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Cambodian Children More Vulnerable Under Asean Integration, Report Warns

Cambodian schoolchildren walk on a muddy road near the dam site of Steung Mean Chey after they participated in an Intentional Children's Day event in the outskirts of Phnom Penh, file photo.

Rights workers fear for the safety of Cambodia’s vulnerable children once Asean joins in an economic community next year.

The integration is aimed at improving the flow of goods and services between the 10 Asean nations, but that could also mean increased exploitation of Cambodian children, as few safeguards are in place, the UN Office on Drug and Crimes warned.

“It’s inevitable that children from poor families in Cambodia will have to work to earn money to support their families, and that is how they will be vulnerable to bad travelers who want to do bad things,” Lim Mony, head of the women and children’s rights unit at Adhoc, said. “Looking at how we implement the law to protect children, it’s not effective, so I believe the number of Cambodian children being sexually exploited or abused is more likely to increase” under the Asean Economic Community, or AEC, she said.

Meas Samnang, executive director of the NGO Coalition on the Rights of the Child, agreed, saying that even without integration, Cambodia has problems with child exploitation. “I believe it will be worse when we join the AEC in the future,” he said.

Children could also face more risk from economic pulls, experts warn. That includes families sending their children to work in other countries, where they will be vulnerable to abuse, said Ya Navuth, head of the NGO Caram.

Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior, said the government is making efforts to prepare for the impact of integration, including devising strategies to deal with child exploitation.

“The Cambodian government has been working very hard with other local and state institutions and NGOs to find ways to solve the problems,” she said. “Although the flow of people will be more free, we have plans to deal with the problems, and so do the countries in the region. We are not being careless about the issue.”