Here’s a statistic to start: UNICEF tells us that 30 children die every day from being trafficked into the sex industry, they die from neglect, drug overdoses, disease, HIV, violence and torture. If that’s not enough for you, consider this, every two minutes a child is being groomed for rape and the average life expectancy for kids trafficked this way is 7 years unless they are rescued.
While in Phnom Penh earlier this year, I was privileged to meet with Silvia Pasti, UNICEF’s Head of Child Protection in Cambodia to learn more about child abuse and what is being done to address the problem. Like everyone, I believe no child should be exposed to violence, abuse or neglect and she explained that In Cambodia the situation is tragic for many. One in two children has experienced severe beatings, one in four has suffered from emotional abuse, and one in 20 has been sexually assaulted. Many children are trafficked, forced to work, separated from their families and unnecessarily placed in residential care institutions or find themselves in unregulated orphanages where they are exploited for sex and child labour for profit.
Cambodia has not recovered from the genocide of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. The children of those times are the grandparents and parents of today and are raising children in poverty while having never recovered from the trauma of their own childhoods. As a result, they fight to survive with a moral compass that is at best poorly aligned leaving them prey to predators and actions driven by their own basic survival needs.
Silvia says it is getting better, but there are few laws to protect children, and UNICEF is working with the Cambodian government, police and NGOs to develop a national vision on which to base a legal framework as a first step in giving legal protection for children.
Social workers are the backbone of a solid child protection system. UNICEF supports the government to train social workers in the areas of health, education, justice and child protection so that they can handle cases related to violence, juvenile crime and institutional care in the most appropriate and effective manner.
Today, young and older children are at high risk of dropping out of school, teenage pregnancy, child marriage and violence. This is due partly to social attitudes that perpetrate violence, and partly to the limited number of services designed for children in education, social work, health and justice. Education, especially for girls, is a practical decision when the families are living from one meal to the next. Investing in the future, at a high cost for education, is sacrificed for immediate needs for money giving rise to sexual and other crimes against children.
Robert Barclay is an Australian author and philanthropist through his charity, The Sunlight Foundation. His popular novels follow the life of Katy Yehonala and her daughter, Clara, as they confront the evils of society.