Young girls sold into sex trade by mothers to pay off debts

Published: Thursday, Dec. 12 2013 5:35 p.m. MST

German Karl Heinz Henning, 61, second left, sits outside the court room in the capital Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, March 9, 2007. The court on Friday sentenced Henning to 28 years in prison on human trafficking and sexual abuse of four Vietnamese girls aged 10-14 years old.

Heng Sinith, Associated Press

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In countries like Cambodia, some young women are being sold into a life in the sex trade by the most unlikely vendor — their mothers.

But the reality for some economically crushed families is as grim as it seems. Selling their daughter's virginity could be their last resort.

A recent article from CNN tells the story of mothers faced with decisions — for some, inconceivable — and their daughters that offer solutions to avoiding the clutches of loan sharks preying on desperately poor families.

One such daughter is 12-year-old Kieu. Her mother simply told her she was going to be taking a job.

"Kieu was taken to a hospital and examined by a doctor, who issued her a 'certificate of virginity.' She was then delivered to a hotel, where a man raped her for two days," according to CNN.

Her mother, identified as Neoung, blames her decision on poverty, and while she describes her choice as heartbreaking, she asks, "What else could I do?"

But it's a decision that bears drastic consequences.

"When (Kieu) returned home, her mother sent her away for stints in two other brothels, including one 400 kilometers away on the Thai border. When (Kieu) learned her mother was planning to sell her again, this time for a six-month stretch, she realized she needed to flee her home," CNN reported.

Don Brewster, a 59-year-old former pastor who moved from California to Cambodia to start his organization, Agape International Missions (AIM), that rescues girls — some as young as age 4 — from the sex trade by providing safe houses weighs in on the psychological damage the sex trade leaves.

"I can't imagine what it feels like to have your mother sell you, to have your mother waiting in the car while she gets money for you to be raped," he says. "It's not that she was stolen from her mother — her mother gave the keys to the people to rape her."

It was on a mission trip to the country that Brewster saw the need many children have for salvation.

"When we came here three years ago and began to live here, 100 percent of the kids between 8 and 12 were being trafficked," Brewster told CNN. "We didn't believe it until we saw vanload after vanload of kids."

CNN reports that a neighborhood in Cambodia, Svay Pak — known as the child sex hotspot — scoops up children sold by their parents as well as children collected from the countryside and even across the border in Vietnam.

While efforts like Brewster's are making a "dent" in the sex trade, they are doing little to eradicate it entirely. This is in part due to thriving sex tourism in areas like Svay Pak, according to CNN.

CNN reported that Brewster has organized raids of brothels filled with child sex slaves, but raids are "infrequent."

"The country's child protection infrastructure is weak, with government institutions riven with corruption. Cambodia's anti-trafficking law does not even permit police to conduct undercover surveillance on suspected traffickers," CNN reports.

The issue of sex trafficking isn't compartmentalized to poor areas in countries like Cambodia. It's an issue at home as well.

"The National Human Trafficking Resource Center has recorded more than 9,000 cases of potential human trafficking between 2007 and 2012. The suspected victims include women and men alike, many of whom are domestic, farm or sex workers," according to an MSNBC article.

And it's a trade that wears many hats.

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, "Sex trafficking has been found in a wide variety of venues of the overall sex industry, including residential brothels, hostess clubs, online escort services, fake massage businesses, strip clubs and street prostitution."

Since 2008, the NHTRC has received a 259 percent increase in calls reporting human trafficking, MSNBC reports.

Email: ebuchanan@deseretnews.com

Twitter: emmiliewhitlock

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