At the age of 81, Swiss national Hugo Lenthold is not easily deterred. In December 2010, Lenthold was arrested for abusing four boys aged 12 and 13 in a public park in Sihanoukville. The court sentenced him to two years in prison, and he was released in September after serving 10 months in jail.
Earlier this month, Lenthold was arrested again. This time he was found at a guesthouse in Phnom Penh with a naked 14-year-old boy.
In 2005, British national Michael Julian Leach was arrested for masquerading as a doctor and sexually abusing children at a Phnom Penh orphanage. Five children at the orphanage lodged complaints, but the case fell apart and Leach walked free.
In September 2010, Leach was arrested at a guesthouse in Kandal province, where he was discovered with two girls aged 10 and 13. This time, Leach, 51, was found guilty of child sex abuse and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
British 1970s rock-star Gary Glitter moved to Phnom Penh in 2001 after being convicted of child pornography charges in England. Then-Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua branded Glitter a threat to Cambodia’s children and pushed for his deportation. Glitter moved from Cambodia to Vietnam in 2002 where he was later arrested and jailed for sexually abusing two Vietnamese girls, aged 10 and 11.
While research shows that pedophiles have a high susceptibility to re-offend, child protection workers say Cambodian authorities have an alarming tolerance for allowing foreigners arrested for sexually abusing children to remain in the country.
“We don’t have a sex offender monitoring system. If we release them and let them stay in Cambodia, they would do the same thing,” said Samleang Seila, country director of anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE).
“The best way is to send them out of the country,” he said.
More than 180 foreigners have been arrested for child sexual abuse crimes in Cambodia since 2003. Of those arrested, 40 percent had been convicted of similar crimes in their home country or in Cambodia, Mr. Seila added.
Dr. Robert Prentky, a forensic psychologist at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Washington, D.C., published a pioneering study in 1997 examining recidivism amongst convicted sexual offenders over a 25-year period.
“[B]oth rapists and child molesters remain at risk to re-offend long after their discharge, in some cases 15-20 years after discharge,” Dr. Prentky wrote in his paper, titled Recidivism Rates Among Child Molesters and Rapists: A Methodological Analysis.
“For those highly persistent, highly driven pedophilic offenders, re-offenses many years out can be expected, Dr. Prentky wrote in an email.
“That you have a problem with foreigners migrating to Cambodia for sexual contact with children and young teenagers is of no surprise,” he said, adding that lax law enforcement and a lack of political will to deal with such offenders contribute to the problem.
“By and large, these offenders are there to have sex with many children in a low risk environment,” he said.
Dr. Prentky also said that much study has been done on the psychological effects experienced by children in developing countries who are abused by foreign pedophiles in exchange for monetary benefits.
“It cannot be argued that prostitution of children is without significant negative impact,” Dr. Prentky said.
“Children have a rather basic right to feel safe, to feel protected, to feel cared for. Coercing children to engage in sexual acts with strangers violates all of those fundamental rights,” he added.
Dr. Fred Berlin, one of the foremost experts on pedophilia and founder of the John Hopkins Sexual Disorder Clinic, said in an interview from the US that in cases of repeat offenders, it falls on the government to protect children.
“If they have identified a man that they feel is exploiting children then they must do something about it,” Dr. Berlin said, adding that by ignoring the problem, authorities become culpable in the crime.
“We as societies have a responsibility to protect children. To not intercede…that’s basically an offence,” he said.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the free legal aid Cambodian Defenders Project, said that whether a foreigner can enter or stay in the country depends on the Interior Ministry. And there is no shortage of reasons why a foreigner can be expelled, he said.
“The Immigration law, under article 35, says that the Interior Ministry can expel any migrant who breaks the law.”
Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said that he believes that foreign sex offenders should be removed from Cambodia after they have served their sentences.
“Send them out or put them on the blacklist to not let them come into Cambodia again,” he said. “Pedophiles seem to have a disease in their body…. They don’t like older people, but they like kids,” he said.
However, there are no signs that this is a policy that Cambodia will implement any time soon, and Lt. Gen. Sopheak declined to comment when asked why foreign pedophiles are being allowed to stay in the country after they have served their sentences.
The Interior Ministry is currently deciding what to do with the country’s most notorious foreign pedophile, Russian national Stanislav Molodyakov, otherwise known as Alexander Trofimov. Molodyakov – who was released in December after serving half of an eight year sentence for sexually abusing 15 Cambodian children – is still wanted in Russia for multiple sexual offences involving girls as young as 10. Russia has asked Cambodia to extradite Molodyakov, but it is not known if this will happen.
Ms. Sochua, who is now an SRP lawmaker, said that it is corruption that is allowing pedophiles to stay in the country.
“It’s shameful. It shows a sense of no moral obligation to our own children,” she said. “Cambodia puts itself on the black list of countries with well-known pedophiles.”
“Money is way over moral obligation. Corruption is so thick there is no moral obligation…. How could these guys stay if they don’t pay officials,” she added.