CHIANGRAI TIMES – A girl sits on a bench, selling small fragile birds. They are symbols of good luck and once bought by tourists or locals. They are intended to be set free from their grimy cages, though some would keep the birds for amusement.
Nearby is her cousin’s small baby, A foreign, older man approaches. Sitting beside her, he draws close, trying to touch the older girl. She pulls back.
He has sidestepped the usual hunting ground around Pattaya Walking Street — home to neon discos, go-go bars, lousy music, sex shows and hundreds of prostitutes who dwell bare shoulder to bare shoulder under the shadows of palm trees by the moonlit beach — to set his sights on the 15-year-old bird seller.
He tells her in Thai that if she comes with him, and if she has a baby with him, he will look after them both.
But the girl is smarter than that, she’s smarter than many! Because she has been through this often — mostly with Russian and Thai men, but also with those who speak English.
She knows he would not stay around.
She fears contracting disease.
And she worries about her dignity.
We have withheld her name here, to protect her further.
She tells the story – and about the many times tourists have propositioned her — in the shadow of the Nhong Tai Buddhist temple. The monks in their robes and the thunder of a bell do not soften the uncomfortable images she describes.
When people think of sex tourism, they only have a vague idea of the horrors faced by more than a million exploited children in the global trade — as well as those who must resist the outstretched clutches.
Inside a secured Phnom Penh Trauma Recovery Project, ringed by barbed wire, another 15-year-old, clutching a stuffed animal, tells her story of selling her virginity to a stranger for $200.
“I did not dare to dream,” she says of the person she was before being rescued by local authorities and helped by World Vision officials in Cambodia.
She explains that she did not want to have sex, including later with a foreigner, but she overheard threats by those her parents owed money to.
“That they would take the roof from our house,” she recalls.
If her voice could become any smaller, it would go unheard.
A 17-year-old boy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, was rescued last year by anti-trafficking and juvenile protection police after years of being raped by a Swedish man, who plied him with drugs.
As warm rain falls near the banks of the dark waters of the Tonle Sape River, the boy talks about the man who kept him as a sex slave, saying: “I’m glad he’s in jail.”
As he speaks, local children practice kickboxing with ripped fabric as gloves. They’re tough but they’re still children.
RCMP spokesman Laurence Trottier says the trend of Canadians traveling abroad to take part in child sex crimes is growing, though of seven cases the force has laid charges in, none have involved human trafficking.
And the force rejects an often heard refrain that child sex tourism is a crime of opportunity.
This defies logic, says Trottier.
“One has to ask himself (or) herself, ‘if I travel overseas and someone offers me the opportunity to engage in sexual activity with an 11-year-old child, would I take it?’ The answer is: ‘Of course not,'”
But as sure as the teenage girl will be out selling her good-luck birds today, she will probably have to run a new gauntlet of abusers hoping to buy a child. – By Thane Burnett
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