Cambodian men fuel child prostitution
Phnom Penh - Cambodia's child prostitution problem is usually associated with foreign paedophiles, but the majority of clients paying for sex with children are Cambodian men, campaign groups said on Wednesday.
Foreigners' sex crimes grab the headlines, but the problem of home-grown offenders can be overlooked by authorities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), according to Chin Chanveasna of End Child Prostitution, Abuse and Trafficking in Cambodia (ECPAT).
In a new study commissioned by ECPAT, an umbrella group for a number of NGOs, 43 out of 44 former child sex workers in Phnom Penh said their regular clients were Cambodian men.
Chin Chanveasna said the police and the government "have not taken enough measures against Cambodian perpetrators".
But General Bith Kimhong, the director of the Interior Ministry's anti-trafficking unit, said the government was tackling the problem.
"We have taken a serious action against both Cambodian and foreigners who are seeking sex with underage people," he told AFP.
Virginity for sale
According to the report, local demand for prostitutes is estimated to contribute between 49% and 70% of the demand for commercial sex in Cambodia.
A "high demand for virgins from Cambodian men fuelling the flow of underage girls into Cambodia's sex trade" was also cited as a concern.
There is a persistent belief among Cambodian men that sleeping with a virgin has rejuvenating powers and can even cure HIV/Aids.
Of the 19 respondents who sold their virginity, 13 said it was to Cambodian clients.
"It's a stupid idea where they think that sex with a young girl will bring them good luck, strong energy or a long life," said Sao Chhoeurth, executive director of anti-trafficking NGO AFESIP.
Sex with a virgin can cost up to $2 000 "depending on how pretty or young the girl is," he said, a large sum in a country where more than 30% of its 14 million people live on less than 50 cents a day.
Chin Chanveasna added that aid groups had yet to work out a strategy on how to deal with the problem.
The research, carried out in January, was small-scale but Sao Chhoeurth said the findings reflect the situation across the country.
"If a girl works in a brothel for a long time, most of her customers will be locals," he said.