The sexual exploitation of children is a serious issue facing Cambodia. Studies show that 6.1 per cent of Cambodian children have reported being forced to have sex at least once in their lifetime. Social stigma surrounding the issue means many more cases go unreported. Cambodia’s civil war left social, political and economic devastation in its wake. While the last decades have seen progress being made on reducing poverty and improving education, the protection of children’s rights remains inadequate.
Girls and boys face the threat of child sexual abuse on the streets, in institutions meant to protect them – such as schools or orphanages - or online. The lack of awareness of what constitutes sexual abuse, together with grooming techniques, means it is often difficult to identify. In Cambodia’s conservative society, the perceived shame brought about by child sexual abuse, compounded by the lack of trust in the judiciary, prevents children or their families from reporting it, reinforcing a culture of silence.
APLE Cambodia was founded in Phnom Penh in 2003 to support victims of sexual abuse, from rescue to rehabilitation. APLE Cambodia's Investigation Team — spread across Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Battambang — assists police in tracking down offenders and rescuing victims thanks to a network of trusted informants.
Once rescued, victims receive pro bono legal aid as APLE Cambodia helps them navigate the intimidating justice system. It also offers victims social support and assistance to re-enter education and begin the process of rehabilitation. In parallel with its direct engagement with victims, APLE Cambodia runs community awareness and training programmes to advocate for child protection in the hope of eradicating the sexual exploitation of children in Cambodia.
Over the years, APLE Cambodia has successfully gained the trust of the communities it works with, developing a broad network of support for its work and influencing the conversation about child sexual abuse locally. Since its foundation, APLE Cambodia has rescued 692 victims of sexual abuse, and trained 10,106 individuals in how to handle such challenging and sensitive cases, and 220 successful convictions were secured.
In 2014, APLE Cambodia received 224 reports — a 17.9 percent increase from the year before — and referred 37 cases to the police, which led to the arrest of 23 offenders.
Photos: Kimlong Meng/Stars Foundation