‘Cambodian child trafficking for sex slavery’: a headline that never wears out

Once again this morning CNN brings us the story, or part of it. Cambodian mothers who sold their tween daughters into brothels and now regret it speak to reporters. Their daughters tell the tragedy firsthand.

[Aside: Yes, this really happens; no, we can’t justify practices that “save” certain “orphans” by suggesting that this was their fate otherwise. Simply put, while we can be sure that some Cambodian children adopted by foreigners were indeed sold, we can’t be as sure that they were going to be sold for sex slavery later.

The problem is that there are so many poor families in Phnom Penh. Some parents sell their children, or one child, to save the family, but we’ll never know which children were rescued from this fate. More to the point, we can’t rescue them all by placing them in safe, warm homes in Iowa.]

So, onward: Upstream, past the pool where one child at a time is fished out of the swirling waters, to the bad guys who are throwing the children into the river?

-Debt. Cambodia’s poor have no access to banking. They use moneylenders, who charge exorbitant fees, sinking families into a spiral of unsecured debt. If the only asset the household has is a 13 year old’s virginity…

-Rescue of victims fails, over and over. Because it is an accepted value that girls support the family, teens who have been sold may not be able to resist their perceived obligations to younger children and parents. Further, once the girl has lost her virginity, she is referred to as spoiled, soiled and worthless. A song is taught in Cambodia’s schools, for those lucky enough to go to school; it explains that a girl is like a white cloth–once dropped in the mud, she can never be clean again.

-Family planning traditions lead to cripplingly large families among the poorest Cambodians. This hilarious ad for contraception gives some insight into the cultural problem, leaving aside an aid policy framework that relies too heavily on religious organizations to deliver actual help to the poorest.

If the part of the Bible that forbids abusive money lending practices and adds a jubilee year were the primary focus, converting Buddhists with perfectly serviceable animist traditions to Christ would net out as a social good; unfortunately, the part about sexual purity as spiritual goodness seems to be at the center too often.

Rescue. Trafficking. Poor mothers selling their children. It’s complicated.

Leave a Reply