In what children’s rights officials believe to be one of the severest jail sentences for child trafficking ever handed down by a Cambodian court, 36-year-old Vietnamese national Lou Chantha was given 15 years in prison Tuesday for selling her teen-age daughter into prostitution on three occasions between 1996 and 1998.
Lou Chantha sold her daughter to a Svay Pak brothel in 1996 when she was 14 years old. She then resold the girl on two subsequent occasions in 1997 and 1998 despite receiving substantial financial assistance from NGOs keep her from selling the girl because of poverty.
Phnom Penh Municipal court also handed down two 10-year sentences and one 15-year sentence—all in absentia—to three Svay Pak brothel owners who purchased the girl to work in brothels in the red-light village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
Leang Tilang, 45, Sen Sochea (Ta Chea), 48, and Ko Von, 43, were convicted on the strength of their written statements read out in court as evidence that Lou Chantha sold her daughter to their brothels.
Handing down the sentence at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Judge Horm Meng Se said, trafficking children for sex was “immoral and hated by Cambodian society.”
According to a court official, arrest warrants would not be issued for the three involved in running the brothels as they have two months to appeal the sentence.
Plaintiff in the case, Soeung Kamaryan, a Licadho investigator, said at the court Tuesday, “We helped this woman on many occasions and she still insisted to sell her daughter to brothels.”
According to Soeung Kamaryan, Licadho was among several organizations which attempted to help Lou Chantha out of the poverty trap she says forced her to sell her daughter to the Svay Pak brothels.
“She [Lou Chantha] was bought a house in 1998 by an organization and loans she owed to brothel owners in Svay Pak were paid off. But she refused to move to the new house because she said their would be no clients to do [sex] business with,” Soeung Kamaryan said.
In testimony read out in court, Lou Chantha’s daughter—now 17 years old—said she was first sold by her mother to a Svay Pak brothel in 1996 for $350. She was then sold on a second occasion in 1997 for $174.
To escape the eye of NGOs in Phnom Penh tracking her movements, Lou Chantha brought her daughter to work in a Sihanoukville brothel in 1998. She was arrested by police after Licadho tracked her to the coastal town in mid-1998.
Lou Chantha has been held in T3 prison since her arrest and her sentence has drawn some criticism from observers.
Laurence Gray, program manager with World Vision, said more consistency is needed in sentencing those involved in organized trafficking and child prostitution. Many cases are still left untouched by the courts, Gray said.
“This is an overly harsh sentence when you consider the brothel owners received a less severe sentence and are still free while they appeal their sentence,” he said.