Sexual abuse of children is one of the most important and horrifying issues facing Cambodia today. Responding to it requires action on the part of all segments of society - police, judiciary, community leaders and organizations, and the general public. Cambodia serves as an origin, transit and destination country for the trafficking of people.
Victims are sent to Malaysia or Thailand for labour or the sex trade. Children are sent to Bangkok or Vietnam to beg in the streets. All this in addition to an already devastating domestic trade in women and children for sex and other forms of exploitation.
At Ratanak International we have always believed that we need to be balanced in our approach to child sex slavery. We need to work to rescue those helpless children sold in to this dark underworld, but we also need to be very active working to prevent kids being trafficked in the first place. To that end Ratanak International has funded a wonderful Child trafficking prevention program at the community level in many rural villages from where the kids are sold.
This very successful ongoing program run at the community and village level now operates in most border provinces. This program works to educate, enable, and strengthen children and their families regarding the perils of trafficking. It serves to educate communities regarding the methods used by human traffickers, and there are intervention and follow up strategies for those who have already been abused or trafficked. Advocacy, speaking up for and with these children, is essential - to plant the seed of change within this country and beyond. Exponential growth in the impact of this program has been noted as a result of the dedication and good work of the trained volunteers.
This is a low-key indigenous program where westerners are not directly involved. The sense of pride and ownership expressed by the Cambodian program staff is clear in their actions and enthusiasm.
Post revolutionary Cambodia has no clue about the concept of basic human rights. There is no understanding of the value of a child or any other human being for that mater. The rules of survival are all that matter. There is no understanding of what "child trafficking" actually is. In this context traffickers can move into villages and buy kids from desperately poor parents with ease. We were astonished to find the practice of selling kids even within the church. Pastors hearing about the problem of "trafficking" would stare in disbelief and comment how they also had delivered children to the "nice white men" who seemed so friendly and who gave money to the kids! We realized that many Cambodian Church pastors were particularly vulnerable since their only exposure to white males had been missionaries who served and loved the people. It was hard for them to come to terms with the fact that there were seriously evil Caucasians in Cambodia also.
So a teaching program was developed to educate first the church and then the wider community regarding these issues. The training consists of a four day course. Covering topics such as: What is trafficking? Who are the victims? Is trafficking illegal? Why are children trafficked? Traffickers Strategy, Law and human rights, The biblical view of the law, Child protection strategies, and Understanding God's heart for Children.
The response has been overwhelming. Thousands of people have now been trained in the churches and have a whole new understanding of the problems and the solutions. Parents and pastors alike have stood up at the end of the course and acknowledged there have been children sold in their own communities and have committed to working with others to prevent such sales. Groups of women who previously sold their children, and even encouraged others to do so, now have committed to defend kids. Even one previous trafficker has renounced such activity. These are no idle words. When program teachers have returned to villages months later, they are told about course participants going from house to house teaching, and groups of women talking to women about not selling children.
Although intended as a training and awareness program to prevent the future sale and trafficking of children it has, on occasion, become very active. There are times when pastors, church workers and villagers leave the class and go directly to intervene and rescue children who are in the process of being sold. 25 children have been saved as a direct result of the instructors and students intervening in child sales during the course. It is hard to get more concrete results than that!
The child trafficking prevention program is currently active in 13 of the 23 Cambodian provinces. To date 683 volunteer trainers are active. They have trained 21,140 community members.
Such activity by local pastors has become noticed by village chiefs and government social workers. They are now asking for this training. They are encouraged to join the courses, provided they take the whole course - including the portions on the Biblical value of a child! This course is having an incredible impact empowering villagers to protect their kids and developing community pride in the value they themselves have.
There is, however, opposition and persecution by some in power who obviously view this as a threat. Bravery and wisdom is therefore required by those who run and teach the program. Those who attend the courses require strength. On occasion they are subjected to intimidation. But even with such stresses there is encouragement. In one location those who came to intimidate ended up staying for the course and seemed quite interested!
This program teaches dignity, self worth and community protection skills. It has been very well received throughout Cambodia and continues to expand. While never forcing any spiritual agenda, this program's desire is to see a holistic transformation of lives and to bring healing, freedom and hope through faith in Jesus Christ.
In 2002, Brian McConaghy was asked to assist in the investigation of a Canadian pedophile who was charged with sex crimes against seven young Asian girls. This investigation turned out to be Canada's first ever conviction under Canada's sex tourism act. It was these first seven children that forever changed Brian's life and ignited Ratanak International's long struggle against sex slavery in Cambodia.
As part of our response, Ratanak International funds several Foster Care homes through our partner agency, Hagar. The Foster Care program provides a safe, stable, long term, Christian family environment for ethnic Vietnamese kids rescued from the brothels. Our desire is that such victims will not only recover but will know a well-adjusted and balanced family environment. Our goal is that their lives would be whole, and even joyful, as they move toward life as independent adults.
We are absolutely thrilled that five of the original seven victims of the Canadian pedophile that first came to Brian's attention are receiving care through this Foster Care program along with other children. It is with a wonderful sense of having come full circle, that we participate in the healing of the girls that first broke our hearts. We never thought we would even find them, yet now we are privileged to care for them. God is good!
To provide high quality, long term specialized care for girls aged 4-14 years who have been rescued from sexual abuse and exploitative situations, in a strong, family style, community based, secure home environment where the girls can be nurtured through the adjustments associated with community integration and where they can receive educational assistance and guidance regarding their goals.
The girls are provided legal representation and supported through the court process related to their files and protected from as much of the associated trauma as possible.
The program is subject to independent third party evaluations and the results are used to fine tune and improve the program.
Given some of the implications of their previous abuse, the girls are carefully assessed medically, and their weight and growth charted monthly. On occasion the medical assessments are delayed because the trauma associated with medical examination is too great. Under such circumstances, the staff tenderly allay the girls' fears of the doctor, to allow this assessment to take place. The girls who were originally trafficked from rural areas have not had any immunizations. The Foster Home project includes an ongoing immunization program. Initial dental assessments are followed up by either the required treatment or a subsequent annual examination.
Children progress in their education as exhibited by exam pass rates. 95% of children who study at school passed to the next grade. This is an improvement from last year. The girls are very committed to their study.
Emotional Psychological Health
Some of the children struggle with their behaviour. This relates directly to the amount of traumatic experiences in the past. Such trauma affects both their behaviour and their social interaction. The counsllors do extra therapy sessions with these girls regularly.
Trust is developed between counseling staff and the girls, facilitating fruitful counseling sessions as indicated by case files. Individual care plans are set and reviewed every 3 months. The children are all involved in this plan along with their counselor, social worker, teacher and house mother. We achieved 60% of the goals set in these plans. Individual case files show that children in counseling improve on relevant tests (ie. Anxiety Tests, Impact of Events Scale, Trauma Assessment, etc.) The majority of the girls show positive behaviour change in the first year as they grow both physical and mentally. The older girls demonstrate the ability to help the little ones who feel upset by encouraging and comforting them. They learn to share with each other and to help solve problems.
The girls are encouraged to become involved in both sport activities and the local community church where they learn to integrate in a safe and structured environment which acts as a bridge to full integration in the greater community.
All children have the opportunity to participate in regular bible study in the home if they wish.
- 14 girls were admitted to the program during this period.
- Two girls (along with five girls from NewSong Centre) had the courage to finish their court case in the US. It was extremely hard for them as they had to recount in detail the abuse they had suffered, in the presence of the abuser. They were very scared; however, they did very well. Largely because of their testimony this pedophile was sentenced 210 years in imprisonment.
- 13 older girls are showing signs of successfully integrating within the local community. They regularly attend local church and have joined in the church picnic in Kampot province and are integrating within the broader community.
- Media: Four girls chose to be involved in a Dateline Documentary which told the story of their healing and growth since their rescue in 2003.
- The Lotus Dance is a performance written and performed by some of the girls. The dance represents their experience of being abused and exploited, to now experiencing healing and wholeness and being able to dream of a future once again.
- Several girls aged 7-12 years old attended a 4 day children's camp at the beach town of Kampong Som. That was a time for them to relax and participate with other children.
- All of the children had a great time celebrating at the Christmas party and each of them received a personal gift.
Srey* is 17 years old and is now studying in grade 8 at a private Cambodian school. She has great potential for her future. She comes from a family of 4 children and has an older sister, and a younger brother and sister. Her younger sister now lives in the foster home after Srey requested that she come to live with her as she was worried for her safety. Her parents are divorced because of domestic violence and alcohol problems.
Srey came to live in Foster care in 2005. She was raped by her father and he had plans in place to sell her to work in a Phnom Penh karaoke bar. When her older sister knew of this, she took Srey to a human rights organisation who, in turn, asked that Srey be placed in the foster care program.
In the beginning, it was hard for Srey living in the Foster home. She felt no one loved her or cared about her. Even her father, whom she loved, did "the worst things" to her. She had no trust in people around her.
However, now Srey has a house mother who cares for her and she enjoys the regular therapy sessions with her counselor. She feels loved now, and she is able to value herself and others. She is growing into a beautiful, vibrant, intelligent, young lady who will one day be a responsible adult. She wants to study at university after finishing high school. She would like to be a translator in a company.
Demonstrating Care and Practical Help to Trafficking Victims
This project seeks to bring healing, holistic restoration, and hope to lives of sexually exploited girls who are currently sex-workers by providing a platform for transition out of the brothels into normal community life.
We offer them opportunities for life-style changes, through a range of activities, and services designed to empower the girls with the courage to step out of the abusive circumstances and people they have, tragically, become bonded and enslaved to. Then we provide the resources to assist them in making sustained healthy choices for their lives. Our desire is that we would assist in building self-worth and dignity into their lives, by showing respect and care for them and through meeting their needs in practical, medical, emotional/psychological and spiritual ways. In so doing we seek to demonstrate the freedom available in Christian love. In all aspects of this program we seek to introduce components of beauty, dignity and self worth to girls who have never confronted any of these.
The commercial sexual exploitation of children and young women in Cambodia has escalated over the last decade, into what is now an 'industry' utilized by foreign visitors (9% Caucasian, 42% Asian) and by a large domestic market (49%, IOM, 2007), involving both male and female victims, spanning the age range. A combination of factors are involved in a girl being trafficked (Cambodian Government statistics indicate 90% of girls are knowingly sold by families) and some of these factors also serve to maintain enslavement in the sex industry, once there. In particular, maintaining factors include; cultural expectation of the child as wage earner; debts, materialism or gambling habits on the part of the parents; loss of marriage prospects; lack of alternative wage-earning prospects; shame and stigma from community if the girl returned home.
The Transition Life Skills program reaches victims of trafficking, who are still in the sex-industry, and is aimed at providing help and opportunity to leave the brothels. A drop-in day centre opened its doors January 1st 2007 in Stung Mean Chey, close to where many sex workers live and work. It is a safe-haven for the girls to receive medical treatment, therapeutic help and other services to meet various needs, to build self-esteem through loving nurture, to provide choices for alternative lifestyles, and to have the love of God ministered into their lives. Several innovative small business schemes have been started, providing employment with on-the-job training, since the chief maintaining factor disabling girls from leaving the sex-industry is the need to earn a wage to support family. Since starting these businesses in mid-2007, and the addition of the program's own retail store in Phnom Penh, girls have been leaving the brothels to join us full-time in steady numbers. Since January 2008, around 3 girls a week were joining and currently in 2010 there are around 70 clients at the day centre on any given work day. The businesses are in the early stages of training and marketing, but are planned to be self-sustaining in the future. Around 80% of the clients are employed in the sewing room, creating fashion accessories, home furnishings, and clothing. Girls are provided with a salary from the time they first join the scheme, to enable them to stop sex work. Residential accommodation is also provided for girls who leave the brothel; most sex workers are reluctant to live in a shelter due to loss of freedom. We have established community-based accommodation for them.
Description Of Beneficiaries
This project focuses on girls who are current sex workers. Age range is 12 up to 30. Typically they are uneducated and come from poor and dysfunctional families who live off their earnings, and who have usually been instrumental in selling the girls in the first place. Sex workers are the most outcast sector of society in Cambodia, and have huge stigma in the local community; they have little chance of getting married or finding another job and changing their lives. They are generally despised.
All of these girls come after having heard from their peers about what we can offer. At first, girls come to the drop in centre where they are exposed to a normalized social environment, where they are shown respect and encouragement. Initially, drop in workshops focus on hairdressing and makeup application. It is in this fun environment, while getting their nails or hair done, that they start to build trust that will eventually give them the courage to leave the life of oppression and abuse that they have grown accustomed to. The drop-in centre also provides a program for very young children who live in the brothels, usually children of the sex workers or other children who are being raised by brothel owners. The children are aged between 18 months and 12 years and do not attend school. The program is aimed at intervening in the futures of these children by enabling them to achieve a different outcome for their lives through educational opportunities and psychological empowerment.
The Spiritual Component
The Transition Life Skills program has flourished into the creation of a church which has functioned at the drop in centre since August 2007. This is a way of taking care of more than just physical needs but rather extending the work of the Gospel. Attendance is voluntary, not compulsory, but at present the majority of girls attend by choice and most girls have become Christians. The church teaches worship, Bible foundations and discipleship life-style, and also provides prayer ministry opportunities. At present, around 35 girls attend.
In addition to centre-based services, a mobile outreach service is provided, offering medical treatment, and various creative activities within the brothels in order to make contact with new clients, and to invite the brothel owners to Daughters Church. This is a sector of society that does not hear the Gospel ordinarily, and this is in fulfillment of the Great Commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel (Matthew 28:19).
We reach out to girls trapped and working as sex workers, in order to show them the love of Jesus, meet their needs on a range of levels and in practical ways, and offer them opportunities of leaving the sex industry.
Offered is a multi-level range of programs, to help girls at differing stages:
- Outreach Services in the brothels to build relationships with new girls, offering medical treatment, and various activities designed to give them respite from their traumatic situations and generate hope.
- Centre activities include an in-house medical treatment clinic, showers, HIV testing, therapy and trauma treatment/counseling, literacy classes, and a range of First-Step programs for providing fun, respite, and building relationships, including: jewelry-making, card-making, games, hair and beauty class, hip hop dance, Khmer dance, drama, group-therapy, and other creative/fun outlets according to trainer availability.
- Weekly 'Caring for Myself' workshops are offered to all girls, including education in relationship/conflict resolution, domestic violence, drug treatment, health/hygiene, parenting skills and other life skills.
- Vocational /small businesses providing salaried skilled jobs. Girls wishing to leave the sex industry may join a small business, receive training and are given a salary from the day they join. These small businesses currently include hand-sewn products and hand-crafted jewelry which are exported internationally as fair trade items. Silk screen printed products are also being created and marketed. The girls are learning baking/cooking skills and spa skills. Both the products created and cooking/spa skills are being utilized in the new shop which opened in 2010. The shop provides job opportunities for clients as well as a place to showcase their products which were previously only exported for sale. The shop also houses an exhibition center that is the first of its kind, sharing with tourists and locals about the realities of sex trafficking in Cambodia.
The clients will run a women's spa located on the retail level and a cafe on the top floor. Ratanak UK has been involved in the start up of the shop, spa, and exhibition centre with hopes that it will provide a means for sustainable income for this project and the girls being employed.
- Girls who leave the sex industry are offered housing options within a reintegration situation. We are able to provide safe, free housing in individual flats in the local community, or in their own homes; the choice is the girl's. We have a team of social workers who do follow-up in the girls' domestic situations and families, and the girls live a normal life in the community but with support. The centre does not provide meals, instead the girls receive salaries so that girls learn responsibility for their own lives and finances rather than NGO dependence. We do, however, provide fruit every day as a way of boosting nutritional input.
- Counseling and therapeutic services are provided to all girls upon request. A medical clinic is also provided to meet medical needs.
- Church services are held every week. The girls can attend if they wish, and brothel owners are also invited. Worship, bible teaching and ministry take place each week, and the majority of girls attend and have become Christians. 14 girls were recently baptized.
- A kids' program is also provided for young children who live in the brothels, including literacy and life-skills education in order to intervene in their lives and change the future likelihood that they will also become sex-workers or pimps.
In 2007, Ratanak International funded the establishment of a job skills training centre for those wanting to get into the hotel, restaurant business. It was set up by a well known and established business academy run by Christians. In our efforts to attack all aspects of sexual exploitation, it was clear that we needed to assist in the provision of job skills that would lead to employment, community integration and financial independence.
While operating under a business license, this training centre is designed to be of assistance to those leaving a life of exploitation and abuse, as well as those who fall into the category of "youth at risk". The tuition from the regular paying students is designed to supplement or even cover the costs of those students discretely placed in the program by the NewSong and other rehabilation and after care centres.
This is a very successful program - the graduates are being snapped up by NGOs, hotels and businesses.