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A neighborhood in Cambodia is a global hotspot for the child sex trade. The people selling the children? Too often, their parents. W hen a poor family in Cambodia fell afoul of loan sharks, the mother asked her youngest daughter to take a job. But not just any job. The girl, Kieu, was taken to a hospital and examined by a doctor, who issued her a "certificate of virginity.
She says she returned home from the experience "very heartbroken. After the sale of her virginity, her mother had Kieu taken to a brothel where, she says, "they held me like I was in prison. She was kept there for three days, raped by three to six men a day. When she returned home, her mother sent her away for stints in two other brothels, including one kilometers away on the Thai border.
When she learned her mother was planning to sell her again, this time for a six-month stretch, she realized she needed to flee her home. Karaoke bars are a common front for child prostitution. Mira Sorvino details going behind the scenes of this illicit trade. Like other local mothers CNN spoke to, she blames poverty for her decision to sell her daughter, saying a financial crisis drove her into the clutches of the traffickers who make their livelihoods preying on Cambodian children.
It is this aspect of Cambodia's appalling child sex trade that Don Brewster, a year-old American resident of the neighborhood, finds most difficult to countenance. Brewster, a former pastor, moved from California to Cambodia with wife Bridget in , after a harrowing investigative mission trip to the neighborhood where Kieu grew up -- Svay Pak, the epicenter of child trafficking in the Southeast Asian nation. In recent decades, he says, this impoverished fishing village — where a daughter's virginity is too often seen as a valuable asset for the family — has become a notorious child sex hotspot.
The local sex industry sweeps up both children from the neighborhood -- sold, like Kieu, by their parents — as well as children trafficked in from the countryside, or across the border from Vietnam. Weak law enforcement, corruption, grinding poverty and the fractured social institutions left by the country's turbulent recent history have helped earn Cambodia an unwelcome reputation for child trafficking, say experts.