Child Sex Service for Foreigners Busted

Sold  as virgins to their first Western customers, 15-year-old Koey from Battambang province and 15-year-old Lan from Viet­nam are now HIV positive—just two months after beginning work in Phnom Penh’s child sex trade for foreigners.

Both girls, along with eight others ranging in age from 15 to 17 years, were discovered June 7 when police raided a child sex den catering exclusively to foreigners in the Prampi Makara district of the city.

On Tuesday a second child sex operation for foreigners was raided by police in the Daun Penh district of the city. Two other 15-year-old girls with stories similar to Koey and Lan were discovered.

Investigation into sophisticated operations which deliver child prostitutes and virgins to hotels and foreign-owned residences is still ongoing, and details on suspects cannot yet be released, police said this week.

Koey and Lan, who are now under the protection of the Cambodian Center for the Pro­tection of Children’s Rights (CCPCR), recounted Tuesday how they were sold as virgins to be used by foreigners.

Koey was first sold earlier this year by her aunt to a pimp in Phnom Penh looking for virgins for foreign customers.  The first foreign buyer was a Western man who kept her in his Phnom Penh residence for four or five days, according to Koey.

She later became a prostitute at the house on Street 107. She says that in two months she had sex with four other western men at houses and hotels in the city.

“I remember the foreigners’ faces. I don’t remember where the houses were, but I remember the hotel in front of the Royal Palace,” said Koey, remembering she was delivered during daytime to that hotel, where she was paid $30 to have sex with a foreign man.

Lan was introduced to child prostitution in the same house as Koey after being brought to Phnom Penh from Vietnam. Two of her sisters were already prostitutes, she said.

During her two months at the house on Street 107, Lan said she was sold as a virgin to a Japanese man, then later had sex with an Englishman, another Japanese man and an American she called Ken.

None of the men who had sex with either girl used condoms, they say. Medical tests provided by CCPCR this week show that both Koey and Lan are HIV positive.

An investigator at the children’s protection center said that during surveillance of the house where the girls were found he witnessed five or six foreigners visiting the house each day. One of them was a Western woman.

Child rights activists say that sex tourism in Cambodia is increasing, and charge it is being fueled by involvement of high-ranking officials in prostitution rings and the government’s lax attitude toward prosecution.

Chanthol Oung, an official at the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, said  Cambodia is increasingly being promoted on the Internet as a center for child sex tourism in Asia.

Two web sites accessed this week by the Cambodia Daily were promoting sex tours in Cambodia.

The Fantasy Islands Erotic Vacations site calls Cambodia one of the more “exotic” locations for “fun, romance and sex.” At the Erotic Traveler website, a sex travel newsletter and video containing information on Cambodia’s sex industry can be found.

Back issues of the newsletter contain Cambodian sex tour information under such headings, “Dealing with the cops at Svay Pak,” “Anti-teen prostitution campaign of NGO’s” and “Young women and Cambodia – best bargain in South East Asia.”

The “Girls of Cambodia I,” a 90-minute video shot in Cambodia,  can be purchased at the website. “To the informed and adventurous, these are young, beautiful and sexually available,” says the website.

The Ministry of Tourism, NGOs and Cambodia’s tourism organizations held a two-day workshop June 27-28 on combating sex tourism, said Nuon Rithy Niron, a child rights advocacy worker at World Vision. The government and tourism organizations have expressed a willingness to stop child sex tourism.

The Ministry of Tourism will issue a letter next month to all hotels, guest houses, restaurants and nightclubs, asking them to cooperate in the fight against child sex tourism. Leaflets and posters will be produced warning tourists that sex with children is illegal in Cambodia, Noun Rithy Niron said.

But Cambodia’s myriad of laws makes it difficult to define the age of a minor in Cambodia. Some statutes state that a person below 18 years is a minor, but the anti-human trafficking and prostitution law states that a minor is below 15 years of age, according to So Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project.

Riem Sarim, chief of the Municipal Minor Crime Department, said the raid on the house at Street 107 was the first time he encountered such a child sex operation.

“This was for foreigners only…. Mostly the girls were 15- and 16 years old,” he said, adding that foreign customers came to the house to inspect them and later had them delivered to their hotels or houses.

Riem Sarim said the ages given to police by the rescued girls are probably inflated. “Some of the girls told us they were 14, but when we asked them again [for written statements] they told us they were 15 or 17,” he said.

Two alleged Vietnamese pimps were arrested in the raid are being held in PJ prison, but no foreign clients were apprehended, according to Riem Sarim. He said the names of hotels working with the child sex dealers will not be disclosed until the case is finalized.

Kim Sophon, the investigating judge, said Thursday that he is not investigating foreign clients who had sex with the girls from Street 107 because they did not rape or force the girls.

“We do not need to find the foreigners, because the prostitutes are used to having sex with customers and were not virgins,” Kim Sophon said.

Tuesday’s raid of a second residence in the Daun Penh district freed 12, apparently younger prostitutes, but no one was arrested in that operation, said Pol Pithey, Municipal Foreigner Police Chief.

A children’s rights activist requesting anonymity blasted the lack of arrests, saying some organizations are now reluctant to provide information to the police on suspected child sex rings, fearing the police will use the information to blackmail clients and pimps.

“Usually they don’t arrest the clients….and if they know a place is keeping children for tourists, they go there and make money from the owner also,” said the activist.

Riem Sarim said the operation at Street 107 produced the successful arrest of two pimps because the district police were not informed of the raid until after the minor crime police had surrounded the house.

Children’s organizations have long blamed police officers of tipping off brothels before raids, giving them time to move the girls and escape arrest.

But raids alone won’t solve the problem of sex tourism, many say.

“There are many problems,” said Yim Po, executive director of the Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights. “The first is that Asian tourists believe sex with children is a traditional medicine….Having sex with children will give them good health.

“Secondly, in Cambodia it is easy to find child sex workers,” said Yim Po, noting that some foreigners will pay $1,000 for one week with a virgin.

The purchase of virgins by high-ranking Cambodians is also a  problem, Yim Po said.

A monitoring officer with AFISEP, an organization focused on rehabilitating former sex workers, agreed recently saying at least 20 percent of the 500 sex workers referred to his organization each year say they were sold as virgins to members of the government and powerful businessmen.

“You should see the girls’ reactions when they see those men on TV or in the newspaper,” he said. 

(Additional Reporting by Saing Soenthrith)



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