One in three people engaged in sexual exploitation in Cambodia are children.
In any direction you look, cranes paint Phnom Penh’s skyline. The capital of Cambodia is growing fast. Coffee shops and fancy restaurants are conquering the financial areas, despite the piles of garbage in every corner that remain a sign that not all Cambodians are prospering, that some of them are left behind.
This is the case of Bora, a scrawny 12 year old boy with a beautiful smile who runs and jumps through the streets of Phnom Penh. collecting scrap and cans to help his mother get a daily income. Since Bora’s parents got divorced, just after he was born, Bora’s mother has had to take care of her six children on her own. Doing the neighbours' laundry and cleaning wherever she found an opportunity was not enough to sustain the whole family. Informal work is always a struggle. Some days you get five euros, some days you get nothing.
Bora, his mother and his five siblings live in a small rented room in one of the cheapest districts in Phnom Penh. Here, hard-working, vulnerable people pay their rent daily and live in overcrowded houses. Children playing in the street dodge drug dealing, gambling, high use of alcohol and domestic violence on a daily basis. Although some neighbours are not the most inspiring role models for Bora to follow, he manages to keep enrolled in school for the time he is not collecting scraps and cans, running back and forth, jumping like as it was a play.
Western foreigners are not very common in Bora’s neighbourhood and they are seen as rich and nice people. That’s what Bora and his friends thought when they met that friendly British man. The foreigner started giving them some food or a couple of euros and, little by little, regardless of language barriers, the children and the foreigner began spending time together at his apartment. Some weeks later, Bora realized he didn’t have to collect scrap and cans anymore thanks to his new friend’s sponsorship. Bora felt very lucky to have found a patron.
The foreigner and Bora developed very tight bonds. The foreigner was paying the Bora's school fees and rented a room in Bora's community so he could spend more time with Bora and other children. Feeling free to get in and out of the foreigner’s apartment, the boys were enjoying his company. Weekends were even better as they had drinks and food and could spend more time together.
When an anonymous citizen called Terre des Hommes Netherlands partner’s social workers in the area, she instantly realized that all the signs of this story pointed to a potential case of Sexual Exploitation of Children. She immediately visited Bora's house where the boy disclosed that the perpetrator used to masturbate him and forced him to watch pornographic videos. Although six other children confirmed they had been sexually assaulted by the perpetrator, Bora was the only one wanting to file a complaint. Bora’s friends chose to believe the perpetrator’s behaviour was based on kindness and denied this was abuse.
Lack of awareness, limited education and poor understanding of grooming and abuse behaviours are some of the issues keeping children, their families and their communities blind to criminal acts committed by perpetrators. This is why Terre des Hommes Netherlands works side by side with its partners, local authorities and communities to prevent Child Abuse by organizing sensitisation and awareness activities with children. We are also devoted to the prosecution of criminals and closely coordinate with partners so these warnings are investigated and action is taken immediately.
The foreigner was rapidly identified and reported as a predator to the Anti Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation Unit of the Cambodian police, who arrested him. Bora and his family started a process of psycho-social and legal support, the first steps of their road to recovery.
One month later, the perpetrator was officially charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and Bora was still receiving psycho-social support and counseling. Accompanied by legal staff, Bora’s mother decided to file a complaint against the perpetrator and started a judicial process.
Today, Bora continues his studies in a public school and receives extra classes from a local NGO partner. “When I grow up I want to be a teacher so I can share with other children what I know,'' he says showing his beautiful smile while runs and jumps through the streets of Phnom Penh like he used to. Now his mother is receiving economic support so he doesn’t have to collect scrap and cans anymore.
One in three people engaged in sexual exploitation in Cambodia are children. Help us help children in the same situation as Bora. Your help is changing thousands of children’s lives. Your support is giving them the power to defeat Child Exploitation.