For my last night out on the town, a group of friends and I decided to try out the pre-opening party of a new café bistro, Simply Blue, in Phnom Penh.  The place actually has potential, good location, nice atmosphere—the opening however was over crowded with people, many of whom would not be coming back once there was no free food or drinks.  Also, the place was overcrowded with children—many of the children were there with parents; since it was like a bar opening I can’t say I was trilled with this.  However, it was the kids who made it there on my own that got me, hoards of 8-14 year old boys who wandered in searching for alcohol.

A group of the kids came up to where my friend Steph and I were sitting. She was smoking a cigarette and they asked for one.  She said no and told them that they were still just babies and that it was a bad habit—for the record it is a bad habit.  The boys started to talk to us. One boy, who looked about 8 but said he was 11, was holding a beer he had picked up. I asked to see it and then refused to give it back.  I told him he was too small to be drinking and offered to get a soda or juice. He pouted but did not put up much of a fight. 

My friend Christina found it very funny that I would just take alcohol away from a child. I would say underage child, but there appears to be no rule about drinking here. She called me the beer buster and in general gave me a hard time about it.  Later on, as we were leaving, the boy grabbed his beer back off the table where I had put it.  This time it was Christina that took the beer and dumped it on the ground.  Having lost their beers, but found foreigners who spoke Khmer to them, the boys came to talk to us.  Here is the gist of the conversation we had:

Boy 1- Why did you take my friend’s beer? 

Clare- How old are you?

Boy 1- 14. 

Clare- How old are you really?

Boy 1- 13.  Why did you take my friend’s beer? 

Clare- Because its bad for him.  You are probably growing a lot right now.

Boy 1- Yep. 

Boy 2- Me too. I am 10. He is 11 (points at boy 3).

Clare- Well, if you want to grow up tall and handsome you should try not to drink beer.  It makes you not grow (technically it stunts your growth, but I can’t say that in Khmer). 

Boy 2- I wanna be tall.

Boy 1- Tall and get all the girls. 

Clare- Really?  What kind of guys do girls like?

Boy 1- Hot girls. 

Clare- What kind of guys do hot girls like?

Boy 1- Tall guys. 


Boy 1- You are hot.  So is she (points at Megan). 

Clare- What kind of guys do you think we like?

Boy 1 and 2- Tall guys. Handsome guys. 

Clare- See? So now you get it.

Boy 3- How old are you? 

Clare- How old do you think I am?

Boy 1- 34. 

Boy 2- 16.

Clare- Yep, somewhere in there.


Why men suck– a response

A while back I read a piece called “Why men suck (and the women who have to)” in The F Word, Contemporary UK Feminism. The article was written by a woman who had come to Cambodia to teach English and has slowly realized that sex tourists and foreigners supporting the sex industry were not just gross old men, but “in reality, almost all of my male work colleagues were part of ‘the scene’. These men could have been any one of my male friends from England: they were young, intelligent, and, how can I say it? Well, normal. Scary as it sounds, it is a statement that has stuck with me because of the truth I see in it. I have very few male friends here. Let me rephrase. I have two: one of them is 9 and thinks girls have cooties, the other is the only decent guy I have met here (and yes, I am making a blatant judgment about how I feel about western, self proclaimed liberal men, who use the sex trade here). That said, maybe I am being unfair. There must be other men who come here and do not partake; I just don’t know where they are.

On a related note, I find it disturbing how many of the people who work in counter-trafficking and women’s empowerment programs (local and international), visit brothels and take home taxi girls. How do they not see a discrepancy between their work and their own behavior? How do you stop a system, break it down, when you also fund it?

Back to the main thread. There is one other piece/ analogy from the article that has stuck with me:

I soon learnt that the virgin/whore dichotomy is quite literal in Cambodia, with girls staying ‘pure’ until they are married and boys paying for sex from a relatively young age (16 is a rough guess). The fact that men pay for sex is totally accepted and, surprise surprise, it’s not the men who suffer for their actions but the prostitutes, or taxi girls, as they are known. As one friend put it, “sex is like going to the toilet, it’s not pleasant but it’s necessary”: The taxi girls (who come from very poor families and whose pay often contributes to the communal family income) have the unenviable status of a social toilet.

It’s the last part of this—the necessity of sex that strikes me. It’s something that I have heard repeated by male, liberal, western men as an excuse. As if it somehow justifies using another person. And the girls, they ones who take on all the blame, who are humiliated, tortured, tormented, hurt, subjected to disease—in so many ways are the proverbial toilet seat. It makes me sick to think about. It makes me sad.

What are your thoughts?

Some facts about prostitution in Cambodia (citations here):

  • Researchers found 87% of young men were having sex with their girlfriends or prostitutes; 10% were having sex with other males
  • There are 10,000 to 20,000 women and children in prostitution in Phnom Penh, a city of 1 million. Massage parlors and karaoke bars are frequently fronts for prostitution rings.
  • 35% of prostitutes in Cambodia are under the age of 18.
  • Many young prostituted boys live on the streets and at night wait for the male buyers who will pay $2 to $5 for sex.
  • Children as young as four have been sold into the sex industry in Cambodia.
  • Minors, some as young as seven, constitute more than 25% of the prostitutes in Cambodia’s sex industry,
  • The local industry for sexually exploited children is exploding for two reasons: Many Khmer — and other Asian men — believe sex with a virgin will renew their vigor and youth, and the fear of contracting HIV is fuelling a demand for younger and younger virgins.
  • A study of more than 6,000 prostituted girls found that one-third of prostitutes in Phnom Penh and Battanbang were between the age of 12 and 17.
  • 40-50% the prostitutes in Cambodian are HIV positive.
  • 60% of the young prostitutes interviewed in Cambodia were infected with everything from sores and warts to gonorrhea.


America Not Founded On Christianity

The following post as 1) nothing to do with human trafficking, 2) nothing to do with being a social worker, 3) no ethical issues, and 4) is not about cooking or my life in Cambodia; however, it is interesting and filled with things I didn’t know.

Also, the following post is not written by me. It is blatantly copied from Tricia at Four Plus Four Equals Ten who copied it from Tammy over at Hollywood Farm Girl and she got it from a letter to the editor of Journal & Courier, Lafayette, Indiana. Anyway, with no further adu, I give you a post that is not mine:

In a recent Journal & Courier article, an attendee of a local gathering in observance of the National Day of Prayer alleged, “Our nation was founded on biblical principles.”

To the extent that our Founding Fathers had any religious affiliation at all, it was a tepid embracing of the philosophy of deism, a popular system of thought at the time. Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, among many others, held deist, rather than Christian, religious beliefs.

The two documents upon which our country was actually founded — i.e., the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States — contain not a word about Christianity, Christian principles, the Bible or Jesus Christ. Neither is there any mention of the Ten Commandments, heaven, prayer or being saved.

In 1797, the Treaty of Tripoli, negotiated by none other than George Washington, declared that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Congress unanimously approved the text of this treaty, and John Adams signed it.

Mandatory church affiliation, among other factors, led to the establishment of the term a “wall of separation between church and state,” allowing, at each citizen’s discretion, freedom of religion or freedom from religion.

The phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and our national motto became “In God We Trust” in 1956 in response to USSRs’ so-called “godless Communists.” It is historically incorrect to claim that America was founded upon Christianity.

Indeed, it was quite the opposite.

Randall S. Smith

Rossville, Indiana

Human trafficking in the News

Take a look at this article of Human Trafficking in the news: The story in and of itself is shocking and something America really needs to see– all too often we think of trafficking as happening in “backwards” third-world country and having no representation in our own backyards. However, this is not the case and we need to start seeing it so that we better address it.

Peter, my professor who pointed out the article, also pointed out something even more disturbing to me– the fact that it didn’t make front page, or even close to front page.  This story was buried were most people would not see it, thus continuing the illusion that human trafficking is not a problem in the US.

Domestic violence, rape, trafficking and other crimes against women

The reality is that around the world women are subjugated and submitted to violence every second.  The reality is that those who defend them and speak up are often persecuted for it.  Sometimes, we need to take a moment and look at the people in this world who are doing amazing, un-thanked, difficult work and are giving up so much of themselves for so many others. Meet Lydia Cacho Ribeiro and notice the references to sex trafficking in Cancun. More and more I am realizing the role that Americans (or any western traveler) can and should play in promoting child-safe, women-safe, environmentally safe tourism.

More on economics

In the last post I talked about economics theory. Specifically, I pointed to the idea that if there is a demand, there will be a supply.  There is, however, more to this than simply meets the eye.

In the counter trafficking movement, much of the work being done has been to control the supply side of things.  Education outreach to villages encourages raised awareness of the risk of trafficking thus reducing the amount of people who will be duped into it. Vocational training and keeping kids in school projects work to increase the economic viability of at-risk populations making them less susceptible to traffickers. Economic development through asset-building and micro-loan programs have likewise made less people vulnerable.  Increasing the security at international borders has increased the number of individuals caught before crossing and thus saved from an unknown future.

But, in reality, a lot of what this is doing is to decrease (but not eliminate) the supply and do nothing to the demand. With a smaller supply and a constant demand, the profitability of human trafficking is actually going up.  Those traffickers who have found ways to traffic people and get them successfully to their destinations, are making more money then they were in the past.  Admittedly, this is hardly working as a deterrent

Human trafficking is tied with illegal arms trade as the second biggest illegal criminal industry in the world—and it is the fastest growing.

In order to curtail this, counter-trafficking programs and governments need to start focusing not just on the supply side, but also on two other key points:

  1. Decrease demand
  2. Increase penalties

If we decrease the demand for slave labor, beggars, prostitutes, etc., then the trafficking rings will have nowhere to sell their “goods” (aka human beings). If they have nowhere to sell the people to and profitability falls, they will go out of business. 

On the penalty side, there are not enough disincentives to either be a trafficker or to use the service of trafficked people.  For example, in many places it is illegal to be a prostitute, but not illegal to be a pimp or a john. The legal system, thus, punishes victims of trafficking (prostitutes) but does not adequately punish those who have trafficked them (unless there is a solid case of trafficking) or those who have bought their services.

Even in places where traffickers are prosecuted, often the punishment in terms of money and time in jail is not on-par with that of trafficking illegal drugs or weapons.  Therefore, with the penalties being less and the goods being re-sellable, it is an obvious and smart choice for criminal networks to get involved in human trafficking as opposed to drug or arms sales.

Giving money to beggars

Begger, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Beggars exist throughout the world; they are not a reaction to third world status, but rather to intrinsic inequalities in economics. Some places beggars are more pronounced then others. Some places they are harassed by the police. Some places they are used in money making rackets.

How can beggars be a business? You would think that they would not make enough money to be profitable. You would think the cost of upkeep (and legal troubles) would outweigh any profit. In many places, you would be wrong.

It is amazing how economics theory works: if there is a demand there will be a supply.

In February I was at a quiz night for a local international school raising money for a habitat for humanity project. At the quiz night, they had several items raffled off. One of these items was a chest made for wood forested in a rainforest. It went for a lot of money as I stood by in awe at the supply which is depleting our world’s rainforest. For me, I would never want to buy such an item because it encourages deforestation of rainforests. It was not just me thinking along these lines; the MC joked that it could only appreciate in value as the wood to make it would soon be extinct or illegal.

Basically, buy buying the object, we create demand.

Begging (in terms of human trafficking) parallels this phenomenon. The process is only profitable so long as the children (generally the victims of begging trafficking rings are children or the disabled) are given money by passers by. Personally, I never offer money to the children in Phnom Penh or those I see traveling around. There is too much certainty in my head that they will not benefit from my pocket change. I will, however, off to buy them food or give them a little of what I am eating.

Side note: giving the peanuts you are given for free with you beer to street children is a sure way to not be offered any more peanuts at most bars in Phnom Penh.

I do my part to break down the cycle of supply demand; but often I wonder what harm I am doing to these children. Traffickers often demand an amount of money to be collected daily be the children; if they are not able to hand over that amount, the trafficker will beat them, leave them out in the cold, withhold the little comfort they have, or force them to continue working through the night. There are cases where children were even beaten or maimed (sometimes permanently) to make them look more pathetic and bring in more cash.

Is my failure to give money contributing to this problem? If so, and it is, how do you stop the cycle? Until it is not profitable trafficking for begging will continue, but as profitability (read demand) drops, the treatment of the children will suffer until it is stopped.

Finally, how do you mix children that work on the street into the equation? For example, children who sell flowers or shine shoes. Like their counterparts who simply ask for money, these children too are often controlled by trafficking rings. They rarely see the fruit of their labor and are subjected to the same treatment. Even the idea of maiming children sellers continues because the more pathetic and helpless they look, the more likely tourists and locals are to buy the overpriced goods or services.

How many times can a heart break?

Feet from the epicenter for the Nagasaki A-Bomb explosion, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

On Monday a nation founded itself stunned at the shooting on the VT campus. Over in Japan, the news came quickly as well and by Tuesday I was hearing the snippets of news and confusing information coming out. Wednesday night, when the story seemed clearer, I read about it in the NY Times and I watched the news (in Japanese). As everyone, my first thought was of shock and horror. My second thought (or maybe first when I learned he was an immigrant) was “oh shit—the backlash”.

Yesterday I went to Nagasaki, a city that 62 years ago we dropped an atomic bomb on. I stood at the epicenter of an explosion that killed about 75,000 of the cities 240,000 residents were killed instantly. Another 75,000 were injured (some of whom died later).

I went to the Peace Park and watched as a class of children read poems about peace, about their wish for the future, about those who had died. I watched as they hung the paper cranes they had made in on of the many places for wishes. I thought about how young they were and the world they were growing in. I visited the Museum, which I think was done wonderfully. It was painful, and moving, and sickening– just like the whole experience.

The whole thing breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart that we live in a world where people get so lost and so angry that they feel killing others in a massive school shooting will help.

It breaks my heart that when the nation sees this man, this boy—they see his nationality and his immigration status first.

It breaks my heart that President Bush could stand up in front of VT and talk about the tragic and senseless loss of life without ever being able to make a connection to the tragic and senseless loss of life that he is instigating and supporting in Iraq.

It breaks my heart that since the bombing of Nagasaki, the United states has considered using nuclear weapons again (both in Vietnam and in Iraq’s first war). Although, at least in this case, I am heartened that we didn’t.

It breaks my heart to think about Agent Orange that we did dump over Vietnam and Cambodia during that war. The effects of this are still playing out today as it is carried in the genes and causes worse birth defects the further down the genetic chain. (So, the great-grand children years to come will be paying for what we did to their great-grandparents in years past). Shame on us!

Maybe this is not a paradox I would have seen if it had not been for timing. Maybe reading about the shootings in Virgina made me more vulnerable to experiencing the pain of Nagasaki. In any case, I can’t be helped but be touched at the out pouring of support for the families and students in VT, while at the same time be horrified that we do not have that same empathy and sympathy for the victims of war (both our own soldiers and that thousands of innocent civilians of other colors that our war, this American war, is creating).

Weapon or tasty treat?

Durian, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

It is my humble opinion that food should never be used as a weapon. It should only hurt us if we accidentally eat too much because it is so yummy and irresistible.

These are durian. Most westerners do not eat them because they can’t get beyond the way they smell. Putrid. In fact, you are not allowed to carry them on the bus with you as the smell disturbs other passengers. They, if eaten, actually quite sweet I am told. Personally, I have yet to eat durian the fruit, although I do like durian flavored cookies (without smell of course).

The fruit, however, does have a darker usage. Aparently, they are used to punish children. You may not be able to tell from the picture, but they are actually quite large, about the size of someone’s head. Teachers have been know to place a durian in the corner and force a misbehaving child to knell on it as punishment. The spikes are quite sharp and will cut the child.

The punishment is akin to old-school catholic nuns rasping the knuckles of a child with a ruler. Only, in this case, I am afraid the child might get a pavlovian response to hate fruit.


Convictions, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Over the past couple weeks, there has been a huge trial here in Cambodia on human trafficking (see press release below). The defendants were two German men, one Vietnamese man, and two Vietnamese woman. I knew people who attended the trial and were appalled by the overwhelming evidence of child molestation, trafficking, etc. While I was very happy that the people were all sentenced, I can’t help but wonder if this was more a media show. What about all the others? What about when its not commercial sex tourism, but it is all locals involved. I mean, yes, prosecution needs to happen and I am glad when it does– but it needs to happen more! Here is a little bit of information on prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking around the world.

Press Release

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