Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sexual exploitation in Cambodia

Navy (pronounced Na-wee) our housekeeper told me the other day when she was working at a massage shop on Pub Street, she was propositioned by a Korean man, who asked her to be his girlfriend. Navy is very pretty and slim. She is married with two young children. She said the guy was "jah", Khmer for "old" (in his 40s, but then Navy is only 26).

This man would come to the massage shop and tip her USD10 or USD20 each time. He asked his friend to translate his desire for her to be his girlfriend. He would pay her USD100 a month and buy her everything she wants, he said. When he returned from a visit to Korea, he bought her makeup.

This is the reality for many Khmer young women -- there are men who come to Cambodia to pick up girlfriends, to exploit the poverty here. And one should note that it is not just foreign men, nor, as Navy's example shows, just Western men. Cambodian men are among the worst exploiters. Rape is very common and often by policemen, gang members or customers. When they do pay for sex, Khmer men pay between USD3-5 here in Siem Reap (it's cheaper in Phnom Penh). No wonder prostitutes prefer to sleep with rich foreign customers, some who pay up to USD100 a night.

Navy asked me a strange question: Do you have to sleep with foreign men when they ask you to be their girlfriends? Duh...! Apparently, it is not the case when Khmer men ask for a girlfriend. She says it could be just for company, like an escort, which I find hard to believe.

Navy says she told this man she was married with two kids, but that didn't bother him. I asked her, what did your husband say? She said her husband is afraid of her, which I took to mean, it would be her choice, however she wanted to respond to the situation. Fortunately, she says, she "cheh kert" (know how to think) and will not "louk kloon" (sell oneself), even though she is poor. We got to talking about these "srei ko-ick" (bad girls) and Navy says they think they are the clever ones, because they do not have to work hard or for a long time, in order to save money to buy a house or start a business. But this is hardly the norm. Far more common for Cambodian prostitutes is the situation described below:

My hometown is in Kampong Cham Province.I never went to school, because I grew up when the country was in the middle of the war (Pol Pot).All schools were destroyed and teachers were killed.I had been living with a man as husband and wife without marriage for 4 years.I have two children.All the children are living with me.I don’t have money to rent a house.Every day I sleep on the street and in the parks.I came to Phnom Penh in 1999 and started sex work in 2000.I get a better income from sex work than from begging on the streets or at the markets.I don’t have money to pay for a house rental fee.Every day I
work in the parks and streets and stay under the tree.When it is raining,I stay in front of the shop.All the children are with me.They go out to beg.Sometimes they come back to me with some money or food they got from the restaurant.We live like dogs. FILENO. 0740454, 4 MAY 2004

It is from this study:

It is a very depressing subject for me, and I'd like to leave it as that. You can find out more about this part of life by Googling the topic. For readers interested to do something about the situation in Cambodia, you can join us at Riverkids . I am a trustee of this locally-registered NGO that focuses on prevention of sex trafficking. The children helped by RK are all at high-risk of being sold for sex. We had one case where a cross-eyed girl had her eyesight fixed by an NGO that RK contacted. The now normal-looking girl was promptly sold to Sihanoukville by her sister-in-law for USD400. She was 14.

The work is incredibly hard, and needs the cooperation of the families, the community and the officials. Although RK does not win them all, the team never stops trying. RK's country director is Phy Sophon, who used to work for another famous anti-trafficking outfit, AFESIP.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin