Photographer's Note


I photographed this little girl in Svay Pak, near Phnom Penh on 3-17-2007 during my brief exploration of the infamous location. This girl was sitting at the fresh coconut juice stall while her mother was preparing the drinks for my nephew, my driver and me. Taking this picture, I wonder how long this family could stay firm on the normal hard life amidst the strong temptation of sex industry benefit. Four days later, CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed the famed New York Times reporter Nicolas Kristof about the location. Following is the transcript:

Now let's go back to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. And here's Anderson.

COOPER: John, thanks very much. We came to Phnom Penh, because Phnom Penh is really ground zero in the illegal sex industry, in the human trafficking problem, also as well as the illegal trade of animal and animal parts.

This is the red-light district in Phnom Penh. By day, it doesn't look like much. It's an active thoroughfare. There are small shops and businesses here, small factories. At night, it is a completely different place. Many of these small storefronts become brothels. And there's very basic little women, little children sitting out, selling themselves for customers.

Many of the — the kids, the young women, are lured here from the countryside. They're promised jobs in factories or in — in the service industry. What they find here, of course, is something completely different. They find themselves literally enslaved and stuck in a life they can't get out of.

Take a look.


COOPER (voice-over): Late night on a main street in Cambodia's capital city, Phnom Penh — this is an area known as Svay Pak, where these roadside stands belie a dirty secret. Svay Pak is devoted to the sex trade.

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": When I first went to Cambodia, there were virgins, you know, 11-year-old virgins, being openly sold in storefronts.

COOPER: "New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof has covered the seedy sex business in Cambodia for years. He says the tragedy is that so few of these workers have chosen their jobs. Instead, many are victims of trafficking, sex slaves bought and sold on the black market. And many of them are so young.

(on camera): Here in Cambodia's capital, the U.N. estimates there are between 10,000 and 20,000 people working as prostitutes. It's a remarkable figure, when you consider there's only about a million people actually living in Phnom Penh.

What is even more stunning, according to a U.N. report, at least 25 percent of the Cambodia's prostitutes are children.

(voice-over): In fact, the UNICEF study found, 15 percent of Phnom Penh's prostitutes are between 9 and 15 years old. Many are taken from China or Vietnam, robbed of their childhoods, held prisoner by brothel owners out to make a buck.

KRISTOF: There was one recent girl who had been to the brothel. And the owner locked up this girl, sold her virginity, beat her when she resisted. And he rips off, he cheats all these girls. They're ATMs for the brothel.

COOPER: And their lives are miserable. A study by the group Violence Against Women and Children in Cambodia found that 54 percent say poverty drove them to this life; 79 percent can't write; 50 percent can't read; 95 percent say they work seven days a week. More than 70 percent say they have been gang- raped. And all say they have to pay protection money to police.

Then there's HIV. A USAID study says Cambodia has the highest measured national prevalence of the virus in Asia.

KRISTOF: One of the traditions which makes it hardest to stop is this notion that, if somebody has AIDS, and if they sleep with a virgin girl, then they are going to cure themselves of AIDS.

COOPER: Despite the blinding poverty and rampant corruption, there have been some steps taken to clean up the sex trade in Cambodia. And the U.S. government is trying to help, applying diplomatic pressure and placing the country at the low end of a watch list measuring what different nations are doing to stop sex trafficking. But there is a long way to go.

KRISTOF: There have been, you know, some improvements at the margins, but, ultimately, the story is still one of a modern form of slavery.(Source: CNN)

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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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