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Justice denied to children

April 3, 2012

An image from Guatemala sits uneasily in my mind. It was 9:30 at night, the main square in Antigua, and in one small corner three indigenous girls, ranging in age from about 8 to 15, were clustered around a person seated on a bench. A person who was playing with a strand of hair of the youngest. Something didn’t fit, something triggered a sense of alarm. I asked my friend, “Is that a man or a woman?” We approached and saw it was a man, caucasian, baby-faced, that we guessed was in his mid-twenties. The girls watched us. The man turned away, steadfastly ignoring us. We felt uncomfortable being so close, staring without good reason to do so, so we continued into the square.

Forty minutes later, after watching some singers perform, we left but detoured to see if the group was still there. He was, they were. Even though we passed within a few feet, even though this time we stopped, he avoided meeting our eyes. The girls again watched us. We felt we had to do something. I motioned to the girls and finally the oldest came over. “What is going on here? What is this man doing with you young girls? This is not right?” A barrage of questions in my halting Spanish. The girl didn’t say anything, so I continued, “You must not go anywhere with this man, especially not alone. You look after the younger ones, make sure they don’t go anywhere with him. This could be very dangerous.” The girl just nodded. And finally, after I had run out of things to say, she rejoined the others, the man patiently waiting until we left. Was it an over-reaction on our part? Could this have been an innocent encounter? If so, why didn’t he nod, acknowledge our presence, or even ask what the hell business it was of ours. But he didn’t.

Over the past week, a thoughtful but horrifying series of articles on the brutal sexual exploitation of children in Cambodia appeared in the Vancouver Sun, written by award-winning columnist Daphne Bramham, . The articles portray the terrible lives of young boys and girls who are sold, often by their own families for economic reasons, into sexual slavery. The children are beaten, starved so that they appear younger than their real ages, and drugged so that they are more “active”. They spend their lives in squalid cells until they have served out their usefulness at which point they are abandoned. Police forces, government and citizens all turn a blind eye to their treatment.

It is impossible for decent people to comprehend how men, cavalierly named “sex tourists”, can victimize children as young as three years of age. And equally difficult to understand is how the Canadian justice system fails to either charge, convict or appropriately sentence men caught in such crimes. Canada passed a law called the Prober Amendment which enables prosecutions here in Canada of persons caught committing sexual crimes outside of Canada. A shameful roll call of Canadian men (Donald Bakker, Kenneth Klassen, Chris Neil, and Orville Madder, to name a few) have been caught sexually exploiting children in Cambodia. But there have been few convictions. And then there are our home-grown cases. Graham James, a vile man who preyed on vulnerable, young boys over countless years, was sentenced recently to two years and will be released in much less than that time. The young men he violated are serving life sentences. In March, a man accused of incest in BC will never face justice because our justice system did not care enough to obtain translations of evidence. Justice denied – in Canada.

But that is the negative and, for every negative, there must be positives. The reasons that children become caught up in the sex trade are many but are usually related to economics or abuse situations in the home. The sex trade is often seen as the only option in this cycle of poverty. What is being done to address these issues? In the articles, Bramham listed a number of organizations that are working in Cambodia to rescue children from these sex prisons, including Acting for Women in Distressing Situations (AEFSIP) and the Somaly Mam Foundation, both founded by Somaly Mam, a Cambodian woman who works tirelessly to help children in the sex trade after escaping her own sexual slavery. World Vision and Action Pour Les Enfants are other Cambodian organizations active in fighting this injustice.

Next post: Read how Canadians are involved in finding solutions.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2012 6:24 am

    Reblogged this on Shelley Freedman.

  2. April 3, 2012 6:06 pm

    I read today’s post with a heavy heart. Life is difficult, but for some, things go from bad to much worse. S

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