Survivor’s of sex-trafficking in Cambodia find strength on survival

WNN Justice

Cambodian teenage girl human trafficking survivor
A teenage girl who is a human trafficking survivor stands in her room at a shelter managed by
AFESIP Cambodia. Image: AFESIP

(WNN/EN) Toul Kork, Phnom Penh, CAMBODIA, SOUTH-EAST ASIA: The need to hear the voices of survivors of human rights abuse is not going away. It is with us now more than ever. In an on-going series highlighting women and girl survivors of violence and sex-trafficking global advocates Equality Now is bringing the voices of women and girls to the public. WNN – Women News Network is partnering in this effort to bring these important voices to the public.

“Survivor leadership is critical in combating sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. Survivor’s voices demonstrate strength, courage and activism. Listen to their stories and advocate for change. Be a part of the solution,” outlines Equality Now.

Current conditions in Cambodia for women and girls who have been trapped in the sex-slavery industry has ‘troubling’ statistics. 2011 data shows that the numbers of girls under the age of 12 who have been forced into sex-trafficking has more than doubled from 2007 to 2010. While sex-work per se is not illegal in Cambodia acting as a pimp or a brothel owner, especially for an under-age girl is illegal. Even though this is the law in Cambodia many do not know this.

“Purchasing sex from someone younger than 18 is illegal [in the region], yet many Cambodians are unaware this is even a law because it is rarely enforced,” outlined Isabelle Chan, a Carr Center for Human Rights at the Harvard Kennedy School awardee in 2010.

Today the age of those who are the customers of those who have been sex-trafficked in Cambodia may also be shifting. More recent studies indicate that the age of customers who want to buy girls for sex may be getting younger. Data provided by Equality Now more recently shows that the 18 to 24-years-of-age group, compared with the older 25 to 29-year-old age group of customers a few years ago, may now make up the majority age-group of sex-trafficking customers in the region.

“The old polarization into legalization and criminalization is giving way to a more practical, woman-centered and successful Third Way: De-criminalize the prostituted persons, offer them meaningful choices, prosecute traffickers, pimps and all who sell the bodies of others, and also penalize the customers who create the market while educating them about its tragic human consequences,” says social critic and feminist Gloria Steinem, who has worked closely with Equality Now since 1990.

In searing one-on-one interviews, Equality Now talked with two Cambodian survivors of sex-trafficking who are now among those women survivors in Cambodia who are speaking out. Their names are Kolab and Phalla. After years of exploitation they were finally able to escape their captors with the help of AFESIP Cambodia which provides legal representation and services for women and girls in Cambodia as they hold those responsible for sexual exploitation to be accountable under the law.

Kolab does not know who her real parents are. She studied to grade 5, then was forced to worked as a family servant, in a karaoke bar, and to sell drugs and sex. Phalla studied to grade 12, then was sold to a brothel by her grandmother.


What was your childhood like in Cambodia?

KOLAB: I was born in 1991. My parents treated me like a house servant and frequently beat me for no reason. Since they were farmers, I had to help them in the rice paddies after finishing the housework. When I turned 7, I learned that my “parents” were actually foster parents.  They told me that my biological parents had sold me shortly after I was born for the equivalent of 1,000 U.S. dollars since they could not afford to raise me, which was very hurtful.

PHALLA: I was born in 1988. When I was 20, my father died and we had nobody to provide for our family, so I had to stop my schooling and move in with my grandmother.


Click here to see the complete interview on EQUALITY NOW – Survivor Stories


For more information about AFESIP and the work of Somaly Mam link HERE


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