Child Sex Trade in Cambodia : An Ugly Truth

“This post contains excerpts from my upcoming book – OUR BROKEN STEPS”

Some call it thrill and some call it necessity while others say it is a social menace. A multi-billion dollar industry in itself, Sex tourism is a topic that has been and will always be strongly discussed especially with some countries legalizing prostitution while others completely banning it. In some underdeveloped countries where prostitution is banned, the laws are not strong enough to keep a check on the sex trade activities which results in an open unhindered market of sex tourism in those countries. While there will always be strong debates on the topic of prostitution – legalized or not – generating some extreme polarizing opinions, there can be no denying the fact that Sex Tourism has created two of the ugliest forms of human abuse – Child Sex Trade and Human Trafficking.

The dark underbelly of human trafficking thrives on the plight of poor families in underdeveloped provinces and countries. These families who are looking to make a living or pay off debts knowingly and unknowingly send off their young women – and men in some cases –  to shady traders in exchange of money. Those young women end up in brothels, nightclubs, bars, massage parlors and organized prostitution mostly across popular tourist destinations. This menace of human trafficking also leads to a more grave and inhuman exploitation of Child Sex Trade. Abandoned kids from the streets and those who have been sold off by poor families, are among the millions of innocent children who are victims of sexual exploitation across the world. Cambodia is among the most popular and top visited countries in the world when it comes to tourism. However, this country also has a sadistic reputation of being a haven for pedophiles. Among the millions of tourists who throng to Cambodia every year, there are thousands of sex tourists who engage in sexual activities with kids and minors. There have been several reported incidents of kids as young as 6 years of age being involved in the sex trade. I myself have witnessed such a disgusting incident during my trip to Cambodia last year which would later prove to be a turning point in my life.


When you are in Cambodia for the first time, you’ll notice some of the most significant billboards and hoardings that read – Save our girls, Save our children. Before my trip to Cambodia, I had read about the menace of child prostitution that plagues the country. Reading about it made me feel sad and sorry and I hoped that things would be better than before over there. Reading/hearing about issues and watching those issues unfurl in-front of our own eyes is vastly different. Some places, experiences or even a sight of something has the potential to change our lives for good – that moment, when we discover a new direction and meaning to our lives. I had that moment of mine as I was walking down the Ochheuteal beach at Sihanoukville on a Sunday afternoon.


Poverty, hunger, desperation and greed makes people do unimaginable things, but I wonder what can possibly justify giving away one’s own child in exchange for money. Having read about child trafficking on various online forums and having decent awareness on how it works, I was shocked to see this happen openly, considering the fact that there are supposedly strict laws against child prostitution. Yes, I saw it all happen in a matter of 6-7 minutes – a 60 something old foreigner, a local tattooed guy (read Pimp), a bunch of dollars exchanging hands and amid all this an innocent, confused-looking child not more than 6-7 years old, with no idea that her childhood was going to be taken away from her. All this happening out in the open in-spite of 115 foreign tourists being arrested in Cambodia for crimes related to child sex over the past 8-9 years. Where is the law? Where is the fear? Where is the morality?


I was aware that Cambodia has the dubious reputation for being a heaven for pedophiles and watching it all happen out there, it didn’t just disgust me, it shook my entire notion of the world I live in. Thousands of innocent kids across the country are being pushed into the flesh trade and pervert pedophiles(locals and foreigners) continue to make hay. Yes, there are a lot of organizations that are trying to raise awareness and fight this menace but is that enough? No. Even if people consider the choice to get involved in sexual activities with professional escorts while traveling as an individual discretion, there is absolutely no excuse for sexual exploitation of children under any circumstances. Besides long-term health problems, sexually abused child victims also suffer from irreversible and permanent emotional trauma that can be very difficult to overcome. Not just restricted to countries in Asia, child sex trade is a growing menace across countries in North and South America and as well as the African continent. Although weak law enforcement, deplorable living conditions, poverty and corruption has allowed this child sex trade to exist in countries like Cambodia, sex tourists hailing from different parts of the world are among the major offenders for child sex trade and there are no two ways about that fact.


I have lived in a world which I now realize has been make-believe and selfish to the core. People are more interested in counting the number of “likes” on their Facebook profile pictures rather than talk or even think about the real issues. Countries fighting each other over a few pieces of rocks in the sea. Religions clashing with each other on who has the more superior God. Majority of the world is oblivious to the basic needs of others and content in living in their own “safe” space while innocents continue to suffer elsewhere. As somebody said “It took 4 years and 3 million dead Cambodians for any nation to come forward and help us“, I wonder how many more children would have to sacrifice their childhood for somebody to wake up from the dead slumber. Those few minutes on that beach still haunt me and in a way I wish they continue to haunt me because the image of those particular moments are shaping up my changed life.

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Child Sex Trade in Cambodia : An Ugly Truth

Cambodia : A country that deserves to be visited

A trip that changed my life forever and a country that gave me a new perspective to successful living – Cambodia, in many ways defines extreme suffering and ultimate triumphs of an entire human population. A country that until recently was on the brink of total destruction, now has significant stories to tell, beautiful sights and sounds to share. Many would argue that the influx of huge numbers of tourists every year is a major cause behind some of the grave social issues within the country. While that is true to a certain extent, Cambodia is one country I personally believe that actually deserves and needs more tourists. When I say tourists, I mean ethical and responsible travelers. Here are four reasons why.

A couple of these four reasons might not be the usual “oh it’s a fairy-tale/paradise” ones, but are definitely worth exploring for pure humanitarian reasons.

Marvel and learn at the majestic Angkor Wat

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm Ruins of Angkor

Touted as one of the most visited destinations in the world, the ruins of this ancient city is hugely popular owing to the magnanimous Angkor Wat and the mythical ruins of Ta Prohm temples. A paradise for architecture and history buffs, this huge ancient city complex is spread across the jungles in the outskirts of Siem Reap. Each and every stone of its structures signify the importance of these monuments to Cambodian society that relates back from the ancient bygone era of the Cambodian kingdom to the more recent turmoil of the Khmer Rouge. Mesmerizing at dawn and dusk, with the sheer audacity of the huge structures to its minutest intricate details, this place commands the awe and admiration like the Pyramids of Giza or Machu Picchu.

Soak in the beautiful landscapes

Otres Beach in Sihanoukville

Amid the most revered attraction of Angkor Wat the amazingly beautiful landscape of Cambodia stays very much underrated till today. Once I ventured out of Siem Reap I was greeted with the lush green countryside with a backdrop of the cloud-covered mountain ranges. Not until recently, the beach town of Sihanoukville (although it has a seedy vibe after sundown), the beautiful island of Koh Rong and the sleepy riverside settlement of Kampot were being visited by travelers. Jungles, mountains, islands, rivers and beaches – Cambodia has it all. Truly, one just needs to look beyond Angkor Wat to experience the rustic and laid-back atmosphere this country has in store.

Support the campaign against child prostitution

Child prostitution is the major issue in Cambodia right now

Cambodia is still very much an underdeveloped country with a majority of the silent population suffering from the aftermath of a devastating civil war. Poverty in this country stares at you in one of the ugliest forms – child prostitution. Children as young as 5-6 years are being traded as commodities and pushed into the sex trade and yes, the rise in tourism has a lot to do with it. That is where the need for ethical tourism and responsible travel comes in. There are organizations like Childsafe Cambodia that have various initiatives towards safeguarding the present and future of vulnerable children. An influx of more responsible travelers who are willing to learn, understand and help the situation of these kids, can go a long way in giving the wonderful Cambodian society the helping had they need and deserve.

The Scars of Khmer Rouge

Khmer Rouge
Khmer Rouge regime claimed more than 3 million lives

A bloody, destructive regime that took almost 3 million Cambodian lives through mass executions, famine and disease, yet it remains among one of the least talked about civil wars. Considering it was not so long ago for human memory, every Cambodian above the age of 40 has lived through those times. The disastrous affect it had on this country are still evident from almost every facet of the Cambodian society. The faces and eyes of these people tell a million stories – one of which I heard from a survivor – which need to be heard. More and more travelers who visit the “Killing Fields” at Phnom Penh now get a brief knowledge on the Khmer Rouge and its atrocities. Like many other travelers, I became aware of this reality only after I visited Cambodia and that made me realize the need for people all over the world to learn and know about the difficult past.

There are some journeys that stay with us for a very long time. Some destinations have such an impact on our psyche that completely changes the way we look at the world. Cambodia has been THAT place for me. The six days of my stay in Cambodia were influential enough to change the course of my own notion of life. It is an absolutely beautiful country with a lot to offer. The iconic structures of Angkor, the beautiful beaches, rivers and mountains are a testimony to that. However, for a nation that is still trying to stand on its feet, the stoic resilience of its people with hope in their hearts is what makes this place so endearing.

Cambodia Pin

P.S. Here my every mention of being a traveler is meant to be for ethical and responsible travel only.

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Cambodia : A country that deserves to be visited