25th March 2012
Columnist Daphne Bramham of British Columbia’s premier broadsheet warns the world in a exposé that citizens of Canada are travelling to Cambodia to increasing numbers. According to Bramham, these tourists are apparently coming here in the hope of engaging in sex with children.
At least, that is what you might think from reading her series.
From her report, it appears that Bramham was parachuted in and asked to write a high sensational report on the sex industry here, which she claims caters to the depraved proclivities of men with a predilection for young children – apparently the younger the better. Run in The Vancouver Sun over consecutive days, it is an object lessons in the dangers of flying a highly credulous reporter into a country she understands little about, and then give her a week to interview people with a vested interest in promoting a specific agenda.
However, no-one is arguing that a decade or so ago, Cambodia did become a magnet for paedophiles. The country was just getting over the tragic dislocation of the Khmer Rouge period, civil war and international financial blockade. For a while, anything went.
Undoubtedly some foreigners also took advantage of this situation, but Bramham paints a picture in which foreigners were (and are) the main players. This was never true then and it certainly isn’t true today.
Surveys back in the bad old days of 2000 by the UNDP and the Ministry of Planning reported that around 30% of sex workers were under 18 years, the age of consent in Cambodia. Even then, these reports showed that locals are still the major patrons of the sex workers, including children. A preoccupation with pubescent girls and ‘virginity’ by Asian men was common throughout the region until fairly recently. In some, unfortunately, it still is.
According to Bramham, Cambodia “is a choice destination for so-called sex tourists”. She cites a number of cases, which on closer inspection, do not appear to have anything to do with Cambodia or, at best, have only a casual relationship, such as the case of Canadian Chris Neil, who was on Interpol’s most-wanted list in 2007 before he was jailed in Bangkok for sexually abusing two under-age boys.
Instead she seems to have taken hook, line and sinker the word of number of organisations, including dodgy god-bothering outfits from the US, like the private company Agape International Missions (AIM) that claims it has “over 600 Christ-centred Bible teaching churches in Cambodia.”
Penh Pal unreservedly apologises to Steve Morrish of SISHA, who apparently wasn’t the source of any of the “research” in Bramham’s articles, as suggested earlier by us, no doubt because his organisation isn’t faith-based. Steve must be pissed to have missed out on the free publicity!
Bramham claims “children as young as three have been, and continue to be, rescued; the youngest are almost always procured for foreigners…because raping children is normalised here.”
This is one of numerous preposterous and unsubstantiated claims in her series of articles, heavily reliant on anecdotal accounts by people who clearly have an interest in perpetuating this narrative.
She then cites lots of examples of this corruption, such as what happened in the case of the serial abuser, the Russian businessman Stanislav Molodyakov, known here as Alexander Trofimov, who appears to have been able to use his considerable wealth to buy himself a royal pardon.
But of course, this can go both ways. In a country where justice can easily go to the highest bidder, presumption of innocence often simply doesn’t stand a chance. Under theses circumstances, it is reasonable to assume that at least some of those in jail here accused of crimes against minors were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Cambodia is a signatory to the major international human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its related Optional Protocols. And, in recent years, the country has created laws and procedures which aim to protect children.
However, much remains to be desired, particularly in the implementation of these measures. In 2008, for instance, the government passed a new law that provides for stiffer penalties for trafficking and that gives more clarity in defining minors as those under 18 years. Unfortunately, however, the Kingdom remains under “Tier 2”, meaning that it is below average in complying with the minimum set standards in preventing trafficking.
Trafficking, however, is a broad subject: which of it refers to the trafficking of workers generally, not sex workers specifically.
And which enforcement by the authorities here can be spotty, much of the monitoring of possible paedophiles here has been taken over by private organisations, many of them faith-based, and usually reliant on lurid campaigns to keep their coffers full.
These private, donation-dependent agencies operation large networks of casual spies (especially tuk-tuk and moto drivers) who keep a weather-eye out for anything they witness that these groups will happily pay for.
Given the incentives, in a country where the Rule of Law is weak, Truth is often the first casualty.
Any foreigner who does have a prediction for sex with minors and imagines as a result of reading the sort of sensational drivel like that written by Bramham, that Cambodia is a country where they readily indulge this proclivity, should be warned: where-ever you are in Cambodia, you will be watched.
More sensationalist nonsense, this time from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: