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Working together to combat child sex tourism in Cambodia

Phnom Pehn (Cambodia), 20 March 2012
- The tourism sector has played an important role in the economic development of Cambodia. However, this has not always translated into better and safer opportunities for Cambodian children who live in high-tourism areas. Many fear that the sexual abuse of children by travelers is becoming a threat to the South-East Asian country's youth. A serious problem in several neighbouring countries, child sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism often involves tourist-related services that offer offenders lodging, transport, anonymity and access to children.

Often, child sex tourists exploit legislative and legal loopholes to escape detection and punishment. Addressing gaps in responses, at both the domestic level and regional level, is essential.

"Law enforcement responses that include intelligence-led investigations, victim identification, and the detection and prosecution of criminal perpetrators must become an important element if we are to halt and reverse the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children," said Project Childhood coordinator Ms. Margaret Akullo, UNODC, at a workshop held 24 February in Phnom Pehn.

Hosted by the Cambodian National Council for Children (CNCC) in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the workshop, 'A Legal Framework Addressing Child Sex Tourism', was supported by Australian AID (AusAID) through Project Childhood (Protection Pillar).

Project Childhood, is a new $7.5 million Australian AID (AusAID)-funded initiative to combat the sexual exploitation of children - mainly in the travel and tourism sectors - in the Greater Mekong sub-region countries of Cambodia, Lao PDR , Thailand and Viet Nam. It builds on Australia's long-term support for programmes that protect children and prevent their abuse.

Project Childhood is being implemented in two complementary pillars - the Protection Pillar, a partnership between UNODC and INTERPOL, and the Prevention Pillar, implemented by World Vision).

UNODC is the primary implementing agency of that project's 'Protection Pillar', which supports the development of strong law and justice frameworks to bring travelling child sex offenders to justice.

The Protection Pillar does this in two ways. The first, delivered by UNODC , offers technical assistance activities to bolster legislative frameworks and law enforcement investigations against child sex tourism. The second, delivered by INTERPOL, supports specialized law enforcement activities, pooling international and regional experience to directly target travelling child sex offenders in the Greater Mekong Sub-region.

Ms. Lindsay Buckingham of UNODC presented key findings of a legal analysis report assessing Cambodia's existing legal framework to combat the sexual exploitation of children, noting that: "Strong legal and policy frameworks are essential tools in the fight against child sex tourism. A robust criminal justice framework that reflects key international standards and is effectively implemented at the domestic level, bolsters law enforcement capacity to prevent-and effectively respond to-child sex tourism."

Government representatives expressed continued support to combat the sexual exploitation of children.

"Children are the pillars and future of the nation," said H.E. Khiev Borey, CNCC Secretary General. "Children face issues including sexual exploitation, violence and trafficking. We need to continue our efforts to implement international laws and review the national legal framework on child protection."

The 84 attendees included key representatives from government and parliamentary institutions, the judiciary, law enforcement and civil society, most notably H.E Nim Thot, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation and Vice President of CNCC; H.E Hor Sarun, Under Secretary of State of the Ministry of Tourism; H.E Kim Sovan, Under Secretary of State of the Ministry of Interior; H.E Tan Vouch Chhecg, Under Secretary of State of the Ministry of Health; and H.E Ith Rady, Under Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice, who facilitated the forum discussion along with UNODC.

UNODC proposed a draft implementation plan to address gaps in the current response, which was put forward to the forum to gather ideas and recommendations from key government and non-government stakeholders. H.E Nim Thoth called on all participants to cooperate with the Cambodian National Council for Children and added that the workshop was 'an important step to find out the legal and policy reform necessary to establish an effective child protection system in the Country'.

Project Childhood (Protection Pillar) will work with the CNCC and the Ministry of Justice to draft revisions to the penal code that will address the protection of children and prosecution of travelling child sex offenders. The National Project Officer, based in Phnom Pehn at UNODC Cambodia, will be the UNODC Cambodia focal point for the Protection Pillar to take this work forward.

UNODC Cambodia country office is actively collaborating with the Royal Government of Cambodia, UN agencies and NGOs in working to address the sexual exploitation of children and human trafficking. Besides Project Childhood (Protection Pillar), UNODC is working in partnership with the French Government-funded project - Human Trafficking: National Referral Mechanism (NRM) on Victim identification, which aims to identify human trafficking victims and assist in creating a set of national guidelines.