Svay Pak Child-Sex Trade Back in Business—Again

“Small girl, small girl,” a tattooed teenager named Ratha shouted on Wednesday afternoon from the dusty road leading down from National Route Five into the notorious brothel village of Svay Pak on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Ratha led reporters past apartment complexes and small shops to an outdoor coffee shop in the village, located 11 km from central Phnom Penh, and launched his child prostitution sales pitch.

“You want a small girl, I can get for you,” Ratha said. But, he added: “We have to do in secret now.”

Children aged 10 and younger are available for sex, he said.

Svay Pak, which gained global notoriety as a haven for pedophiles, is not the thriving red light area it was before it was once-again officially declared closed in November 2004, but it is definitely back in business.

Phnom Penh Municipality declared in December 2004 that a modern shopping center would be constructed at Svay Pak, and that a new bridge was to be constructed nearby across the Tonle Sap river, in a bid to attract legitimate investment to the area.

Ratha, one of several teenaged pimps hawking for customers on Wednesday and Thursday, said it is again safe for pedophiles because police no longer monitor Svay Pak.

The village in Russei Keo district on average receives two foreign customers each day, he said.

Ratha pointed to a man on a motorcycle driving by and claimed he was a plainclothes police officer, but added that there was nothing to worry about.

“The police have the same business as us. We only worry about NGOs,” he said.

The introduction over, Ratha led a reporter on Wednesday through a maze of tiny wooden houses just off the village’s main dirt road to the back door of a large, windowless brick building.

Inside, he pointed to a small room with a pink velvet-covered bed and instructed a reporter to wait.

After five minutes, a girl of about 12 years, but who Ratha said was 13, entered the small room and said simply: “$100.”

Ratha said he could talk her price down to $40 for sexual intercourse. During a follow up visit on Thursday, Ratha said he had other girls younger than 10 year old.

Anti-pedophile NGO International Justice Mission said Thursday that it was aware that Svay Pak’s child sex trade was again operational, but added that coordinating raids on the village had proven difficult.

“It’s very difficult to do operations in that environment with the level of involvement of government officials,” an IJM official said on condition of anonymity.

“It goes all the way up the chain,” he said.

Although IJM has no direct evidence of involvement by officials in the Svay Pak child sex racket, past operations to rescue children were thwarted suspiciously after coordinating with local police ahead of raids, he added.

Keo Thea, deputy director of the municipal anti-human trafficking police, denied that police were involved with child prostitution.

“[Pimps] hardly make money, so how can they pay police,” he said.

Since Svay Pak was officially closed down, its operations have gone underground, Keo Thea said.

“The girls are living at home with their mothers and are called by pimps who bring them out when guests demand,” he said, adding that the child sex trade in the village “is small, secret and difficult to get rid of.”

Asked about Svay Pak, Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said the battle against child prostitution is an ongoing effort, but referred further questions to the anti-human trafficking police.

Mao Saovann Phalla, police chief of Svay Pak commune, said the residents of the village were to blame for the child sex trade’s tenacious grip.

“It is difficult to completely get rid of [child prostitution],” he said.

“People in the community help the brothel owners,” he added.

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