Crime against children in Cambodia

  • TV
  • Thursday, 12 Dec 2013

Hollywood actress Mira Sorvino teams up with the CNN Freedom Project in a documentary that exposes the horrors of the child sex trafficking trade in Cambodia.

IN Svay Pak, a small poverty-wracked town just outside of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, girls as young as six (some even younger) are sold into prostitution by their parents as a means of survival.

In run-down brothels or brand new karaoke clubs that are fronts for brothels, young girls are pimped to men – local and foreign – who are willing to pay top dollar for young, virginal girls. This is the face of modern-day slavery: the world of child sex trafficking where hundreds of children – mostly girls – are bought, sold or kidnapped and forced to have sex with men.

This gritty reality can be seen in a powerful CNN Freedom Project documentary titled Everyday In Cambodia. Academy award-winning actress Mira Sorvino joins American activist Don Brewster, who has dedicated his life to saving Cambodian children from being sold into prostitution, in this eye-opening documentary.

In it, Sorvino, who is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking, walks through the town of Svay Pak, talking to victims and survivors of the child sex trafficking trade as well as law enforcement officers, urging them to prosecute traffickers and stop the outrage from happening.

“It was a very powerful experience. It was very harrowing because the testimonies I heard from the girls were very bleak and upsetting. We were talking to very young girls about how their virginity was sold by their own mothers … it was just so brutal. And hearing how these men were so happy to buy that virginity ... very happy to rape these girls, it was just sickening,” says Sorvino in a 25-minute interview from Canada with Star2.

According to statistics from international non-governmental organisation, End Child Prostitution, Abuse and Trafficking (ECPAT), a third of all sex workers in Cambodia are children.

“It is the most extreme form of abuse you can imagine. It is hard to imagine how one human could do that to another. My job is to just be a victim’s advocate and to underscore the fact that little children are being raped everyday in these hotel rooms throughout the country by men who find it recreational to sleep with a child as young as six.

“Generally, they are older but on this trip, we met three girls who were six years old. I mean, come on. This has to be addressed in a more robust way,” says the impassioned Sorvino who starred in movies like Romy And Michelle’s High School Reunion, Mighty Aphrodite and At First Sight.

According to CNN International executive vice president and managing director Tony Maddox, Everyday In Cambodia was one of the most remarkable and difficult documentaries CNN has produced under The Freedom Project, a humanitarian news media campaign that produces reports, articles and documentaries on all forms of human trafficking.

“This is tenacious and fearless journalism and we are immensely proud to be able to highlight this crucial story and help act as a champion for change,” he said in a release about the documentary.

Sorvino, who has worked on several occasions with The Freedom Project, was keen to be a part of the documentary right from the start.

“I wanted to go out on the field and I told producer Lisa Cohen that a while ago. I’ve had some experience over the years … I’ve interviewed scores of survivors and law enforcement officers and government officials and even a child sex trafficker and it has become sort of my field of expertise.

“Lisa said that they’d been told that the situation in Cambodia was getting better but the reality was that it wasn’t getting any better … the trade had just gone underground and the CNN team wanted to go there and find out why and what can be done about it,” explains Sorvino, adding that her involvement was in a personal capacity and not part of her role as a UNODC goodwill ambassador.

The documentary, Sorvino hopes, will show people the dark reality of the situation in Cambodia and hopefully move more people into action.

“I hope it will mobilise public action and that there will be a public outcry.

“When people see these little girls, I mean, it could be our sisters or their daughters, what on earth are we doing allowing this to happen? I hope there will be moral revulsion when people see this and that prompts change.

“I want the Government to enforce compulsory education instead of just allowing these kids to be out there, undocumented, illiterate and vulnerable to being sold. I want local groups to act as watchdogs to make sure that this doesn’t happen on their watch. And there has to be discussion.

“Silence on this matter only helps the perpetrators, never the victims. There needs to be discussion which will lead to immediate action. And these men, they need to be punished and also reeducated.

“There has to be preventative education too, to shift the way men perceive women,” says Sorvino who spent 10 days in Cambodia working on the documentary.

For the 46-year-old actress, advocating for the victims on what she dubs “modern day slavery” has become part of her day-to-day life.

“I spend a lot of time on this whether domestically or abroad. This has become my part-time career. This has become deeply important to me.

“As a mother of four, I cannot just stand by and do nothing now that I know the realities of the situation and I am very grateful for the opportunities to serve.”

Everyday In Cambodia airs tomorrow at 2pm and Sunday at 10am and 9pm on CNN International (Astro Ch 511).

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