Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism has signed a deal with international aid group World Vision to combat child sex tourism as the country steps up efforts to woo foreign tourists.
The ministry inked a memorandum of understanding with World Vision at a ceremony in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, strengthening the cooperation the two sides have had since 2011 in preventing the sexual exploitation of children in Cambodia’s tourist industry, a top money spinner.
Cambodia is noted as a haven for foreign pedophiles and the government has beefed up enforcement to check the problem.
The partnership between the tourism ministry and World Vision aims to enhance capacity-building for relevant government officials and strengthen mechanisms at national level so as to prevent child sex abuse in the tourism sector, Minister of Tourism Thong Kon said.
World Vision will work with officials to raise awareness of the vulnerabilities of at-risk children and promote responsible tourism practices through education, training, and public campaigns.
The partnership forms part of a U.S. $7.5 million initiative sponsored by the Australian Agency for International Development to prevent the sexual exploitation of children in tourism in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The deal was signed by Hor Sarun, undersecretary of state at the Tourism Ministry, and Jason Evans, World Vision’s Cambodia director.
Hor Sarun, who also chairs the ministry’s Committee for Safe Children in Tourism, said the panel will collect information, investigate suspects, and report cases to anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection agencies.
The committee will target potential destinations of foreign pedophiles, including Preah Sihanouk, Kompong Chhnang, Kompong Thom, Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey, he said.
He added that the committee is working to keep children away from foreign pedophiles through education and administrative measures and runs a child sex tourism helpline.
The project comes as Cambodia’s blooming tourist industry expects to attract over three million tourists per year.
The country welcomed nearly 2.9 million international tourists in 2011, a 15 percent increase from the year before, according to a recent report by the Ministry of Tourism.
A key industry for generating income, creating job opportunities, and alleviating poverty, tourism is a “main priority sector” for Cambodia’s socioeconomic development, Thong Kon said.
But alongside the benefits, tourism has also brought “slight negative impacts such as drug abuse, crimes, and prostitution,” he said.
He said that most tourists come to enjoy what Cambodia has to offer, but improper behavior such as child sex abuse committed by “a handful of tourists” is a “major concern” for Cambodia.
Evans said that although tourism brings Cambodia much-needed revenue, measures are needed to protect children from being brought into the sex trade.
“We are working together for children’s protection,” he said.
Through the program, World Vision also works with the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime and Interpol to promote “child safe tourism.”
Its Project Childhood—Prevention Pillar provides education, training, and public campaigns aimed at creating a safe environment for children in tourism destinations, a concept it calls “child safe tourism.”
Dozens of foreigners have been jailed for sex crimes or deported to face trial in their home countries since Cambodia launched an anti-pedophilia push in 2003 in a bid to shake off its reputation as a haven for sex predators.
In June, authorities deported Russian businessman Alexander Trofimov, who was found to be living with a 12-year-old girl months after he was pardoned by King Norodom Sihamoni following his conviction of sexually abusing more than a dozen Cambodian girls.
Trofimov, who was also wanted for the rape of six girls in Russia, was formerly the chairman of an investment group developing a Cambodian tourist island.
Cambodia has also caught men who were already convicted as child sex offenders in their home countries.
The authorities have also investigated 457 tourist destinations tied with the sex trade, according to a February report by the Ministry of the Interior.
Reported by Sok Serey for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.