Siem Reap is the capital of the world-famous temples of Angkor Wat. This touristic city in Cambodia depicts a mix of all worlds in one. On the one hand, Western families, backpackers and Asian tourists boost the local economy by visiting the temple and enjoying the local culture. On the other hand, well-organized pedophile mafias, child-abuser tourists coming from everywhere perpetrate crimes against those who are more vulnerable.
In Siem Reap, it doesn’t take so much time to travel from a tourist-focused, glossy-brightly restaurant in downtown to the suburbs where Socheata, aged eleven, lives with her mum.
Socheata’s mother works in a beer garden from 6 pm to 4 am every day to get 80 euros per month. This is clearly not enough to cover the needs of her two children and the rent of her no-running water, no-electricity corrugated-iron roof house in one of the slums around Siem Reap City.
In the city of the most famous Temples of the World, tourists rarely travel to these slums where everyday people like Socheata’s mother struggle making a living in very hard conditions.
After getting divorced, when Socheata was a little girl, her mother moved the entire family to here and, with no money and no help, she managed to rent a small room where she introduced her new partner to her children, a jobless alcoholic man who started beating her.
Lack of money and a very violent environment at home led Socheata to spend most of her time in the streets, hanging around with friends and becoming more and more vulnerable to her environment.
She started sleeping on the streets and begging for money, especially from foreigners around Pub Street area in Siem Reap downtown, so she stopped depending on her family and quit primary school.
In early 2019, while Socheata was begging at Pub Street, she met a foreigner.
The man invited her and her friends to his house. Socheata and her friends agreed to go with him without much consideration. Socheata and her friends were sexually abused during that visit.
The man gave Socheata and her friends a total of 100 USD to share. This was easy money for the children and, as they needed to survive, the same scene happened several more times.
Terre des Hommes Netherlands in Cambodia and its partners work actively to tackle Sexual Exploitation of Children from Travelers and Tourists. Through a combined strategy of prevention of risks, promotion of initiatives to tackle the problem, provision of services to victims and prosecution of perpetrators, children like Socheata can recover their childhood and start a new life.
In May 2019, Terre des Hommes’ partner in Siem Reap received a tip-off from a confidential source informing that a U.S. citizen had brought two underage street girls to his apartment and sexually abused them in exchange of money.
After receiving this information, the Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection police unit in Siem Reap was informed and supported to conduct preliminary investigations.
Socheata and three other girl children were identified and interviewed by the police and following the girls’ statement the suspect was identified and the families decided to pursue the court case.
Terre des Hommes and its partners know that prosecution of perpetrators, along with help and support to law enforcement, is key to the reintegration of the victims. A very hard process is to support them with legal aid and to help them understand the legal process, overwhelming to vulnerable families and especially for children as young as Socheata.
Socheata was referred to reintegration, and long-term psychological and social support with social workers was conducted until Socheta and her mother were summoned by the investigating judge to provide a statement.
The prosecutor charged the perpetrator with indecent acts against minors under 15 years as mandated in the Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Cambodia.
In the meantime, Socheata is recovering her childhood, supported with psychological and physical recovery tools and therapy in a residential care facility where she has resumed her studies.
Creating awareness raising and teaching children and communities about the risks of Children Abuse, promoting better laws and policies to tackle child exploitation, providing vulnerable and victim children with support and help and prosecuting perpetrators are having a big impact in the lives of thousands of children in Cambodia.
Thank you for your help and support to Terre des Hommes. Together we can defeat child exploitation.