Cambodia’s Hun Sen gives child sex slave charity reprieve after ‘insulting’ CNN report
Cambodia’s strongman premier on Tuesday said he will not force a Christian charity that rescues child sex slaves to shut after the group apologised for featuring in a media report he disliked.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered Agape International Missions (AIM) to close after it featured in a CNN report that he described as an “insult” to his country.
“Now AIM has made an apology. The mistakes go to CNN,” Hun Sen said during a public forum.
The impoverished Southeast Asian nation has long been a destination for sex tourists, with minors often the victims of a flesh trade aided by endemic corruption.
A CNN report broadcast last month featured three girls who were reportedly rescued from the sex trade by AIM, a charity founded by an American pastor and operating in the country since 1988.
The girls had first appeared in a 2013 documentary by CNN on Svay Pak, a poor suburb on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, with the network following up this year.
Until a crackdown in the early 2000s Svay Pak hosted a huge red light district notorious for child sex slaves and the documentary showed the trade still existed a decade on.
The charity’s founder Don Brewster was quoted in the report as saying that Svay Pak was “at one point the epicentre” of the child sex trade.
He said things had improved in recent years but that some trade in minors still occurred behind closed doors. Brewster issued a “heartfelt apology” during a press conference on Monday, according to the Phnom Penh Post. Brewster said he and AIM “were mistakenly accused of working with CNN to defame the integrity of Cambodian mothers”.
Hun Sen and nationalists seized on an early version of CNN’s online report which described the girls as Cambodian, when in fact they either spoke Vietnamese or Khmer with a thick Vietnamese accent.
CNN later removed the word Cambodian from their headline.
Many of Svay Pak’s poorest and most vulnerable inhabitants are Vietnamese migrants.
But police raids, court cases and efforts by charities show over the years that children from impoverished Cambodian families are also at risk of sex trafficking.
Hun Sen has long jousted with local and international NGOs, which he accuses of meddling in Cambodian affairs.
In 2015 he drove through a controversial and broadly-worded law that allows authorities to shutter any NGO that harms national security or the “traditions and culture” of Cambodia.