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The Evolution of Sexual Exploitation in Northwest Cambodia

Cambodia has seen a 250% growth in travel and tourism and similar rapid growth in foreign business investment between 2006 and 2016 and welcomed large-scale foreign investment. These developments have had a corresponding impact on the nature and scope of Child sexual exploitation, making Cambodia one of the most popular destination in the region for traveling child sex offenders.

SECTT Report Illustration
SECTT Report Illustration

This situational analysis examines the context of sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism (SECTT) in Siem Reap and Poipet, Cambodia.  It highlights a strong contradiction between the views of authorities on the one hand and social workers on the other hand. While government officials and law enforcement note a significant decrease in reporting of SECTT over the past few years, community-level respondents commonly see new business developments as an active threat, in terms of economic impacts, and an increasing involvement of children and young people in adult-oriented, foreign-owned businesses, including massage parlors, bars, KTV establishments, and restaurants.

The study also shows how increased migration often leaves children unsupervised and at an increased vulnerability to exploitation and other forms of violence in the community. When children join their parents to work on the streets or in establishments, they often become vulnerable to SECTT. Unseen forms of SECTT, including the growing role played by online platforms in facilitating SECTT, is expressed as a notable concern, citing the use of pornography for grooming, in addition to online platforms used to connect with children. 

While this research was conducted prior to the COVID-19 outbreak at the beginning of 2020, some of the trends it identifies are likely to be aggravated in the post-COVID context. As COVID-19 lockdowns and travel-restrictions push both perpetrators and children online, the risk for Online Child Sexual Exploitation (OCSE) increases. Further, as COVID-19 has made travel for potential perpetrators difficult, resident perpetrators (both long-term visitors and Cambodian nationals) may also have an increased advantage to exploit the elevated economic vulnerabilities to harm children.

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