1) ChildSafe. Our beautiful hotel in Chamkarmom is feasibly classified as a boutique hotel given the comfortable and intimate setting, tropical decor, and availability of select luxury services. In our room, there was a small refrigerator, remote control AC units (also used in Korea and Japan), basic toiletries, and room service menus. There was also a laminated flyer indicating that the establishment is “ChildSafe.” This meant that the hotel was approved by the organization ChildSafe and would not tolerate any type of child abuse. The hotel commits to reporting adults accompanied by children, often for sexual exploitation, to childsafe and authorities. I wish I had taken a picture of the flyer because it was quite alarming. This was my first lesson about facade in Cambodia. Pretty outside, not so pretty inside reality.

(A quick word on sex trafficking and child prostitution: children are often sold to sex traffickers by parents due to limited resources and inability to support the child. Children may also offer themselves to brothels due to limited resources and poverty. According Thirdworldorphans.org, global demand for child prostitutes has increased as predators and sexpats grow wary of contracting AIDs and other STDs from older prostitutes.)

2) We visited an orphanage led by a US native priest who has been living in Cambodia for over a decade. As an expat he has developed many relationships with NGOs in Phnom Penh and one of his main projects is maintaining this orphanage. These kids have lost their parents largely due to HIV/Aids and are themselves HIV positive. We spent a day with them and organized a day camp filled with art and crafts, dancing to Khmer hip hip, musical chairs and puppet shows to socialize and connect. I always feel apprehensive about entering these types of communities because I am never really sure what I am doing there. Thoughts about possible harm from entering and exiting communities always come to mind. Childsafe has a brochure of tips to tourists and one warned about the harm of visiting orphanages. Research on their website didn’t provide much detail as to why. That said, our time with the kids brought a lot of joy to all. Two members from our group work with autistic children in Florida and were able to provide some consultation to a young lady from Austria who is volunteering with the orphanage and having difficulty with a child that has autism. That seemed helpful.
The kids were bright, funny, kind and friendly. If our purpose was to play with the kids and provide positive experiences with foreigners and adults, I think it was a success. But doing anything more than that remains dubious. I don’t feel that we really contributed anything specific to orphan issues. And I’m not even sure what those are….

3) rented babies, street children and begging
In many third world countries you will observe children approaching adults, particularly at restaurants and outdoor cafes, in an attempt to sell trinkets. As a foreigner you may be approached by children who are expert at tugging at your heart strings; sometimes along with your pant leg. You may also see an adult with a baby begging for money. Using children and renting babies to beg is quite common. Often times the beggars report to individuals turning profit… exploiting the vulnerable as a business. ChildSafe advises against handing money to beggars and suggests making donations to legitimate organizations in PP instead. Talking to a colleague and reading travel blogs taught me that in some countries these businessmen hurt children to appeal to sympathetic and guilt ridden tourists visiting from developing countries (Remember Slum Dog Millionaire and the blind child?). Or, they kidnap children orphans, create chemical dependency and “employ” them as trinket sellers or beggars.  There are additional scenarios. The business model is: take advantage of vulnerable people, the sympathetic and compassionate. This is the second lesson of facades. Think you’re giving? You’re not.

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A friend and colleague said that when nations are traumatized, predators come. Cambodia is not saved from this phenomenon. Unfortunately, children in Cambodia, like many other third world countries, are targeted and used to turn profit. In 2010 United Nations estimated street children, who are vulnerable to being subjected to the aforementioned, worldwide at 150 million. It seems that as long as their is poverty, there is potential for the occurrences of these injustices.

Luckily, there are organizations worldwide that are actively trying to implement laws to prevent child abuse, and programs that rehabilitate children and teach vocational skills to make them self sufficient adults. The problem of poverty cannot be resolved, at least, soon. But tourists, travelers and expats can do their share by supporting establishments and programs who work with legitimate child advocacy organizations.

Here are a few (Third World Orphans):

End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual PurposesChild Wise – ECPAT in AustraliaChild Prostitution in Tourism Watch

Street Children Worldwide

Child Sex Tourism

Changemakers.net

Tourism Authority of Thailand

SiamWEB Cyber Culture

Child Prostitution — The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

Prostitution Resources

Yahoo Sex Work and Prostitution

Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams

Child Safe Cambodia

Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking