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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 February, 2004, 13:33 GMT
Cambodia's child sex crackdown
Cambodian coast
Most sex tourists head to Cambodia's beaches
The recent jailing of a woman and her son for forcing girls as young as 10 to work in a brothel in Cambodia has indicated the country is trying to lose its reputation as a haven for foreign paedophiles.

The pair, from Vietnam, were reportedly sentenced to 20 and five years in jail respectively.

It is one of the strongest signs yet that Cambodian authorities are willing to crack down on the sexual exploitation of young girls and boys in a country where child prostitution has been widespread for many years.

"I think there is a change," Rodney Hatfield, who works for the UN's Children's Fund in Cambodia, told BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

"I think it's probably not exactly in the last year, I think it's been going on for longer - but it's manifesting itself more over the last year."

Last year, Cambodia's Minister of Tourism, Veng Sereyvuth, said that the paedophile was his country's "most unwanted visitor."

He said that there was growing awareness that child sex tourism was a serious issue.

We want to make foreign sex tourists and the people who smuggle children afraid, by showing that in Cambodia, we have laws which are enforced
Our Home director Hanvi Bo
At one shelter for street children in Phnom Penh, half of the boys who stay are former street prostitutes or victims of paedophiles.

"One day when I was walking with two or three of my friends, a foreigner called us over and invited us to eat some food," recalled one 14-year-old, who had been at the centre - called Our Home - for four years.

"I thought the man had good intentions. But instead, he asked to have sex with me. My friends made me have sex with the foreigner. They told me it was better to do it and get the money than to have nothing."

Another resident, now 20, was 14 when he went to the Cambodian seaside and made the change from car washer to child prostitute.

"My friends forced me to wear some very tight underwear, and made me drink some kind of liquid that put me to sleep," he said.

"When I woke up, I found that I was undressed. I was then raped by a French man for five days in a hotel room."

The child then worked as a prostitute for foreigners until he met Our Home executive director Hanvi Bo last year.

Mr Bo confirmed that authorities were taking child prostitution more seriously.

"In 1996, the police would ignore our reports, because they didn't understand their importance," he said.

"But now they will investigate reports on foreign sex tourists if we give them enough information. In eight cases we investigated last year, police intervened and arrested the suspected child molesters. All of the children involved were handed over to my organisation," he said.

Root of the problem

Mr Hatfield said that in addition to the court case, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen had recently met with his Malaysian counterpart Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and discussed the trafficking of women.

Cambodian children
The rights of Cambodia's children are being emphasised
"It has come high onto the political agenda, as well as the media and NGO agenda," he said.

But he stressed that to focus only sex tourism and the influx of foreign paedophiles would be misleading.

"The reality is that it is much more country-based than international-based," Mr Hatfield said.

"While the current emphasis tends to be on foreign paedophiles, there is little doubt that the trade is much broader than that and Cambodians themselves are certainly not free of this problem.

"But I think one of the initial responses to many of these things is to blame someone else, and at the moment it's the internationals who are getting the blame.

"They deserve the blame - I don't think they're being wrongly accused of the problem... gradually I expect that as legislation is introduced, the issue becomes more widely debated," he said.

In particular, Mr Hatfield pointed out that the children did not work independently.

"They're managed by big business," he said.

H said he was hopeful the indications of a change in the government's stance could produce a ripple effect that could seriously hit the child sex trade.

"The first thing that we hope to see will be a reduction in international paedophiles coming to Cambodia. I hope they realise that its not quite as easy as they might have thought it is," he said.

Cambodian anger at paedophile's escape
06 Feb 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Cambodia shuts down red-light district
23 Jan 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Demand for action on child sex trade
20 Dec 01  |  Asia-Pacific
Cambodia's trade in children
12 Dec 01  |  Asia-Pacific
Cambodia says no to sex tourists
26 Sep 00  |  Asia-Pacific


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