APLE Cambodia – Who Are We?
In 2003, Action Pour Les Enfants [APLE] was established in Phnom Penh, Cambodia as an international NGO. Initially, APLE assisted the police with investigations into street-based child sexual abuse and exploitation and provided pro-bono legal support to victims and their families. As APLE gained more knowledge and expertise in combatting child sexual abuse, its operations expanded.
In 2005, APLE opened an office in the coastal town of Sihanoukville, due to an increase of suspected child sexual abuse in the area, often committed by travelling sex offenders. In the same year, APLE began offering social support to those affected by child sexual abuse and exploitation after detecting a lack of integral services in Cambodia.
Between 2003 and 2007, tourism in Cambodia increased nearly 300% with the majority of the tourists flocking to Siem Reap.
In 2007, due to concerns about the increased flow of foreign nationals, poverty, minimal education, and vulnerable children, APLE opened a third office in Siem Reap. Each of APLE’s teams has become a critical and effective mechanism in the fight to end child sexual abuse and exploitation.
In 2009, the National Committee for Counter Trafficking elected APLE to co-chair the Law Enforcement Working Group. This working group is a joint initiative between government and civil society organisations tasked to monitor and report on changes in types of crimes, modus operandi of offenders, and factors that facilitate trafficking or sexual abuse and exploitation.
From 2013 to 2014, APLE undertook a significant organisational restructure to ensure maximum efficiency in its operations. In 2013, APLE centralised its activities and reallocated the majority of its staff to Phnom Penh. The majority of staff now in the provincial offices are investigators.
In 2014, APLE updated and reorganised its activities into a child protection portfolio consisting of four core programs and nine projects, again with the aim of increasing APLE’s organisational and operational efficiency. In addition, APLE registered as a local NGO in 2014 to better reflect the true Cambodian character.
In 2013, APLE conducted an assessment on three provinces in Cambodia to determine child sexual abuse risk factors and identify gaps in services that APLE could fill. Based on this research and funding from a new donor, APLE opened an office in Battambang in April 2014. The one-year pilot project re-affirmed the need for APLE’s expertise to complement existing services. However, because of the new strategic plan, APLE decided to close its office in the province in 2015.
We have four interconnected departments.
Training Dept: Trainers organize events to educate and train the public, community and authority population. APLE makes every effort to be a well-known and positive presence in the community, to instill trust and encourage knowledge dissemination.
Investigation Dept: Investigators monitor and respond to reports of suspicious behaviour, as well as liaise with foreign and national law enforcement. If abuse is suspected, our child protection agents work in collaboration with the police to initiate the evidence gathering and rescue process.
Social Dept: Social workers help with a wide range of needs: referrals, medical care; shelter; welfare support; and trauma counselling. From the moment of arrest, our social workers protect, support, and respond to the needs of the child. They also liaise with the child and their family, partner NGOs, and the government to determine the safest place for the child.
Legal Dept: Lawyers provide pro bono legal aid to victims, vulnerable children, witnesses, and family members. Our lawyers are on hand to provide legal advice, counselling, and representation to the victims, if the child and their family request this from APLE.
Currently, APLE runs four programs: Criminal Justice Development, Court Support, Community Engagement, and Research & Advocacy.
By 2020, 30% increase in adherence to national standards and 30% increase in use of child-friendly practices throughout the criminal justice system.
Freedom from sexual abuse and exploitation for all children
A community with robust social and legal justice in which all children are safe from child sexual abuse and exploitation
To reduce all forms of child sexual abuse and exploitation through prevention, protection, promotion of prosecution, and partnership
To strengthen national social and legal mechanisms for the protection of children at risk of, or affected by, child sexual abuse or exploitation
Today, we’re a Stars Impact Award winner and a part from that we have gained.
1. Appreciation for outstanding contribution and exemplary assistance to the Operation Predator, issued in 2004 by US Department of Homeland Security, ICE Bangkok
2. Recognition for professional and valuable contribution to ICE in Bangkok, issued in 2007 by US Department of Homeland Security
3. Recognition for outstanding cooperation and assistance in connection with an investigation of great importance, issued in 2010 by US Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
4. Recognition and appreciation for continuing partnership in the fight against sexual and commercial exploitation of children, issued in 2011 by US Department of Homeland Security, ICE Bangkok
5. Endorsement for outstanding collaboration with the Anti-human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department of the Cambodian National Police in the fight against human trafficking and sexual exploitation, issued in 2011 by the Department of Anit Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection of the Cambodian National Police (CNP)
6. Endorsement for great contribution in the prevention and suppression of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, especially in children as well as support for child victims, issued in 2011 by the National Committee’s Secretariat to lead the suppression of human trafficking, smuggling, labor and sexual exploitation of women and children
7. Endorsement for partnership and contribution in protecting and promoting the rights of the child, issued in 2011 by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSAVY)
Phone number: +85523996 351/ +85512 584 194
Email address: email@example.com
If you witness a child in immediate danger, please call police 1288 or APLE 092 311 511.
JOIN APLE and Donate, please visit: http://aplecambodia.org/donate/.
Problems of Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in Cambodia
Poverty leads in Cambodia, like in other developing countries, to high infant and child mortality, high illiteracy and low per capita family income. Besides the country is in the process of recovery from at least 30 years of civil war including 4 years of terror with genocidal dimensions.
Child sexual abuse: Child sexual abuse occurs when someone involves a child in a sexual activity by using their power over them or taking advantage of their trust. Child sexual abuse includes all forms of unwanted sexual behaviour. This can involving touching or even no contact at all.
Child sexual exploitation: Child sexual exploitation can be broadly described as ‘child sexual abuse’ where something is given in exchange for the sexual activity. This may not necessarily be commercial as the ‘thing’ given can be shelter, food, drugs etc. This form of exploitation can occur physically as well as through technology e.g. internet or phone.
As children’s development needs and right to protection are seriously neglected there is long way to go before policies, strategies and programme activities are based on or adequately reflect the best interest of the child.
The sexual abuse of boys is on the other hand increasing due to more foreign visitors to the country. A stronger response in Thailand towards pedophile activity has unfortunately changed the focus of such abuses to Cambodia.
In recent years, we have received several reports of abuse taking place online. To enable us to respond effectively to these reports, APLE is launching Cambodia’s first internet hotline to combat online child sexual abuse and exploitation in 2015. We will also provide training on online safety to encourage a safe internet use. We are looking forward to developing our skills to effectively combat this crime in Cambodia, and partnering with hotlines around the world to protect children globally.
Child work is a common phenomenon in Cambodia. Children work in paid or unpaid jobs and they are mainly found in the informal sector. The largest number of working children is involved in the agricultural production, still many are found active in the markets, in the streets or in the domestic area. One of the main reasons for the work is support to the family economy .It can also be to support one’s own schooling or due to internal migration of children who try to find an economical base by moving from the rural areas to the cities and in many cases becoming street children or ended up in some form of prostitution.
Homosexuality, particularly around males, was stigmatised and considered socially unacceptable in all study sites. While some respondents had heard of cases or were aware of sexual abuse of boys by foreign and/or local offenders, sexual exploitation of boys was not considered to be a real threat or issue.
Poverty, the need to finance educations, and health issues were some of the major reasons that children engaged in commercial sex.
Peer influence was also found to be a contributing factor, especially where children encouraged their friends to engage in commercial sexual exchanges. It was also found that for some young people, selling sex for money was also a way of keeping up with consumer culture.
In all locations, the influence of the internet, media and digital technology on the attitudes and sexual behaviour of children was highly evident. Parents and duty bearers were generally unaware of its effects, and supervision of children’s use of digital technology was practically non-existent.
Child Rape by local perpetrators has been on the rise over the past few years. Several factors contribute to the rise: the wide accessibility and use the pornography (the primary sex education tool for youth as well as different – Western, Asian – point of view on nudity, desire, techniques, and specific features), a culture of impunity (limited involvement of authorities/ the judicial system), the impact of alcoholism, social attitudes toward victims (stigmatized, led to prostitution), lack of social moral structure and education in rural communities, housing promiscuity (most of the offenders are direct relatives – father/step-father/uncle – or neighbors), relatives banality of criminal activities and the recall of ancient beliefs associated with contextual sanitary situations: “The myth that sex with a young girl is good for health and fears about HIV infection, together with the prohibitive cost for most men for a virgin, and the growing sense of impunity in society, certainly appear to be valid explanation as to why so many young and sexually impunity in society, certainly appear to be valid explanation as to why so many young and sexually immature girls are rapped.”
In short, many adults and children appeared to lack a sufficient understanding of child sexual abuse and practical ways to identify, prevent or respond to it. Parents demonstrated the lowest levels of understanding on the issue of child sexual abuse, while few children identified anal sex, oral sex, participation in/exposure to pornography or masturbation as abusive sexual acts. The general understanding appeared to be that sexual abuse was something that originated from outside the family and community, especially where sexual abuse of boys was concerned. Yet, at the same time, grooming techniques, used by both by foreign and local sex offenders, were rarely mentioned as a modus operandi or form of abuse.
Researchers identified five main sources of education about sex and sex-related issues for children: media/digital technology, friends and peers, schools, public information campaigns, and personal experience/ observation. Despite children identifying parents as being the most important influence in their lives, parents were not found to be a major source of information, and many children expressed fear of confiding with their parents about intimate issues, including sex. Furthermore, school children received information about anatomy and reproductive health at schools and from NGOs, but rarely received more detailed information focusing specifically on child sexual abuse prevention strategies.
Impact of Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation on Children
The Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation (2008) has had a positive impact in regards to creating specific criminal offences for child sexual abuse and exploitation; however, it can be argued that the law is inadequate due to weak understanding and inconsistent implementation. While the legal situation is changing for the better, underlying issues remain; the judicial system relies on victim testimony, which allows some suspects to evade prosecution. In Cambodia, poverty, corruption, lack of education and unclear legal procedures continue to foster a vulnerable environment for children.
The majorities of children who are victimized come from poor, uneducated backgrounds and find the post-arrest experience intimidating and confusing. The reliance on victim testimony for prosecution creates additional trauma, especially during the trial where many victims must testify about the abuse in the presence of the suspect. Furthermore, distrust of the judicial system leads many victims to either avoid reporting abuse or withdraw their complaint prior to final sentencing.
Psychological effects of sexual abuse:
It causes some children to be silent and apparently unwilling to collaborate with the authorities. Some victims with these feeling take an unconscious vengeance on life by exposing their fellow acquaintances to similar risks by introducing them to potential child sex’s abusers.
APLE Cambodia’s Existing Programs to Respond to the Problems
APLE is a non-governmetal organisation [NGO] that has been active in Cambodia since 2003, when the PROTECT Project was launched in partnership with Spanish NGO Global Humanitaria. APLE is the only NGO specialized in street-based child sexual abuse and exploitation in Cambodia, making us invaluable experts in this field.
At present, APLE co-chairs the Law Enforcement Taskforce of the National Committee to Lead the Suppression of Human Trafficking, Smuggling, Sexual and Labor Exploitation of Women and Children.
APLE’s strength lies on close collaboration with national and international police. In 2003, APLE signed Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. In 2010, APLE signed another MoU with the Ministry of Interior to formalize and strengthen cooperation with the Cambodian National Police.
Currently, APLE runs four programs: Criminal Justice Development, Court Support, Community Engagement, and Research & Advocacy.
Criminal Justice Development
The first pillar encompasses the work APLE Cambodia is most well-known for, as well as some new avenues to pursue in the future. This pillar is developed and governed by the belief that strengthening government institutions relevant to the criminal justice system is crucial to achieve long-term sustainable change. This pillar directly targets existing formal social and legal protection mechanisms and enables stakeholders to better protect children at risk of or affected by child sexual abuse and exploitation.
- 192 cases were investigated and 42 cases were opened. We worked with the Cambodian police on 74 cases and with foreign police on 36 cases.
- 13 foreigners and 9 Cambodians were arrested and 62 victims were rescued by the police.
APLE Cambodia will continue to provide high quality and timely legal and social support to enable victims of sexual abuse to pursue justice without further trauma and will advocate on their behalf. In addition, APLE Cambodia will involve the DoSVY and other NGOs, in the provision of care to encourage their action and increase their skills. This pillar will strengthen informal social and legal mechanisms through development and dissemination of best practice guidelines for supporting victims and their families, case-by-case advocacy, and strategic partnerships.
211 clients received our legal support and 406 clients received our social support.
APLE believes that knowledge empowers and empowerment leads to prevention. APLE builds local capacity by equipping a variety of target groups with the tools to identify and report suspected abuse or grooming to APLE’s 24/7 Hotline. APLE also conducts training to enhance the capacity to fight child sexual abuse and exploitation. APLE’s investigators work side-by-side with Cambodian police to share investigative techniques to handling sensitive situations. APLE aims for sustainability, whereby the government and police force are willing and able to proactively investigate these crimes.
- 1,066 participants attended 7 awareness raising events, 4 training activities, 2 workshops, 7 informant discussions, and 4 online safety sessions.
- APLE Cambodia was also invited to be a guest speaker at 10 government-led events with 377 participants.
Research & Advocacy
The fourth pillar recognises the importance of using evidence to underpin APLE Cambodia’s work. A variety of research initiatives will be undertaken to analyse previous trends and explore emerging areas of interest. In addition, the research and experience will be used to advocate for positive changes in laws and the criminal justice process. This pillar calls for changes in formal legal protection mechanisms to ensure children both at risk of, or affected by, child sexual abuse and exploitation are prioritised and protected at the highest level.
APLE ‘s Challenges of the Prevention of the Abuse and Exploitation
APLE is specialized in investigating street-based exploitation. However, any case of child sexual abuse or exploitation is extremely serious and has devastating consequences for the victim(s). Therefore, APLE investigates every report about the sexual victimization of a child, regardless the form of victimization.
APLE faced three major challenges, which they aimed to tackle in 2014.
1. Many communities are unaware of child sexual abuse and exploitation and thus do not see suspicious behaviour. As such, we plan to expand training and awareness raising activities to more remote areas. By strategically targeting new areas, we can increase knowledge and encourage actions to prevent abuse and report suspicious behaviour.
2. The court process is unsatisfactory for many victims. We plan to promote child friendly procedures in all stages of an investigation and trial. Also, we will advocate for speedy trials and quicker execution of compensation payments to avoid victims from withdrawing their complaint and/or offenders leaving the country before paying compensation.
3. Online abuse is a growing concern. We plan to pursue training on how to identify and track this crime, as well as establish a more systematic hotline to allow for easier reporting of suspicious online and offline behaviour.
While doing all this, we plan to coordinate with Project WATCH to enhance the operational capacity in this region and share best practices.
We also believe the powerful, yet simplistic illustration will increase recognition of APLE both domestically and internationally.
Sex education and information
There were at least five main sources of information: media and the internet, friends and peers, school education, public information campaigns, and personal observations and experience.
Sex education received by school children covered topics such as anatomy, reproductive health, contraception, and STIs to varying degrees of detail. However, rarely was information on how to identify and prevent sexual abuse disseminated, with the exception of a school that taught students about such issues as having control over private parts of their bodies and identifying dangerous situations.
The study showed that parents were not the main information source for children about issues relating to child rights and child sexual abuse, despite the fact that children often reported that parents were the strongest influence in their lives.
Parents were generally unaware about how their children obtained knowledge about sexual issues. Especially striking was the strong resistance shown by the majority of adults, especially parents, against sex education for children, for fear that this would provoke curiosity and lead to sexual experimentation and inappropriate behaviour.
Street children, working children, and vocational school children demonstrated far greater knowledge of sex than school children, through information acquired through direct observations, discussions with peers, and personal experiences.
Media, digital technology, and the internet
Use of social media, text messaging, and online games was found to be extremely widespread amongst the majority of children in all research locations. Children acquired a great deal of information about sex, accurate or otherwise, from informal channels such as peers, television, media and the internet. Images and information of a sexual nature were reported to be ubiquitous. Children in all research locations were easily able to access information of a sexual nature or chat with strangers through social media networks. Adult supervision of children’s access to media, internet, and other forms of technology was non-existent.
Foreign Child Sex Offenders in Cambodia
The term child sex offender is used to describe all perpetrators and accomplices who have been arrested as a result of APLE investigations. The use of the term does not imply that someone has been convicted for a sexual crime against a child.
The majority of child sex offenders in Cambodia are locals. That being said, some foreigners do travel to Cambodia to sexually abuse and/or exploit children (i.e. traveling sex offenders). For multiple reasons (e.g. poverty, weak legal system, cultural values, etc.), they regard Cambodia as an appealing country to commit sexual crimes against children. Hence, a moral and ethical responsibility exists to prevent this type of sexual exploitation, protect those who have been victimized, and promote (i.e. advocate for) prosecution of the offenders.
Sexual exploitation of children in Cambodia usually occurs within one of three categories. Those categories are establishment-based, street-based and institution-based exploitation. The three forms of exploitation are defined as follows:
Establishment-based exploitation is facilitated through established sex-houses (e.g. brothels, karaoke bars, etc.). In Cambodia this means is favored by Cambodian and other Asian men for access to children.
Street-based exploitation is facilitated personally by the sex offender or an intermediary, who approaches children directly in a public area in order to commence a relationship with them that will lead to sexual abuse. This type of exploitation is perpetrated largely by foreign tourists and residents.
Institution-based exploitation occurs when an individual uses an institution that is intended to benefit the well-being of children to gain access to, groom, and/or sexually exploit children. Based on APLE’s observations, this type of exploitation is favored by foreign child sex offenders.
Due to APLE’s focus on street-based exploitation, the data is skewed towards traveling sex offenders and this provides an excellent opportunity to research this group in depth. The fact that 118 of the 288 offenders are Cambodian nationals does not undermine this research. On the contrary, it provides an opportunity to compare the foreign offenders (i.e. traveling sex offenders) with Cambodian offenders.
Gender of the Offender
Males (81.3%) are disproportionally represented (p. < 0.01) as compared to female offenders. If the analysis is limited to perpetrators, males account for 100 percent of the offenders.
Nationality of the Offender
In total, APLE’s database contains child sex offenders from 26 different nationalities. More than forty percent of the offenders are Cambodians (41.0%). Other nationalities that are disproportionally represented in the database are Americans (12.5%), Vietnamese (9.0%), French (8.7%), and British (6.3%). When perpetrators and accomplices are divided into different groups, Americans (17.1%), French (11.9%), and British (8.6%) account for a significantly higher proportion of perpetrators compared to accomplices (p. < 0.01).
Suggestion to the Partners and Audiences on Child Protection
For more than a decade, APLE in cooperation with Cambodian law enforcement and other stakeholders has made a great effort in child protection and the reduction of vulnerability of children in child sexual abuse and exploitation.
In recent years through APLE’s awareness and training program, the capacity of Cambodian National Police (CNP), especially the Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection (AHTJP) unit, has greatly been improved. Their performance and commitment in child protection have reached a better level.
- Prevention interventions should take an all-inclusive approach; providing children and their parents and communities with the information, skills and strategies to protect children from all kinds of sexual abuse – whether committed by a stranger, foreigner, local person, friend or family member.
- Prevention interventions should not only focus on child sexual abuse by travellers/tourists in tourist hubs, but also by locals and foreigners in remote and indigenous areas where the community cannot be easily accessed by competent authorities and where child sex offenders are reportedly increasingly targeting children.
- Risks and vulnerabilities of children to sexual abuse cannot be summarised to one specific situation, such as poverty, the presence of tourism etc. Numerous factors, including the living environment and economic context, strongly influence behaviour. This means attitudes and practices must be observed from a holistic and dynamic perspective. Regular situational analysis will be required to identify behaviour change. Preventative approaches and tools must be reviewed and reconsidered on a regular basis in relation to these dynamics rather than ‘top-down’ perceptions and impressions made.
- More attention should be paid to the sexual abuse of boys which is less known and has been less researched, especially as boys are more vulnerable due to increased stigma surrounding homosexuality. More research also needs to be conducted on changing child sex offender tactics, such as use of intermediaries, and access to children through pseudo-care work.
- Children should be targeted in prevention interventions and provided education to help them recognise signs of abuse (including grooming) and encourage them to disclose information to a trusted adult if they are being abused.
- Prevention interventions should reach out to both school-going and disadvantaged children (street and working children, and children with disabilities) who may not be receiving formal education or have access to child rights messages and prevention services.
- Media and technology play an increasingly important role in children’s lives, both as a source of entertainment and information. Any prevention information and messaging should be conveyed to children via their favourite communications platforms. More traditional information techniques such as leaflets, pamphlets and posters may be more appropriate for street and working children, who have less access to internet and phones. Existing child helplines should be promoted, especially in remote areas.
- Parents should be targeted in preventative interventions and provided with the information and skills to protect and communicate effectively with their girls and boys. Tools for caregivers should include understanding and recognising signs of sexual abuse.
- Parents and duty bearers are not using new technologies as frequently and with as much ease as children, making them sometimes unaware of children’s interests and practices. Parents and duty bearers must be updated on children’s tools and communication channels, particularly as they can dramatically change children’s behaviour or endanger their lives.
- Campaigns are needed among visiting travelers and tourists to reduce activity that keeps children on the streets and especially vulnerable to sexual abuse, such as giving to begging children or buying from child vendors.
- Interventions at community level should work in cooperation with, and in support of, existing local child protection mechanisms. These mechanisms are already integrated within communities and cooperation would also offer a form of local capacity building and contribute to the sustainability of the program.
- Besides providing information and education, interventions should also include advocacy with relevant high-level jurisdictional entities to amend and enforce criminal justice responses to child sex offending, rather than allow civil settlements such as financial compensation or marriage proposals, as well as to ensure better allocation of resources and training to local authorities entrusted with responding to cases of child sexual abuse.
Source: aplecambodia.org & Child Safe Tourism Report