madam. The sex worker herself only earns $0.75 for each client, and on a good day earns only $3.50.
Many of the Riverkids children come from families where a parent, sibling or relative has been involved in sex work. Abusive families are also more likely to allow abuse of their children. Either parents approach the trafficker or the families are tricked by promises of a good job for their daughter. When the parents are arranging the sale, the girl usually co-operates because she believes it is her duty.
For boys, sex work is usually limited to occasional street work, not brothels. The sold child is watched closely and often beaten, drugged and raped into submission. Once the
Sex work has become a comparatively lucrative job for young girls in the Riverkids community. A foreign “boyfriend” can support an entire family, versus the initial $200-$400 for virginity, with $1-$5 a time subsequently.
Child trafficking and sex trafficking are forever intrinsically linked.
“We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” – The Family: A Proclamation to the World
Ending Child and Sex Trafficking
What can be done to end child and sex trafficking in countries like Cambodia? For individuals abroad, the first step is ensuring that any and all international adoptions are done legally and from reputable and trustworthy agencies and orphanages.
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