Cambodia sex brothels the guy

BBC reporter Thembi Mutch spent seven weeks in Thailand and Cambodia, finding out what life is like for children trafficked into the region’s thriving sex industry. Read his account here and an update on Servants’ work in the brothels and slums below…

In Cambodia and Thailand, sex work is so lucrative for everyone involved that it is more blatant than almost anywhere else in the world.

It is not just tolerated, but unofficially, according to many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), it is actively encouraged by both the police and the government.

A recent memorandum of understanding between the countries in the Mekong region – including Thailand and Cambodia – has done much to stem child prostitution. So too has more 10 years of aid work and advocacy by NGOs.

But despite this, resorts like the Thai beach town of Pattaya seem to be more like industrialised brothels than functioning towns.

The sex industry has also expanded to Cambodia, with many children employed as domestic workers, bricklayers, in fish processing plants, while at the same time dipping in and out of the best paid option, sex work.

Most of these children are not there voluntarily – they are trafficked.

Trafficking is helped along by the economic boom in South East Asia. The frantic rate of construction springing up in the region has brought more staff with a desire for young sex workers.

It is not an easy task to pose as “interested tourists” in these areas. We hung out on the streets at night, and got information of where children were working from local sex workers.

We recorded in blacked-out vehicles, changed hotels regularly, and I could never let the recording equipment be seen, or check my recordings, until I was safely inside the hotel.

Once, in Cambodia, we recorded traffickers making deals of children over coffee in a cafe in broad daylight.

The atmosphere was hostile, and the men were clearly on hard drugs, and drinking.

“Who are these people,” I muttered to Ang, the ex-prostitute who was my fixer.

“They’re Vietnamese and Cambodian government officials,” she replied, and my heart sank.

We left immediately, aware that it costs $50 (£25) to hire a hit man in Cambodia.

We were followed almost continuously that day, and also on several others. Men on mopeds and motorbikes would pull up beside us as we raced through the capital Phnom Penh – me clutching Ang’s waist, sitting pillion on her moped.

They would take a good, thorough look at my face, and then fall back behind us.

As for the trafficked children, their stories defy words.

A 15-year-old girl in Cambodia said her parents had sold her to a man for her virginity. The man had drugged and raped her whilst she was unconscious.

After a week in the hotel room with this man, she was sold onto a brothel. There, she was gang-raped by 10 men posing as clients.

She escaped, by hiding in a rubbish bin, but was then tricked into prostitution again, staying for three years. Eventually she escaped, and knocked on the door of some strangers, who cared for her.

She then made a two-day bus journey to Phnom Penh, where she arrived three months ago.

I also met a chatty, bright and wide-eyed nine-year-old, who, under a mango tree in the countryside, described how she had been kidnapped from the streets of the capital, locked in a house for a month, and made to watch pornography and drink water with human faeces in it.

The traffickers know what they are doing. She and the other girls were beaten regularly and never allowed out – all part of a systematic campaign to break down the children so they were too confused to do anything about it.

These children did not even know what sex or trafficking is, and whether they will ever “recover” from their ordeal is an ongoing debate.

[Adapted from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6915890.stm.]

******** SERVANTS’ RESPONSE ********

Several years ago, Servants established a clinic in the heart of one of the worst slum brothels in Southern Phnom Penh. (This clinic is now almost entirely run by our Cambodian Christian colleagues who have formed their own local organisation called TASK.) During the clinic, medical care is provided and the girls are encouraged to escape from the brothel lifestyle and go to a Christian safe house where they are cared for and learn new skills.

We have found it is vitally important to deal with the root causes of why they found themselves in sex work originally, rather than simply “rescuing” them and then seeing them return later. Over the years a number of girls have been set free from the destructive lifestyle of prostitution and provided with a path towards healing.

Equally importantly, Servants (and TASK) works closely with hundreds of impoverished orphans and families in the slums who are struggling with AIDS, unemployment, and other difficulties, in order to prevent trafficking and see the transformation of their lives and communities. This prevention work involves supporting families through income generation, health care, counselling and prayer, and a wide variety of other supports.

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