Child trafficking

>> photo

The United Nations estimates that in Asia alone more than one million of women and children became victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.  In the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma (Myanmar), child trafficking increased with the tourism boom of the last decade.

Trafficking for sexual exploitation in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan is attributed more to
the consumption trend than poverty.  However, in the Southeast Asia, poverty and lack of education is a major factor of trafficking.  According to the UNICEF report of 2001,
gchild trafficking is most epidemic and exploiting in Cambodia.h

Poipet is a town at the Thai border, Banteay Meanchey in Northern Cambodia. It is the border route open to tourists in Northern Cambodia.  In the last several years, casinos started filling the town. Every night, tourists visit Poipet from Thailand where gambling
is illegal.  Poipet has become a gambling town.  The town resembles a small Las Vegas in
the evening when large neon casino sign turn on. 

About 40 children live in the childrenfs shelter in Poipeth Eighty percent of children have been sold to the child trafficking syndicate.  Among sheltered children in the facility,
a several month-old baby was found. 

"Poipet is a hell for children. No other places demonstrate trafficking and abuse explicitly to this degree in the public. No law is valid. Everything is solved with money. It is horrible."

Mr. Peron, a French volunteer says.

The status of women and children is still low in Cambodia.  Many parents think that education is unnecessary for children and women and that they should just work. 
Especially in the rural area, children are often considered as furniture or cattle.h

Desperate families in extreme poverty sell their children for money.  The money will help other family members survive.   For them, selling their children is a way to survive.  As long as there are gaps between rich and poor, child trafficking will persist.  And such a vicious circle enlarges the child trafficking syndicate.

There are 20,000 children under 15 who are working in the brothels throughout Cambodia.


Child Trafficking in Cambodia: Vanished into the darkness

gThai, Chinese, and Japanese tourists come in a tourist bus. It used to be a sorry looking border town. But now, casinos bring us prosperity. When people gather, all sorts of business opportunity are created, I think itfs interesting,h says a pimp in front of a casino.
He whispered to my ear, gWant drug? Or if you pay more, we get you a young girl.
Donft worry. You will never get caught.h


A 12 year-old boy, Nan, lives under the bridge at the Poipet border. At five a.m., he washes his face with water from a river polluted by filth. When the sun rises, I notice there are lots of people sleeping under the bridge. A boy sleeping like dead, a girl scratching all over her flea-ridden body, sister sleeps lying over each other. There were about a couple dozen people. Most of them are children, almost the same age as Nan. 

Children living under the bridge are called gtrafficker.h They illegally transfer goods from Cambodia to Thailand. Many children were forced to work and sold by the child trafficking syndicate.

gI will carry jeans and blankets today. Itfs easy,h Nan says. He packs clothes enough for one day. His group started to cross the border around 7 ofclock. gBorderh has no sign, the stream functions as a de facto border.

Among the other traffickers, there is a girl younger than 10. Children carrying clothes on their back s head the group. Children follow carrying boxes tightly masked. A small boy was climbing the steep hill and carrying brand new bike, which was twice as big as him. At the top of hill is Thailand. Children walk one kilometer to the market from there.  Off the main road and animal trail is their path. They walk quietly, afraid of unwanted attention. 

Swan, a reporter from the local English language newspaper, Cambodia Dairy, says: gTrafficked goods from Cambodia to Thailand are mainly clothes and electronics imported from China. It is cheaper to pay brines to custom officials, than paying custom duty. Police in Thailand and Cambodia will be softened if you give them money.  Other goods are trafficked or stolen goods. For example, computer and automobile provided by foreign aid agencies were sometimes found being sold in Thailand.h 

gItfs only last couple years that trafficking syndicate started to use children as traffickers.  The first reason is it became very cheap to by children from child trafficking syndicate.  For example, 10 year-old child only costs 150 dollars. Child is cheaper than used automobile or new bike. It is insane.h

About 40 children live in the childrenfs shelter in Poipet. The shelter has two large rooms, each one fro boys and girls. During the daytime, children study there. A locker with a key is given to each child, and everyone stores all their possessions there. Recently, more and more Cambodian children have been discovered in Thailand.
 gChild trafficking syndicate based in Thailand buys Cambodian children and forces them to work as beggars or flower sellers. All money they earn goes to the syndicate. They are malnourished. Their employer uses violence to force them work. The majority of children are driven into sex-related work at the end,h says Mr. Peron.

Toi, an 11 year-old girl, has lived here for one year. She stores a pink stuffed animal in her locker along with textbooks, stationeries, and clothes.
gI talk with this stuffed animal when I am lonely,h says the girl holding the animal. 

gMost of children blame their parents on selling them. Only few children go home to
parents,h says Mr. Peron.

Flood hits village

Nan was born at Prey Veng near the Vietnam border. He lived with his parents, three young brothers, and a young sister. His father was a soldier, but was discharged without an advanced notice due to ggovernment forces restructureh in 1998. Since then, Nanfs family went into farming with his motherfs family near the Vietnam border.

Two years after they moved, a fold hit the village. The paddy was wiped out and Nanfs father borrowed 500 dollars from the village money lender. A flood hit the village again the next year, and Nanfs father failed to repay the loan.

The family sold the used automobile to feed themselves. Nanfs sister became sick and the village doctor told them to take her to the city hospital, which is dozens of kilometers away.  Nanfs parents did not have enough money to take her to the hospital. 

It was around that time when job brokers visited the village. gWe are looking for young people who can work as a dish washer and a cleaner at a restaurant in Phom Phen. We provide housing and three meals a day.h

Among them was one Vietnamese man. He said to Nan, gYou can earn 100 dollars per month. h
He was neatly dressed and drove a nice car. He persuaded Nanfs parents skillfully. 

Nan was the oldest child of the family, but only nine year-old. His father rejected job offer for Nan, saying that ghe is too young.h However, the man came back next day with some gifts for Nanfs father. Nan saw the man give his father enveloped money. Nanfs father nodded as the man said, gI will come back tomorrow.h

That night, the father said to Nan, drunken, gJust for one year. Will you go, please?h  Nanfs mother, attending Nanfs sister groaning from her sickness, filled her eyes with tears. Nan decided to work in Phomm Phen.

Crossing the border

Nan was carried away on the back of a truck. The driver covered the back with vinyl cover |as if to hide 9 year-old Nan. The truck went on bumpy roads and Nan was given a piece of stale French bread. The truck stopped at midnight after a two-day trip. Nan was told to get off and was taken under the large bridge. There was a castle-like casino and the lights of casino made the surrounding area as bright as daytime.  

Nan slept on a straw mat and woke up early in the morning. Several dozen of boys were sleeping on the earth in the area. The boy who was next to he told Nan that gthis is Thai border town Poipet.h Nan never doubts that he was in Phom Phen. He could not believe the boyfs word.

Nan was driven to work starting that day. He became a gtraffickerh who transports goods illegally, and makes several trips to cross the border. gThe Cambodian young guy with tattoo all over his body punches me if I get lazy. Itfs always the Thai that tells us what to carry. Sometimes, Vietnamese come. They only give us lunch and dinner.  There is no break from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.h

At the each end of the bridge at the border, there are immigration offices of both Thailand and Cambodia. When children cross the border under the bridge illegally, immigration officers and police men demand bribes. Without paying you will not be allowed to cross the border, and if you refuse to pay, they beat the children up.  gYesterday morning, Thai police beat me with a stick and the Cambodian policeman kicked me when I came back to Poipet. The police never hit our face so that it would not be visible.h

Nan sometimes saw children forced to get down from the truck in the middle of the night. Some children were sold to Thai on the spot. Nan thought of escaping countless times.
gBut I am afraid I will get caught. When they caught my friend, they shaved his hair and stripped him down naked. Then they hit him with stick full swing. They hit him until he fell unconscious.h

No efforts to eradicate child trafficking

gWe, Khmer, have suffered from violence since 1970s when Pol Pot reigned. Even now, many women and children suffer from such violence,h says Cambodian Ministry for Women, Madam Sochua.

gThe government has made no effort to eradicate child trafficking. I joined the government to protect women and children. However, there are no government officials who would work along with me.h

The Cambodian market was opened in the early 1990s. It was during this time that the system was established in a way which allowed the privileged to benefit from corruption and bribes. Even though the amount of foreign investment increased, the investment was concentrated in the cities and the rural area was left undeveloped. 

Farmers lived self-sufficient lives with little cash income. Drought, flood, and inflation put them in poverty. Children receive no education and living standards in the rural area are stunningly lower than in the city.

Madam Sochua says, gCambodia nowadays is a lot more stable than before. However, the economic difficulty persists in the rural area. It might be hard to believe, but parents in poverty do not hesitate to sell their children. In addition, many organizations abduct children for the purpose of selling them by posing as legitimate job brokers. Child trafficking will continue to thrive unless we combat these organizations.h


gIt is extremely difficult to regulate child trafficking organization in Cambodia,h
says Mr. Nian, Chairman of Cambodian Journalist Association. gThe Child trafficking syndicate has connections with local police, politicians, and Thai and Vietnamese mafia. 
It is too risky to reveal the operations of a syndicate protected by bribed police.  Politicians neglect situations in exchange for repayment that they receive.h

During the 1990s, many of Cambodian human rights organizations made efforts to eradicate child trafficking syndicate. However, corrupted police prevented their efforts.  Human rights organizations were coerced by the violence of police and forced to suspend their activity.  There were many cases in which people convicted on charges of selling and buying children were deemed innocent by a bribed judge.

gThis country is structured by corruption and bribes from the top to the bottom.  Nothing will be changed unless we change the system,h says Mr. Nian.

20,000 under 15

Pailin, Battamang province, Northern Cambodia. The town adjacent to the Thai border is known as a Pol Pot base even after Pol Pol reign ended.

Pailin has a red-light district at the outskirts of town. Passing a sign says gKaraoke Bar,h there is a dark waiting room. Chit and her coworkers are waiting for customers. There are 20,000 children under 15 who are working in the brothels throughout Cambodia. Thirteen year-old Chit is one of them.

Inside the Karaoke bar, a remodeled old building, there are many rooms about 2.42 square meters. A customer go into the room with the girl he likes, sing karaoke, and drink. The girls drink to increase the barfs sales. They make money when they sleep with customers: 4,000 riel for ga short.h Half of the earnings will go to the bar owner. 
gI sleep with four to five customers and make 10,000 riel. That is just enough to pay my living cost. I am planning to go to Thailand to make more money. I have heard Thailand has more tourists, and things should be better than here,h says Chit.


Thirteen year-old Chit is from Kompong Cham state. Her father died from tuberculosis when she was five. gMy mother sold fish at the market in the early morning and also worked at
the kiosk until midnight to raise us four daughters.h

Life turned even crueler when Chit turned nine. Her mother died from overworking.  Several relatives, whom Chit never met, came to her motherfs funeral. They introduced themselves
as distant relatives of her mother. They wore gold and dressed neat like city people. 

The next day after the funeral, Chitfs aunt all of sudden told Chit that she gwill take care of the four girls.h The oldest Chit was nine year-old, Mei was six and other two were four and three. Orphaned girls had no choices. Chit nodded when she was told that they gare going Phom Phen righ away.h Three cows and pigs were sold by her aunt.
gIt did not take too long to pack; we only had couple clothes and just one straw mat.h

Her aunt lives outside Phom Phen in a gorgeous three-story house with a restaurant on
the first floor. The girls were given a small room without a window right next to the kitchen on the first floor. Chit and Mei were told to help the restaurant. They worked
from five in the morning until 11 in the night, cleaning the restaurant, washing dishes, doing laundry, carrying beer, and doing everything else they were told to do. Chit even
took care of her sisters whenever she could find time.
gIt was a hard work, but we had a place to stay and food to eat. And more than anything,
I was happy to live with all of my sisters.h

Sent to Karaoke Bar

After six months or so, Chitfs aunt told her, gWe opened the new restaurant at Pailin near the Thai border. You and Mei work there.h Chit hesitated. She did not want to leave her young sisters. When Chit refused to go, her aunt said nicely, gwefll pay for you if you are going to work in the new restaurant. You can go to school, too. Your sisters will be happy here.h

Chit never had a chance to go to school and cannot read or write. Often, she was made fun
of by other restaurant workers for that reason. Mei disagreed with Chit.  Chit persuaded
her saying, gWefll get paid and be able to go to school. There will be a lot of rich people at the border and we can buy whatever we want with our paycheck.  Letfs go.h

In several days, Chit and Mei arrive din Pailin, the town at the Thai border. A guy who spoke with a Northern accent took them to a strange place on the day of their arrival.  Every house had a similar setting and sign that read gKaraoke Bar.h Many women with a lot
of makeup were sitting in front of these places in daytime.

The man handed Chit and Mei to an old lady, who seemed to be the owner of the Karaoke bar. gYou two listen to me!h she told them. There were a couple of drunken men with nasty looks sitting in front of places. The wall of the bar was filled with nude pictures of white women. There were about five women in the bar, helping the customers with drinks. Along with Thai and Chinese, a language they never heard was spoken in the room.

Drunken policeman with a gun was holding the lady owner. Two girls were trembling as they watched some of the women going into rooms in the back of the bar with a customer. New customers came in and were staring at Chit and Mei. The customers ordered whisky from the top shelf of bar, and smoked foreign cigarettes lit by silver light. The owner said to them, gShe is new. Nine years old. She is expensive, still virgin.h
Chit realized the aunt in Phom Phen tricked them.

Now Chit turned 13 this year.
Her sister Mei is now 10. Mei, wearing heavy makeup, disappeared into the room in the back carrying a condom.

A loud male voice singing Karaoke comes from the room in the back.

gHefs a local powerful guy. He comes during the day in secret.
Politicians I see on TV sometimes comes, too,h Chit said, smoking cigarette.

translation: Yumiko Nakagawa & Belinda Long

published in 2002



>> photo

>> page top