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New research says “culture of silence” muzzles Khmer child victims of sexual exploitation

Posted on Apr 25, 2018

25 April 2018

New research released by ECPAT today warns that despite some improvements in tackling the sexual exploitation of children in recent years, thousands of young Cambodians are still victims of this crime – and most are prevented from speaking up or going to police by a “culture of silence.”

Although the report praises changes made in the way that child sexual exploitation is prosecuted by the court system, for example through the use of child-friendly justice (such as TV screens for court room child testimonies), the news for victims in Cambodia is mostly negative. Rangsima Deesawade, Regional Coordinator for ECPAT in Southeast Asia, which released the research, says:

“The sexual exploitation of children is still prevalent in Cambodia and its root causes, including poverty and corruption, have yet to be addressed. The culture of silence about the sexual exploitation of children prevents victims and survivors from coming forward with their testimonies and that allows perpetuators of crime to go unpunished. This taboo and the stigmatisation it causes has the double impact of victimising children even further – while preventing the criminalisation of offenders.”

Allocated funds not enough to combat the sexual exploitation of children
The secretive and clandestine nature of this crime makes accurate statistics on the number of child victims difficult to obtain, but it is clear that the sexual exploitation of children in Cambodia is rife and continues to take evolving forms. For example, the research stresses that, despite having a strong legal framework to prevent and protect children from sexual exploitation, Cambodia does not allocate enough funding or training to combat it; Cambodia remains a source, transit and destination for the trafficking of children for sexual purposes; child, early and forced marriages are still occurring in rural areas; and the online sexual exploitation of children appears to be on the rise.

Tourist boom and voluntourism brought unwanted spectre of sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation of children in Cambodia

The research also points to Cambodia’s tourist boom, fueled by cheap flights – and warns that this has now led to the exploitation of children through prostitution all over the country. Deesawade continues:

“We have seen a rapid recent growth in tourist and other infrastructure, but no increase in protection measures for children.”

Also highlighted is the disturbing new trend of “voluntourism” – especially in the country’s orphanages, which now threatens children living in residential care institutions. The proliferation of “voluntourism” seems to have brought with it the unwanted spectre of child sexual exploitation in some areas. ECPAT is aware of several cases in Cambodia, where traveling sex offenders were able to use volunteering at an orphanage as a means for gaining access to victims. The travel industry has to stop this practice.

The majority of offenders are Cambodian
The study says foreigners, although they are the most ‘visible’, are not the only child sex offenders. Typical offenders are more likely to be from Cambodia or the region – rather from outside it.

“The majority of offenders are Cambodian or come from other Asian countries. In particular, they are the main demand for of the ‘virgin trade’, a big business that thrives due to cultural myths around young girls’ virginity,” says the report.


Read the full report here.

The report on the sexual exploitation of children in Cambodia was a compilation of existing research and sources. It will be used to advocate for the protection of children in the country and for the strengthening of international laws globally. The report will feed into other human rights reporting mechanisms, particularly at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.