Report: "The Sexual Exploitation of Children in Southeast Asia”

ECPAT Report: “Regional Overview: The Sexual Exploitation of Children in Southeast Asia”This recent report by ECPAT International provides an overview of the complex, overlapping factors that make children vulnerable to SEC (Sexual Exploitation of Children) in the Southeast Asian region. The report also identifies certain groups of children that are faced with the highest risk of SEC.The scale of SEC in the Southeas

t Asian region and within Cambodia cannot be denied. In Southeast Asia, “”...trafficking [of children] for sexual exploitation has continued for some decades to be one of the most common purposes of trafficking” (p30). And according to UNICEF, there are between 40,000 and 100,000 sex workers within Cambodia, an estimated 30-35% of whom are children.

Poverty is a major factor that makes children vulnerable to all forms of exploitation, including child trafficking. According to the report, “poverty severely compromises children’s choice and opportunity,” and lack of choice paired with financial desperation leads children and caregivers to make dangerous choices, including entering the commercial sex sector (p22). A UNICEF study found that there are more than 30 million children in the region who are unable to attend school, access basic healthcare, clean water, and adequate nutrition due to poverty. Child sexual offenders and traffickers prey upon these vulnerabilities: “In Southeast Asia the most common method to recruit children into situations of exploitative labor is the promise of better economic opportunities” (p31). For example, in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, a survey among street children found that 26% had exchanged sexual activities with adults for money, food or other goods.

Additionally, gender inequality and strict reinforcement of gender norms in the region places girls at a higher risk of violence, discrimination and exploitation, including SEC. For example, forced, early marriages lead to the SEC of many young girls in the region.The report highlights a strong nexus between the high incidence of migration in Southeast Asia (both domestic and international) and SEC. Children left at home alone or with relatives due to migrating parents, children who migrate with their parents, and children migrating alone are all at a high risk of SEC. Thailand is the primary destination country for poorer nations in the region such as Cambodia, especially for the provinces in close proximity to the border.

The rise of tourism is another key factor affecting SEC in Southeast Asian countries, particularly popular destinations like Siem Reap, Cambodia. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of visitors to Cambodia per year grew from 2.5 to 4.8 million. The report cites an increase in traveling child sex traffickers, an increase in demand for commercial sex, and the ease of volunteerism and access to children as key reasons why more tourism leads to more SEC.

The report also highlights major gaps in child protection in the region: countries not ratifying certain international legal instruments, gaps in domestic legislation and weak law enforcement. For example, Cambodian legislation contains no specific provisions to define or criminalize individuals who facilitate SEC in relation to tourism. Also, “some sex establishments in Cambodia are operated or protected by the police” (p77).Free To Shine is actively working to support the children in Siem Reap Province who are most at-risk of SEC and child trafficking. The risk factors outlined in this report are in very much in line with our prevention efforts and target population. We support girls to attend school and ensure their basic needs are met so that they can escape from poverty. We believe with education comes greater opportunity and choice, making girls less likely to be lured into exploitative situations or to be trafficked in their lifetime.

You can support the work of Free To Shine by funding an anti-trafficking officer hereRead the full report: