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Cambodia: World Vision Hotline Helps Curb Child Sex Tourism

In the past eight months alone, 349 cases of child sexual exploitation have been reported through the hotline.

October 2007



This street child in Cambodia's popular tourist town of Sihanoukville used to walk through markets, restaurants, and beaches every day, offering to shine people's shoes. Tragically, a Western tourist took advantage of his trusting nature and repeatedly abused him sexually. A local relief worker learned of the abuse and reported the incident to the authorities through a World Vision-supported hotline.
Ponleu*, a street child in Cambodia's popular tourist town of Sihanoukville, used to walk through markets, restaurants, and beaches every day, offering to shine people's shoes. Tragically, a Western tourist took advantage of Ponleu's trusting nature and repeatedly abused him sexually. A local relief worker learned of the abuse and reported the incident to the authorities through a World Vision-supported hotline. © 2007 Sopheak Kong/World Vision
The port town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, has become a popular tourist destination in recent years. Dazzling white sand beaches, pristine waters, and magnificent sunsets have made this beach town a vacationer's paradise.

The fledgling tourism industry is growing and creating more jobs. But towns such as Sihanoukville also are known as safe havens for pedophiles to prey on children and not get caught. And the opportunity to earn money from tourists often draws children from impoverished families out to the streets.

'I Would Do Almost Anything for Money'

"When I saw other children make a lot of money from visitors, I wanted to earn, too. So I quit school at grade 2," says 12-year-old Ponleu.*

The prospect of additional income was particularly appealing to Ponleu, whose father was unable to support him. Ponleu's mother died when he was 3 years old, and his two older siblings left Sihanoukville in search of work.

"I would do almost anything for money," says Ponleu. "Every day, I would walk through markets, restaurants, and beaches, searching for recycled wastes and offering to shine people's shoes. I worked from 7 in the morning until 10 at night."

Ponleu's best-paying customers were typically Westerners. In the evenings, he shined shoes at the 'French Village,' a popular tourist hotspot. "I could earn a lot more than [I would at] other places. Foreigners would pay $1 for each shoe," he explains, "while locals paid only 15 cents for a pair."

Hotline a Vehicle for Arrest

When a 36-year-old German man invited Ponleu to eat with him, the unsuspecting boy agreed without hesitation: "I was excited when [the foreigner] invited me and three other boys. I thought it was very kind of him."

Promising them toys, the older man lured the youth into his house before sexually exploiting them. Giving each boy $10, he invited them to return, but told them not to visit him more than once a week. Ponleu's desperate need for money brought him to the pedophile's house six times.

When a child protection officer from the local nongovernmental organization (NGO) M'lop Tapang learned of the abuse, he immediately reported the incident through a local child exploitation hotline. The lead made it possible for the police to arrest the perpetrator, who has since been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The care and support from M'lop Tapang has helped Ponleu recover from the exploitation that he suffered. He now looks to the future with hope. "When I'm older, I want to learn motorbike repair skills," he says. "I want to be a motorbike repairer."

A Desperately Needed Resource


Established in 2005, a World Vision-supported 24-hour hotline provides citizens and humanitarian workers with a safe channel for reporting child exploitation.

Currently operating in five Cambodian provinces and the capital city of Phnom Penh, the hotline is a desperately needed avenue for enforcement of child protection laws. World Vision publicizes the hotline in tourist hotspots through leaflets, posters, and key chains.

In the past two years, 1,217 cases of child sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and rape have been reported to Cambodia's Ministry of the Interior; of those, 645 were reported through World Vision's hotline. In the past eight months alone, 349 have been cases reported using this method.

More than 1,100 investigations have led to more than 665 prosecutions of both local and foreign sex offenders.

Deterrence, Intervention, and Recovery


World Vision is determined to bring a Christian response to the needs of children suffering from exploitation, abuse, violence, and trauma. Several of our programs in Cambodia aim to respond to the great need, including the Phnom Penh Children's Center and the Neavea Thmey Trauma Recovery Center, which bring healing and protection to exploited and vulnerable children.

In addition, World Vision launched the Child Sex Tourism Prevention Project in 2004. The project's goals are threefold:
  • Deter would-be predators through a targeted media campaign;
  • Increase law enforcement assistance through partnerships with local and U.S. law enforcement agencies;
  • Prevent children from being drawn into the commercial sex trade through interventions like education, advocacy, and the creation of other means to make a living.
"The partnership between NGOs and law enforcement agencies is a powerful one," says Joe Mettimano, World Vision's vice president of advocacy. "Through our combined efforts, we are able to better protect children, identify and prosecute sex offenders, and curtail trafficking. This alliance should put all current or potential sex offenders on notice: Sexually exploit a child in Cambodia and you will go to jail."

*Please note that names have been changed to protect the children's identities.

Learn More

>> Read about World Vision's Child Sex Tourism Prevention Project.

Four Ways You Can Help

>> Pray for an end to the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and pray for those who are combating this horrific practice, as well as for the transformation of those who are implicated in it.
>> Advocate. Ask your senators and representative to push for an increase in resources to prosecute U.S. citizens who sexually exploit children overseas.
>> Report an American sex tourist. If you have information regarding a person who has sexually exploited a child, or suspect someone of child sex tourism, you can contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
>> Become a Child Crisis Partner. For $20 a month, you can help one child after another escape a life of horror.

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