Cambodia is an impoverished nation that is only now recovering from it's unstable past. In the last 40 years, the country has seen civil war and undergone invasions by South Vietnam, the United States, and later by a reunited Vietnam. The Khmer Rouge government destroyed much of the country's infrastructure - educationally, politically, financially and culturally leaving the country in a state of disorder. However, in the late 1980's, Cambodia entered a time of relative peace and reconstruction.
Poverty is still widespread throughout the country with many living on less than US $1 a day and over 30% of the population living below the national poverty line (2007 World Bank). Crop failures, weather conditions, environmental degradation, health problems, and landlessness result in extreme vulnerability among families. The poor economic situation can often result in child labor and exploitation as families try to make ends meet. Young girls are often trafficked or lured into brothels by the promise of high paying jobs or lucrative economic opportunities. The cycle of poverty is perpetuated through the loss of education and training.
Human Trafficking in Cambodia
The Problem; the sexual slavery of children and youth in Cambodia
The concept of human trafficking has many facets; however, of concern to CCPCR is the trafficking of children, youth and young women particularly from rural poor rural regions of Cambodia and Vietnam for commercial sexual exploitation. The trafficking of children for commercial sexual purposes is an endemic problem in Cambodia and has rightly become the focus of domestic and international human rights concerns.
Cambodia is primarily a source but also a transit and destination country for human trafficking. According to the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report (G/TIP, 2010), the Cambodian government did not show evidence of protecting trafficking victims and was therefore placed on the Tier 2 Watch List. The US Central Intelligence Agency cited Human trafficking as ‘the most pressing social issue in Cambodia today’.
As it stands today, at least 1 in every 150 Cambodian people are commercial sex workers, 45% of these are HIV positive and at least 30,000 are children (including cases of 6 year old girls being sold for $70). This illegal sex trade in Cambodia generates traffickers and corrupt officials approximately $500 million a year. Exploitation through sexual slavery, trafficking and prostitution in Cambodia is enormous in scale but it doesn’t stop there; domestic violence is an even more frequent concern because of the ‘normalcy’ of it. Even worse, according to Cambodia Women's Crisis Center (CWCC), rape victims 10 years old and below account for 18% of the total number of cases reported.
Most rural regions of Cambodia suffer from extreme poverty due to the low value of agricultural production and the long-term effects of decades of civil war. Most provinces experienced years of turbulent Khmer Rouge activities, and the effects of living for decades in dire poverty in regions engulfed by violence have created a volatile, precarious environment in which serious human rights violations continue to prevail.
These poor rural communities have proved to be a fertile environment in which unscrupulous individuals prey on vulnerable young people. Child prostitution rings and sex abusers commonly draw their victims from the poorest families in the communities. Some families have been mislead into believing that they are sending their child away to earn good money to send back to the family, while others have been tricked by people they trust such as friends, other family members, or people posing as respectable business men or women. With the “agreement” of the family, the child is then sold to brothels and locked into sexual slavery. If the child ever gets the opportunity to return to their community they are often confronted by reactions of contempt from the local population and sometimes even their own families, as they struggle with the stigma of their new identity. Social norms attach high value to women’s chastity and stipulate that women remain virgin’s until marriage. Deviation from these norms, even through rape may result in the victim being shunned by society and deemed unfit for marriage.
The idea that females are disposable commodities still exists in Cambodian society, aggravated by the disproportionate value placed on virginity and other prevailing social and cultural norms that perpetuate a widespread lack of respect for women. This leads to high levels of sex trafficking, domestic violence, rape and abuse. Poverty, illiteracy, family issues, gender discrimination, inadequate protection under the law increased together with uncontrolled tourism and high unemployment all provide fertile breeding grounds for vulnerabilities resulting in 1 in 40 Khmer children being sold into sex slavery.
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