Three Vietnamese girls discovered earlier this year working as child prostitutes in Phnom Penh’s notorious Svay Pak brothel village were returned to their parents on Friday on agreement they keep them out of the sex trade.
The three girls, all in their early teens, were handed over to their families in the Tuol Kok district of Phnom Penh and at Svay Pak village after spending three months under the care of child-protection NGO, Afisep.
Rescued earlier this year by US-based human trafficking investigators, who posed as child-sex customers in Svay Pak, the girls were under the jurisdiction of Afisep but had requested they be returned to their families.
“This is not what we wanted,” said Afisep Adviser Pierre Legros.
“The did not want to stay here. They did not want vocational training, they did not want to do reintegration,” Legros said.
Legros said there were no complaints against their parents—who may have acquiesced in their entry to child prostitution—therefore they were their legal guardians and had to be returned.
The parents of the three girls signed an agreement with Afisep promising they would not allow them return to prostitution. If the girls should do so, their parents will be held responsible and face legal proceedings, Legros said.
Legros said the three girls had progressed in Khmer language classes during their time at Afisep, and would have benefited from a longer period of time at a shelter where they could learn a vocational skill.
“We have everything to re-integrate victims of sex slavery…. But I can’t keep them against their will,” he said.
Somaly Mam, Afisep president, who attended the hand over of the first 13-year-old girl in Tuol Kok on Friday morning, told the girl’s mother she would be held responsible if authorities were not informed immediately of her daughter’s return to prostitution.
Somaly Mam also told the girl’s mother that Afisep will give her daughter job training if she is interested in pursuing a vocation.
Despite the mud and drizzling rain, dozens of Western and Asian customers were keeping business brisk in Svay Pak as the remaining two girls were returned to their parents on Friday afternoon.
Afisep staff tromped through a warren of muddy paths escorting the two girls back to their parents, who live a stone’s throw from the two-story concrete brothels they were rescued from earlier this year.
Svay Pak’s commune chief was also in attendance and co-signed the agreement with the parents promising the two girls would not slip back into the village’s booming sex industry.
Wearing polka-dot pajamas, one of the girls seemed happy to be reunited with her mother and younger brother, but was unwilling to give details about how she ended up in the nearby brothel.
Fear of revealing any details about the Svay Pak child prostitution scene was also evident earlier in the day at the first handing over in Tuol Kok.
“Don’t ask much about it,” the 13-year-old told reporters.
“I am very worried of being arrested by police,” she said.
Afisep staff said they will continue to monitor the girls to ensure they keep out of prostitution.
The three girls were sprung from Svay Pak earlier this year by staff of the International Justice Mission (IJM) who, on the pretext of wanting to take them to hotels, brought them to an NGO.
IJM investigators then provided police with information that led to the discovery of 14 other underage sex workers in Svay Pak brothels.