“People are products here. But now, I am a survivor”, are the words of a 14 year old sex trafficked survivor in Cambodia. NGO in Focus hones in on The Cambodian Centre for the Protection of Children’s Rights, one organisation enabling that survival.
Since 1994, The Cambodian Centre for the Protection of Children’s Rights (CCPCR), has been fighting to help children such as this 14 year old feel like human beings again and not disposable commodities. In a society where disproportionate value is placed on female virginity, this fight has not been easy.
Nevertheless, CCPCR’s mission to eliminate violence against children and youth is unwavering, not only for the sake of protecting children, but for the sake of Cambodia. “The current generation of children will later carry on the task of rebuilding and strengthening the country after the Khmer Rouge period” says CCPCR Executive Director Mr. Thy.
As an impoverished nation only now recovering from its horrific and unstable past under the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodia has yet to reform its view towards women, particularly young and impoverished females. Despite making significant socio-cultural progress since the end of the oppressive regime, over 30% of the populations still live below the national poverty line on less than $1 USD a day. Too many Cambodian children as young as 6 years old learn, that in order to survive, they have the easy option of entering into the world of illegal sex trade.
At the root of the commercial sex trade, says Mr. Thy, lies poverty. The Khmer Rouge devastated the country’s infrastructure and now crop failures, environmental degradation, health problems, and landlessness result in extreme vulnerability among families.
“The poor economic situation too often results in child labor and exploitation as families try to survive,” says Mr. Thy.
As the government continues to pick up the pieces left by the oppressive regime, families continue to face dire economic hardship. Combined with patriarchal societal norms where male dominance is still cherished, this pervasive poverty has resulted in the kidnapping, trafficking and slavery of young girls (and to a lesser extent males) into squalor brothels with the hope of profit for the family. Virginity is traded and you can buy it as easy as you can buy a mango in certain parts of the capital.
As one of the first two charitable organizations established in Cambodia dedicated to the elimination of human trafficking,
CCPCR has made its mission to promote children’s rights by combating against violence, sexual abuse, trafficking and exploitation. This presence is guided by five key organizational values of Justice, Respect, Humanity, Transparency and Accountability and is emboldened by its not-for-profit and non-political status which does not discriminate against race, color, religion or gender.
One of the ways CCPCR carries out its mandate is through community education. Preventative measures are created through the provision of education and reduction of poverty within the community. In Kampong Thom Province, CCPCR raises awareness of the commercial sexual exploitation of children through target groups, such as local authorities, police, teachers, students, village leaders and parents.
More importantly and what sets CCPCR apart from other Ngo’s, is their focus on the empowerment of children; upon completion of workshops, CCPCR selects children to strengthen community outreach and educate their friends, acting as ambassadors of the community of children in Cambodia. In 2010, CCPCR was successful in conducting training on counter trafficking measures to over 14,000 villagers.CCPCR combats child trafficking by providing education aimed at preventing the root problem: the need for child labor.
In Kampot and Kampont Thom, CCPCR raises awareness on child labor and removes children from hazardous work and reintegrates them into the education system. CCPCR offers assistance to family’s businesses to generate income so their children do not need to work and can afford to go to school. Staff train at risk children and their families to develop vocational skills such as repairing motorbikes, sewing, hairdressing and raising animals. CCPCR’s hope is that through greater awareness and support, the financial necessity of working in the sex trade will be eliminated.
Ending child labor is only one piece of the puzzle: CCPCR also promotes education in its battle against sex-trafficking. In Phnom Penh and Battambang, CCPCR provides free, non-formal education for children who have dropped out of school, allowing them to learn Khmer, mathematics and English, an education that is otherwise prohibitive by price. After Grade 3, CCPCR reintegrates students into the public school system. CCPCR also provides school materials and teacher training to support the school’s sustainability.
By increasing educational opportunities, CCPCR’s vision is that Cambodia’s youth will have the tools to build a life free of slavery.
It is estimated that 1 in every 150 people work in the commercial sex trade in Cambodia. Despite an estimated 30,000 commercial child sex workers, the illegal sex trade has not led to greater wealth among families. Rather, corrupt officials reap the profits, earning them approximately $500 million a year. While these officials get richer, Cambodian families get poorer and children get more vulnerable.
Forced to do this unjust work, few of these young girls ever get to see the inside of a school classroom. The primary school completion rate has continued to decline, with the school drop-out rate for adolescent girls at 8%. Not only is Cambodia losing its youth to the sex trade, it is also losing its youth to diseases: sources estimate that 45% of commercial sex workers are HIV positive.
Community education and violence reduction is only one facet of CCPCR’s work. CCPCR’s most needed project provides survivors of sex-trafficking and related exploitation a safe home. CCPCR operates shelters in Siem Reap, Svay Rieng and Phnom Penh that provides holistic care, counseling, empowerment, healthcare, vocational skills and education but most importantly through its dedicated team of local staff, CCPCR provides traumatic residents with love, guidance, support – which most have never had before.
Girls are brought to the shelters by police, local authorities or concerned community members and reside there until they are physically and mentally stable and healthy, then CCPCR reintegrates them back into society. Children stay at the shelters for several years if reintegration into their community is not deemed safe.
Tellingly, for many, these shelters serve as their primary home throughout their childhood, as more often than not, reintegration presents significant risks. As a result, each location houses 50 highly vulnerable children in need of protection. The Svay Rieng shelter is especially important due to its proximity to the border of Vietnam where numerous children sadly are bought and sold. Despite financial constraints, theses shelters continue to operate and provide children with opportunities for a new life of dignity.
CCPCR Cambodia has received a significant boost through its recent partnership with Village Focus International (www.villagefocus.org), a non-governmental organization focused on anti- trafficking & child protection, village development and land & natural resource rights in Laos and Cambodia. VFI has collaborated with CCPCR to bring forward its vision to end child trafficking.
For CCPCR, the Cambodian youth of today are key to the country’s future, and sex trafficking must be eliminated in order for Cambodia to develop as a country. By working for the past seventeen years to eliminate abuse and to promote children’s rights, CCPCR’s goal is for Cambodia to develop as a society where the commercial sex trade of children is no longer needed for families to survive.
According to a CCPCR member of staff, “our children work hard and they want to learn. Just because they are poor doesn’t mean they aren’t smart. I have been teaching here for ten years and the children are very good. Without this shelter they would have nothing, they would remain locked up and abused every day.”
CCPCR believes that Cambodia’s youth simply deserve better and that this modern form of slavery must be stopped – children must be kept out of brothels and in schools.