Each girl is unique and so is her story and for this reason we do not show recognizable photos, however, remind people she still matters even if you don’t know her name or see her face. We do not rescue girls directly ourselves, but work in co-operation with other anti-trafficking organizations within Cambodia. Rescues are carried out by highly specialized staff from organizations such as International Justice Missions, SISHA and APLE who work in co-operation with local police enforcement. Girls we receive have been trafficked, raped, prostituted, or are at risk of these things.
The number of young girls rescued over the past few years has been lower than in previous years, however, unfortunately this has not been due to a decrease of young girls being trafficked. A large contributing factor to this decrease in rescues is having to contend with corruption and poverty in a third world country. The face of trafficking is changing, with an increase in the number of girls living at home, but being prostituted and trafficked from there. Rape has also increased and many girls we receive fall into these categories.
Although illegal, sometimes it’s the family who tries to sell their daughter for financial gain. Cambodian culture facilitates children following their parents’ wishes so they do not bring shame and dishonour by not contributing to the family’s income.
One of the girls we received at the age of twelve was about to be sold to a brothel, following in the footsteps of her two older sisters whom their mother had already sold. A day centre she was attending discovered she had been sexually abused in readiness for this sale and was able to intercede. The child’s response, when talking to our counselors was that she did not want to be a sex worker, but would if her mother wanted her to.
There has been a noticeable increase in the rape of young children, particularly 6-12 year olds who are many times raped by boys who are minors themselves. There is a Khmer Proverb saying “Men are like gold and women are like white cloth”. When the cloth is dirty and stained it can never be cleaned, but gold is always gold and of great worth. Virginity is an important factor in Khmer culture and gives great worth and value to a woman. Culturally, when a girl loses her virginity it doesn’t matter if it’s taken by force or by choice; she is now considered worthless.
As a result of rape, she becomes incredibly vulnerable to being trafficked. Cambodians live in community and, with community living, everyone knows everything about everyone else! This can have many advantages, such as providing support, but, in the case of a girl being raped, it works against her. Everyone is now aware she is ‘worthless’. People in her village may then take advantage of this situation and sell her to a trafficker. Tragically these young girls even at a young age carry this burden of shame and guilt and also see themselves as worthless.
We had a six year old tell one of our counselors after she had been raped that she didn’t want to be a sex worker.
Much of human trafficking and sexual exploitation occurs due to the vulnerability of individuals, and much is the same with prostitution. In many cases prostituted girls are working against their own will being managed by a pimp or trafficker, potentially enduring harsh control mechanisms such as abuse or violence. In other cases girls are afforded the chance to make fairly good money in prostitution, and often are led to do so due to desperate circumstance such as lack of education, illness or debt in the family, or an altogether impoverished state lending to their vulnerability and objectification. We seek to not only replace vulnerability with opportunity in the life of young girls, but do so in their families and communities as well through our Family Assistance Program and Sewing Center. Through our Family Assistance Program girls, families, and communities are afforded vocational training and safe employment throughout the entire nation of Cambodia. Through our Sewing Center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, we work to employ survivors of exploitation and those vulnerable to it in order to ensure safety in the lives of girls today and for generations to come.
In recent years, prevention and education in poor rural areas has been a priority in other organizations working within Cambodia. It is great to see the results of this work as a girl we recently received was sent to us before the family had a chance to finalize her sale. The plans of this were overheard by a neighbour who contacted an organization that could intercept this sale. As a result, we were able to receive this girl before she was sold and had suffered the atrocities associated with this.
*The photos of children’s faces above are not of actual trafficked children, neither are they associated with the SHE Rescue Home.
There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.