On the heels of the arrest of a known US sex offender who allegedly molested 11 Cambodian boys since 2010, experts yesterday were quick to blame shortcomings in law enforcement as the root of the Kingdom’s continued status as a child-sex tourism destination.
Cambodian-American Tan Saravuth, 47 – arrested on Friday after one of the victims came forward – had been charged in the state of Oregon with multiple sexual offences, information available to anyone with an internet connection.
Citing a “lack of a robust child protection program”, UNICEF yesterday called on the government to strengthen the capacity of police in combating sex crimes and for immigration authorities to strengthen border controls to deny entry to people identified as perpetrators.
But as Cambodia Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights director Nget Thy put it, despite decades of NGO efforts, “there are still so many gaps”.
“It keeps ongoing like cycles,” he said. “The government needs to strengthen law enforcement.”
Nhep Sopheap, secretary-general for the government’s National Council for Children, said the government recently established a National Child Protection Commission, which is developing a “National Child Protection System”, which, in turn, she maintained, will help authorities intervene in a timely fashion to prevent child abuse.
However, a child protection sub-decree that was expected to go to the Council of Ministers for approval last July is still stalled in the review stage, and it lacks provisions regarding protection of children against sexual predators.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, meanwhile, said immigration officials check people coming into the country against a “blacklist” compiled by regional authorities, which “sometimes” includes sex offenders.
However, he was unaware of any measures to identify child abusers within the country, but maintained that people who come to Cambodia and commit crimes are expelled.
The case of a convicted Dutch pedophile would appear to directly contradict that statement. Sebastian Reuijl was convicted in the Netherlands in 2004 for abusing a 12-year-old boy before making his way to the Kingdom.
In October 2011, he was sentenced to three months in prison in Siem Reap for sexually abusing five children, only to be rearrested two years later on new charges, which were dropped a few months later. He was arrested again in August 2016 for allegedly sexually abusing a 4-year-old boy.