Photographer's Note

Researchers found 87% of young men were having sex with their girlfriends or prostitutes; 10% were having sex with other males. There are 10,000 to 20,000 women and children in prostitution in Phnom Penh, a city of 1 million. Massage parlors and karaoke bars are frequently fronts for prostitution rings.

Prostitution has become a "fixture of urban life" in Cambodia.

Tuol Kok district is Phnom Penh is Cambodia's most well-known light district. In 1992, the average age of prostituted persons was 18. This dropped to 15 years by April 1993, and a follow-up study in February 1994 suggested that 35% of the persons engaged in prostitution were under the age of 18, according to the Cambodian Women's Development Association. By March 1995, minors (aged 12 to 17 years old) comprised nearly 31% of prostituted persons in Phnom Penh and 11 other provinces, according to a survey conducted by the Human Rights Vigilance of Cambodia. 35% of prostitutes in Cambodia are under the age of 18.

There is a lower demand for boy prostitutes in Cambodia, sometimes an older boy will obtain youngsters for foreign customers, while other boys are independent. Many young prostituted boys live on the streets and at night wait for the male buyers who will pay $2 to $5 for sex.

Children as young as four have been sold into the sex industry in Cambodia. Minors, some as young as seven, constitute more than 25% of the prostitutes in Cambodia's sex industry.

Prostitution was outlawed in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 during the rule of the Khmer Rouge, but it resurfaced in the 1980s and peaked between 1991 and 1993 during the UNTAC years when many of the 22,000 UN personnel stationed in Cambodia frequented the nation's numerous brothels. The UN soldiers presence in Cambodia caused the number of prostitutes to rise to an estimated 20,000 at the peak. After their departure, the number dropped to 10,000 to 15,000.

The local industry for sexually exploited children is exploding for two reasons: many Khmer — and other Asian men — believe sex with a virgin will renew their vigor and youth, and the fear of contracting HIV is fuelling a demand for younger and younger virgins. A study of more than 6,000 prostituted girls found that one-third of prostitutes in Phnom Penh and Battambang were between the age of 12 and 17.

Cambodia's flourishing sex industry had its beginning in the early 1990s, when tens of thousands of UN "blue helmet" peacekeepers and civilian administrators descended here in an operation known as UNTAC, which was designed to end a long-running civil war and pave the way for multiparty elections. When Prime Minister Hun Sen was asked what would be UNTAC's legacy, he replied: "AIDS."

Visiting prostitutes has become a common and accepted male pastime in Cambodia. As a result men have become the vectors for AIDS. 40-50% the prostitutes in Cambodian are HIV positive. 60% of the young prostitutes interviewed in Cambodia in June 1995 were infected with everything from sores and warts to gonorrhea. Prostitutes have HIV infection rates of at least 40%, but the figure could be much higher.

Prostituted girls endure miserable conditions and abuse, including beatings, cramped quarters, inadequate food and sleep, and little to no protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

Ohn, a prostituted boy, said about half of the male buyers are foreigners and half are locals. He prefers the foreign customers because they pay more — the most he ever received was $15.

In 1994 Sophak, a 16 year old girl from Cambodia was sold into prostitution to the owner of a nightclub in Battambang City by her mother, who suffered a "losing streak" during her compulsive gambling. She was raped by the owner and others and then escaped. She returned to her home, but fled, fearing she would be resold.

In May 1997, Makara was sold to a brothel in Tuol Kork for about $200 by a broker in her hometown in Kompong Cham, 200 km northeast of Phnom Penh. Makara's virginity was purchased by a man who bought her on contract. The contract made her his exclusive sex slave for a period of a month. He abused her so brutally that she ran away. Her current brothel owner paid off her $200 debt to the first brothel then bought her, and now she is indebted to them. Her male buyers, on average 7 each night, pay $2 for intercourse.

A Cambodian girl, who awoke in a brothel in Phnom Penh, said that her aunt drugged her into unconsciousness and sold her to a brothel owner. When she refused to service male buyers she was drugged again, taken to a hotel and raped by several men.

A lieutenant in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces is one brothel owner. He claims to enslave the girls because he cannot make enough money in his job in the Armed Forces.

Meas, a 16-year-old orphan from Vietnam, was sold to a brothel in Phnom Penh by her neighbor for $400. She was starved and beaten until she complied to having sex with eight men a day. When she was found by police, they took her life savings 30,000 riel, roughly US$8.50. (Source: CATW)

Photo: a police on duty at Svay Pak, where we never know what the real business behind a normal store is...

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Additional Photos by Ngy Thanh (ngythanh) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 471 W: 125 N: 2332] (8458)
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