Child Exploitation and Trafficking in South-East Asia

by Glenn Miles


It is impossible to ascertain the precise extent of child sexual exploitation in South-East Asia due to its covert nature, but it involves tens of thousands of young women and men. Although children as young as five have been rescued from brothels, the majority are teenagers and many start working shortly after puberty. While some are tricked into prostitution, many of these teenagers are aware they are entering prostitution but feel a strong sense of obligation to help their families and see it as the only option available to them. Initially, many are unaware of just how serious the consequences can be: HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, violence from clients, stigma from the community, etc.


Some families are desperate for money to pay off debts or simply to have enough for daily life. Sadly, child trafficking describes the way that children can be sold as commodities. Sometimes this involves transportation from one country to another. Trafficking of children occurs within Cambodia, and Cambodia is also a destination for trafficking victims from neighbouring countries. There is increasing sex tourism, with people coming from the West and from other Asian countries. However, most of the demand is from Cambodians themselves. Sadly, this issue is not restricted to Asia; sexual exploitation of children and young people is found in every country in the world.


The kingdom of God is both a present reality and a future hope. It is spoken of as being a matter of 'righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit' (Rom. 14:17), and is closely connected with Jesus' ministry of healing (Matt. 4:23), clearly suggesting that the gospel impacts the whole person.


This issue is a gospel issue because Christians are called to the transformation of lives, and this applies to both the victim/survivor and the perpetrator. The gospel brings hope and the possibility of real change to individuals and to communities. Furthermore, God is a God of justice, justice being a prevalent theme throughout Scripture. All human life has dignity for it is created by God in His image. God is concerned and cares for the poor and marginalised, and the heart of Christ's message was and is the hope of new life.


Hopefulness is what makes the Christian approach distinctive, and it contrasts deeply with the despair, selfishness, betrayal and hopelessness associated with the sex trade. In addition, the Buddhist world-view is fatalistic, so children who have been sexually abused feel that their lives have been spoiled forever, and as Christians we do not agree with this.


Many children, who have been cared for after being taken out of exploitive situations, have received love and care from a number of Christian organisations which provide temporary shelter and then assist their reintegration into their communities. Bringing justice to the oppressed and helping widows and orphans are part of the good news, but the hope is also that children can come to faith and trust in God. Some secular organisations are highly critical of this, believing that it is a further exploitation of children by forcing them away from their traditional religious practices. It is our belief that children and their families should have the opportunity to choose the good news, not because of what they have received, but because they have experienced God's grace and love, often through the caregivers, and want it for themselves. However, their faith and life journey is a hard one in a culture that quickly rejects them for what they 'are perceived' to have done. Churches are encouraged to welcome these young people and treat them in a way that is contrary to the cultural stigma normally assigned to them.


I am involved in capacity building (engaging stakeholders and understanding the causes in order to find effective solutions) with many Christian and other organisations that are working to prevent sexual exploitation of children, reduce demand, increase resilience in children and increase understanding of the issues. This is done through training, mentoring and research. I have a particular concern for the sexual exploitation of young men and also transgender young men (who feel they are in the wrong gender body).


When I was in Cambodia from 2000-05, I helped found the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia's Children's Department, which encourages the church to take more responsibility for children at risk in their communities. This is now going from strength to strength, including theCelebrating Childrentraining programme(, which seeks to train and equip workers who are helping with children in difficult circumstances. I also helped found a coalition of Christian organisations (52 are now involved) calledChab Dai (Hands Together), which seeks to address this important issue. My PhD onCambodian children's experiences and understandings of violence and abusegives me credibility with the UN and the government to carry out research and training with them, which in turn enables me to help more children.


I volunteer with a small team that reaches out to men in the red-light areas on Friday nights, believing that men are the answer to the problem. The team prays and has a time of accountability together, and then some members stay behind to continue praying as the others go out and talk to the men. I strongly believe that encouraging men in the church around the world to be better husbands and fathers is a vital part of dealing with one of the root causes of the sexual exploitation of young people. I am also working with an organisation that is engaging with the Cambodian army and challenging them to be protectors rather than abusers.


My wife Siobhan is involved in a ten-year research project that follows up what is happening to 125 children who have received aftercare following sexual exploitation. This research is very important as it provides a voice for children and informs organisations how they can be more effective. This research is available on request. We value your prayers as we continue to seek God's will for ourselves and those we seek to serve.



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