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Child Sex Trade in Cambodia : An Ugly Truth

Some call it thrill and some call it necessity while others say it is a social menace. A multi-billion dollar industry in itself, Sex tourism is a topic that has been and will always be strongly discussed especially with some countries legalizing prostitution while others completely banning it. In some underdeveloped countries where prostitution is banned, the laws are not strong enough to keep a check on the sex trade activities which results in an open unhindered market of sex tourism in those countries. While there will always be strong debates on the topic of prostitution – legalized or not – generating some extreme polarizing opinions, there can be no denying the fact that Sex Tourism has created two of the ugliest forms of human abuse – Child Sex Trade and Human Trafficking.

The dark underbelly of human trafficking thrives on the plight of poor families in underdeveloped provinces and countries. These families who are looking to make a living or pay off debts knowingly and unknowingly send off their young women – and men in some cases – to shady traders in exchange of money. Those young women end up in brothels, nightclubs, bars, massage parlors and organized prostitution mostly across popular tourist destinations. This menace of human trafficking also leads to a more grave and inhuman exploitation of Child Sex Trade. Abandoned kids from the streets and those who have been sold off by poor families, are among the millions of innocent children who are victims of sexual exploitation across the world. Cambodia is among the most popular and top visited countries in the world when it comes to tourism. However, this country also has a sadistic reputation of being a haven for pedophiles. Among the millions of tourists who throng to Cambodia every year, there are thousands of sex tourists who engage in sexual activities with kids and minors. There have been several reported incidents of kids as young as 6 years of age being involved in the sex trade. I myself have witnessed such a disgusting incident during my trip to Cambodia last year which would later prove to be a turning point in my life.

When you are in Cambodia for the first time, you’ll notice some of the most significant billboards and hoardings that read – Save our girls, Save our children. Before my trip to Cambodia, I had read about the menace of child prostitution that plagues the country. Reading about it made me feel sad and sorry and I hoped that things would be better than before over there. Reading/hearing about issues and watching those issues unfurl in-front of our own eyes is vastly different. Some places, experiences or even a sight of something has the potential to change our lives for good – that moment, when we discover a new direction and meaning to our lives. I had that moment of mine as I was walking down the Ochheuteal beach at Sihanoukville on a Sunday afternoon.

Poverty, hunger, desperation and greed makes people do unimaginable things, but I wonder what can possibly justify giving away one’s own child in exchange for money. Having read about child trafficking on various online forums and having decent awareness on how it works, I was shocked to see this happen openly, considering the fact that there are supposedly strict laws against child prostitution. Yes, I saw it all happen in a matter of 6-7 minutes – a 60 something old foreigner, a local tattooed guy (read Pimp), a bunch of dollars exchanging hands and amid all this an innocent, confused-looking child not more than 6-7 years old, with no idea that her childhood was going to be taken away from her. All this happening out in the open in-spite of 115 foreign tourists being arrested in Cambodia for crimes related to child sex over the past 8-9 years. Where is the law? Where is the fear? Where is the morality?

I was aware that Cambodia has the dubious reputation for being a heaven for pedophiles and watching it all happen out there, it didn’t just disgust me, it shook my entire notion of the world I live in. Thousands of innocent kids across the country are being pushed into the flesh trade and pervert pedophiles(locals and foreigners) continue to make hay. Yes, there are a lot of organizations that are trying to raise awareness and fight this menace but is that enough? No. Even if people consider the choice to get involved in sexual activities with professional escorts while traveling as an individual discretion, there is absolutely no excuse for sexual exploitation of children under any circumstances. Besides long-term health problems, sexually abused child victims also suffer from irreversible and permanent emotional trauma that can be very difficult to overcome. Not just restricted to countries in Asia, child sex trade is a growing menace across countries in North and South America and as well as the African continent. Although weak law enforcement, deplorable living conditions, poverty and corruption has allowed this child sex trade to exist in countries like Cambodia, sex tourists hailing from different parts of the world are among the major offenders for child sex trade and there are no two ways about that fact.

I have lived in a world which I now realize has been make-believe and selfish to the core. People are more interested in counting the number of “likes” on their Facebook profile pictures rather than talk or even think about the real issues. Countries fighting each other over a few pieces of rocks in the sea. Religions clashing with each other on who has the more superior God. Majority of the world is oblivious to the basic needs of others and content in living in their own “safe” space while innocents continue to suffer elsewhere. As somebody said “It took 4 years and 3 million dead Cambodians for any nation to come forward and help us“, I wonder how many more children would have to sacrifice their childhood for somebody to wake up from the dead slumber. Those few minutes on that beach still haunt me and in a way I wish they continue to haunt me because the image of those particular moments are shaping up my changed life.



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