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Cambodia fights sexual exploitation of children with more female police and by training all police on gender-based violence

Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 12 November 2012
- This year, more than 3 million tourists will visit Cambodia, according to estimates. Most will come to enjoy Cambodia's tropical climate, stunning cultural heritage sites and beaches. A small percentage, however, come to gain easy access to children vulnerable to sexual exploitation. High poverty levels, weak social networks and limited law enforcement ability to investigate and successfully prosecute crimes against children by travelers have made Cambodia - along with many of its Greater Mekong Sub-region neighbors - a major destination for travelers seeking to have sex with children.

To date, Cambodia law enforcement has limited capacity to identify and arrest offenders and to effectively act upon crimes against children. This is compounded by female police officers being under-represented in law enforcement. They are also generally under-trained compared with their male colleagues. This makes them less likely to participate in investigations and less likely to be promoted when compared, again, with their male colleagues.

"We need to strengthen the role of female police officers. This is very important in cases of suspected child sexual exploitation, because it appears that women are more trusted by children during these investigations," says Ms. Kanha Chan, National Project Officer for Project Childhood (Protection Pillar) Cambodia.

In response to this, in Cambodia, Project Childhood (Protection Pillar) recently developed a Gender Action Plan, part of its overall approach to strengthen the capacity of police, prosecutors and judges is to ensure that criminal justice responses are victim-centered, rights-based and gender-responsive.

"We want to train more female law enforcement officers - and we want both male and female officers to be more aware of the fact that both boys and girls can be sexually exploited," explains Margaret Akullo, Project Coordinator for Project Childhood (Protection Pillar).

"While our Gender Action Plan also recognizes the under-representation of female law enforcement officials in the criminal justice system, we will also sensitize male officers to gender and gender-based violence issues through training and workshops. This will raise Cambodia law enforcement's capacity to better deal with the sexual exploitation of children," said Ms. Akullo.

The Cambodia Ministry of Interior recently identified gender inequality in law enforcement as a significant problem and drafted a gender-mainstreaming strategy for the Cambodia National Police. To support this, UNODC Cambodia and Project Childhood (Protection Pillar) helped organize training to enhance the role of female police officers.

In September, 36 Deputy Provincial Commissioners - the majority of whom were women - met in Phnom Penh to be trained on the investigation of sexual exploitation of children and to gain knowledge on human trafficking and juvenile and child protection.

Gen. Kang Sakhon, Deputy General Commissioner of the National Police, noted that the officers came from every one of Cambodia's 24 provinces, and said: "I am very proud to be here - and to see so many female law enforcement colleagues here. This training will improve the capacity of policewomen throughout Cambodia."

In October, the Cambodia National Police Gender Working group, with support from Project Childhood (Protection Pillar), organized a workshop for police officers that focused solely on gender and violence against women - the first time that provincial and national female and male police officers were trained on gender-related issues in the workplace.

For many of the 90 law enforcement officers who attended the intensive three-day workshop in Siem Reap, it was their first time to hear and discuss in detail the differences in the treatment of men and women in the workplace and traditional perceptions of the role of men and women.

"This workshop is a start to enhancing the capacity of provincial and national women police officers - and to actively promote gender equality between men and women police officers," said Ms. Kanha Chan.

One attendee said the biggest challenge for women police officers is access to capacity building training opportunities. "Women want to learn but training is usually only offered to male officers," said Brigadier Gen Chhay Kim Horng, Deputy Director, Central Department of Security Phnom Penh, a 25-year veteran of the Cambodian National Police.

Gen. Chhay noted that restrictive working conditions limit women's ability to fully engage in investigations: "For instance, we cannot be on duty at night. In some departments, it is simply not allowed. In other cases, the family does not permit us to work late at night."

"These limiting conditions make it difficult for women law officers to achieve the same level of expertise as male colleagues, making it more difficult to progress up the career ladder," she said.


Project Childhood is a $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. The project focuses on Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam and builds on Australia's long-term support for programs that better 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.

Project Childhood (Protection Pillar) aims to enhance law enforcement capacity for national and transnational action to identify and effectively act upon travelling child-sex offenders in the Mekong region. To achieve these objectives in Cambodia, UNODC and Project Childhood (Protection Pillar) work closely with the Cambodia Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice and other stakeholders.