Corruption, poverty and a bloody past have made Cambodia a child sex trade hotspot
Khmer Rouge's systematic destruction of society led to the death of 2 million in the 1970s
Report: Culture plays a part as "saying 'no' to an adult is not easily tolerated"
Svay Pak is a poor fishing village on the outskirt of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, known globally as a destination for child sex.
It’s a place where mothers sell their own daughters to child traffickers, who supply them to brothels locally and across the country.
But how has such a perverse trade been able to take root, let alone flourish here?
Mark Capaldi, senior researcher for Ecpat International, an organization committed to combating the sexual exploitation of children, says several factors have made Cambodia a prime destination for child sex offenders.
“Insufficiently enforced laws, corruption, and the failure to address more overarching problems such as poverty and the negative side effects of globalization have made it a challenge for the country to shed the unenviable reputation as a destination for child sex,” he says.
The authors of a 2011 Ecpat International report identified a number of cultural and sociological factors that made Cambodian children “particularly vulnerable to adult predators.” “It has been observed that Cambodian children are indeed expected to abide by rules set forth by adults, and saying ‘no’ to an adult is not easily tolerated,” reads the report.
But what of the acceptance and willing participation of so many locals, including parents themselves, in the trade? For Don Brewster – head of Agape International Missions, which aids Cambodian child survivors of the sex trade – part of the answer as to why so many adults in Svay Pak are able to abnegate their parental duty to protect may lie in Cambodia’s brutal recent past, which left behind a fractured society.
“What this country went through was unique in history,” says Brewster, of the Khmer Rouge’s systematic destruction of religious, educational and social structures – not least of which the family unit – during its genocidal 1975-79 reign.
When Pol Pot’s maniacal experiment ended, 2 million people were dead, and society’s institutions almost erased. “You lost your educated people and the system of educating them; you lost the moral compass that Buddhism provided,” he says.