Cambodia is a country suffering from the aftereffects of a civil war, a genocide and human sex trafficking. Cambodia is a country where a child is not safe. Where a child can be sold by his own parents for as little as 300 USD. Cambodia is the land of virgin trade, where little girls aged 10 years onwards are traded for their virginity, followed by a visit to doctor to attain a certificate that they are virgin. They are kept in shady areas, sedated during the day and drugged at nights-so that they can have sex with clients after clients throughout the night. Saying ‘no’- lands them in trouble, they are electrocuted. Live wires are inserted in their body. They loose eyes, limbs, ability to speak. Even the boy child is not safe. No one talks about boys getting traded for sex. But it exists in Cambodia. The country is known for sex tourism. Media is full of reports on how western and asian travelers are involved in sexual trade. However the truth is that 99% of the time these children and teenagers are consumed for their flesh by powerful and rich locals. Each day in Cambodia 1500 children are brought and sold. A shanty Town called Svay Pak near Pnom Pneh is the ‘adda’ for such sales.
Children not only face the trauma of sexual abuse, they are also mentally and physically abused by their parents, masters and traders. Poverty, single parent, beating, burning, severe labour, unhygienic food and shelter- this is the everyday life of a child born in Cambodia.
The Cambodian government is not able to control the situation, it is now taking help from the NGOs to rescue and safeguard children. NGOs are budding like mushrooms after rain everywhere in Cambodia. Only handful of them are doing real work, many of these NGOs rescue children from their home and sex traders – only to sell them again.
During my research I was looking at the legal consent age in Cambodia and to my shock it was thirteen. A thirteen year old is a child. A thirteen year old’s body is still developing. A thirteen year old still plays the game of hide and seek and doll wedding. A thirteen year old still has innocence of childhood in his or her eyes. And that thirteen year old is expected to have sex . Yes the reality in Cambodia is cruel.
When I reached to Prey Veng, I talked to the locals there. I was again in for a shock, this country which is a major contributor to a 2 billion dollar industry of sex trade doesn’t know anything about sex, sexuality or abuse. Locals are ignorant and unaware. Some of the questions I was asked during the training went like this.
- If my wife is not able to deliver a baby, and if I force her to look at the picture of child everyday- will she be abel to conceive
- During sex male gets orgasm and female is not able to get it, so the desire of having orgasm converts into a baby and the female gets pregnant.
- It’s written in Bible that homosexuality is a sin, shouldn’t we be hating and outcasting those sinners.
- The baby will get hurt if I have sex during pregnancy, so to fulfill his desire my husband can sleep with someone else.
- Having sex with virgin has healing powers.
- Many more which I am not sure if I should be writing here.
I was lucky to get associated with Operation Hope Foundation, an NGO in Singapore which rescues and provide shelter to children in Cambodia, Thailand and Nepal. When I met Mr. Robert Keys ( Founder and CEO) and Ms Hui Hsing (Director) I was so happy to see their genuine interest in making their children safe from abuse of all kinds. They took a leap further to make sure that their staff also gets trained to teach children body safety and answer the queries of teenagers properly. That’s how association of FAiTH and Hope started. In their shelter home, the children are kept with immense love. They attend schools, other enrichment classes such as computer, art and music. When I stayed there for 5 days it felt home. Children showered me with their smiles and unconditional love. The staff treated me with warmth. They didn’t even let me wash my plate. I have to sneak in order to do so , but mostly I was caught and sent back.
The five day training session went well, when they started on day 1 they were confused, not ready to share or look at each other’s eyes. However as the training progressed they had so many questions to ask and so many things to share. As a trainer this was my moment of glory. My trainees being comfortable to talk about the subject of sexuality. I could see the transformation happening in that space. We laughed and cried. We hugged each other. We were all part of the same divine spark. We started speaking the same language, the language of of heart and soul.
Another moment of glory came when the house parents presented mock of the FAiTH’s ” body safety and empowerment” seminar for children . It was awesome, they replicated the entire seminar in their local Khmer language with added local games to engage the children. I still miss their loving warmth.
Children at Hope shelter home were so lovely, they played football with me, hugged me, danced with me. Teenager girls wanted me to tell them how to look beautiful. The answer came in the workshop, when we talked about body image, following their dream and reflection of inner beauty. We watched Colby Collet’s ‘Try’, Oprah and Michelle Obama talking. We discussed about the people who made dire mistakes as teenagers and came out victorious in life, we talked about ” The hero’s journey. ” We also talked about, love, attraction, gender, sex, hormonal changes that they were going through. While girls were with smile and adding their stories in between the workshop, boys took their own time to open up.But when boys started asking questions and giving their opinions, we took one and a half hours to finish just the Q n A session. They were still adamant to leave.
And children, well they had their dance, coloring, jumping games and they did not realize that through all that they are learning how to keep their body safe. They remember the lessons by heart and went to the extent to teach it to the older teenage children. I came to know because teenage girls told me so.
The five days spent in ‘Prey Veng’ were one of the few best moments of my life, I couldn’t thank Operation Hope Foundation enough for giving FAiTH this opportunity by opening the doors of their home and heart. In this Journey I went to teach but in the end I learned and I transformed. FAiTH will have many more such trainings in future at Cambodia. To see the pictures and video click here.