Cooperation is key to combating the sexual exploitation of Cambodian children by foreign visitors as the country’s tourism industry expands, children’s advocates say.
Private tour operators, guest houses and hotels must demonstrate “zero tolerance” toward child sex offenders, said Jane Kim, a programme adviser for US-based Christian humanitarian group World Vision.
“One of our concerns is that the trend (of child sex tourism) will increase, especially with tourism now spiking in Cambodia,” Kim said after a two-day workshop organised by World Vision. “We want to do everything that we can to prevent it from happening.”
Cambodia, one of the world’s poorest countries, is a haven for foreign pedophiles because of lax law enforcement.
World Vision, with funding from the US State Department, started a campaign last year to scare away foreign sex offenders with a billboard that read, “Abuse a child in this country, go to jail in yours.”
The group plans to print the message on the back of helmets and caps to be given to motorcycle taxi drivers who tend to transport many offenders back to their hotels and guest houses, Kim said.
Nearly a million foreigners came to Cambodia last year, according to government statistics.
“If tourists come more and more to Cambodia, it’s because it’s a new destination, more exotic and it’s much cheaper than in Thailand to have sex here,” said Guth, a consultant with the United Nations children’s agency Unicef who advises the Cambodian government on police training to deal with human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
“They came for gambling and for having sex with underage girls. They didn’t come for the (Buddhist) temples,” Guth said, referring to the centuries-old Angkor complex in northwestern Cambodia â€” the country’s top tourist attraction.