Christians Fighting Cambodian Sex Trade

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With the global recession affecting Cambodia, humanitarian workers say that more young women are being victimized and trapped into human trafficking and prostitution.

The capital city, Phnom Penh, has 20 percent of the trafficked sex workers. Christians are working together to help the victims and end the sex trade industry.

On a late afternoon a Cambodian girl easily initiatied friendly conversation with foreign strangers.

Vanthat,10, said that French men often come to Cambodia to talk to the children.

She said sometimes those same kids disappear as possible victims of the sex-trafficking industry.

The Riverside is a favorite tourist spot in Phnom Penh but it is also a hotspot for peodophiles and human traffickers because many children roam around begging and selling flowers.

United Nations Report

The U.N. says 200 to 500 Cambodian women from the provinces are trafficked every month into the capital city and neighboring Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.

Children as young as 4-years-old account for 35 percent of the victims. Many are afraid to speak up about their plight.

Ros Heng, national facilitator of the Chabdai Coalition, a Christian network of 20 organizations committed to ending sex abuse and trafficking, said the children find it easier to lie.

"Even though they are victimized they don't tell the truth. These men come to them, touch them and give them money. If they tell the truth and men are arrested, they lose the income," Heng said.

According to Ros, most of the child victims come from very poor families in the provinces. He said some are sold as many as five times over, and for as little as $300.

Charya,15, not her real name, lost her mother when she was seven-years-old, because no one took care of them. She was sold by her aunt to the brothel along with her 4-year-old sister.

"They locked us in a room and forced us to watch pornography so we would know what to do. If we refused they would electrocute us," Charya said.

Christian Groups Helping Victims

Charya and her sister were rescued after four years. Traumatized children like Charya are helped and given a home by the Chabdai Coalition.

Another Christian group committed to helping sex trade victims is Hagar International.

Emelita Goddard, Hagard's senior manager, described the abuse suffered by a young victim.

"In Thailand she said she didn't know she had to service ten men per day. She was 10-years-old. She ran away when she was 14-years-old. She had to service so many men just to pay her way to Cambodia. By the time we have her she was almost 18," Goddard said.

Such a dreadful story is common to most trafficked victims. At Hagar, the abused women are placed under the organization's holistic program.

The ministry provides not only counseling, but also equips women to earn a living outside the sex trade. Most of the girls are employed in Hagar-run enterprises such as the soya factory, crafts and garments, and a catering business and restaurant.

Eternal Hope

The women are also finding an eternal hope.

"They said before we have never heard about the God who cares. When we have problems we never ask someone to help us but this time when we have problems we prayed and Jesus answered us," Goddard added.

Leoum,15, was sold by a trusted family member to the brothel when she was 13-years-old. After her rescue, she was placed under the after care program of the Hagar children's department.

Her drawing at the Hagar children's department illustrates not only her life but that of the many children and young women who have found hope through the different Christian organizations committed to help victims like them.

"In this picture, the mud is my life in the past. The lotus grows up from the mud just like my life when I am saved and brought to live in Hagar. So my life starts blooming and becomes beautiful again," Leoum said.

*Originally published March 13, 2009.

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Lucille Talusan

Lucille Talusan

CBN News Asia Correspondent

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