Child Abuse and Exploitation in Cambodia

Emergency Reporting

When you witness abuse or suspicion of abuse, including, but not limited to:

  • if you see a child being physically harmed, sexually abused, or exploited in any way;
  • If you think a situation you witness may lead to child abuse or exploitation;
  • If you think child abuse or exploitation is happening “behind doors” or in a household;
  • If you witness an adult acting in a suspicious manner or inappropriately with a child, especially in an isolated setting;
  • If you witness an adult renting a hotel room with a child who is obviously not his/her offspring or a close relative;
  • When a child needs immediate assistance;
  • When you have a gut feeling that a situation does not “feel right” and needs immediate attention.

Child Safe Hotline: 012 – 311 112 (Administered by the NGO, Friends-International)

Cambodian Police Hotline: 023 997 919



If you witness a suspicious situation which is on-going or you have concerns or doubts regarding a particular situation, including but not limited to:

  • If you are concerned because you have overheard someone speaking about abusing children or planning to abuse or exploit children, but the circumstances are not fully clear to you;
  • If you have heard that a particular venue or establishment may facilitate child sex;
  • If you feel that (or hear about) an institution caring for children or an orphanage does not have good practices or child protection polices, and that children may be vulnerable to, or are suffering, abuse, exploitation or neglect;
  • If you encounter a situation where you feel a child is vulnerable to or 'at risk' of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, neglect) or exploitation;
  • If you return to your home country and you would like to raise a concern about something you witnessed while in Cambodia;
  • If you have a gut feeling that a situation does not “feel right” and you feel it needs to be clarified.
CHILDWISE CAMBODIA: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it / +855 (0)77358965 (Child Wise Cambodia will follow up with relevant organization, authorities and institutions in Cambodia)

Children in Cambodia

Facts in brief:

  • More than 50% of people in Cambodia are under 21 years old
  • Over one third of the population lives below the poverty line
  • Cambodia is ranked as 154th out of 178 countries in terms of corruption, whereby the powerful are able to further exploit those with less influence. Children inevitably fall victim to these power plays. Corruption acts as a major obstacle in the effective prosecution and punishment of child abusers.
  • The number of street children (estimated at 10,000 to 20,000) is increasing at a rate of 20 per cent per year. Factors as to why children are on the streets include poverty, domestic violence, rapid population growth, and rural-urban migration. Weaknesses in the education system encourage the supply of child labour and incidence of street children. Additionally, in 2009 there were 27 forced evictions of slums (involving 23,000 people) in Cambodia, inevitably contributing to the population of street families, and children without adequate shelter.
  • According to the National AIDS Authority (NAA), there are 80,000 orphans and vulnerable children living in Cambodia as a result of the AIDS epidemic.
  • UNESCO estimates that there are 700,000 economically active children between the ages of 5 and 17 in the country. Nearly three quarters of these children have dropped out of school.

Children in any country are among the most vulnerable members of society. In Cambodia, the above facts mean that children are particularly susceptible to abuse and exploitation.

Child abuse and exploitation is, however, not unique to Cambodia and poverty alone does not explain why some are experiencing abuse and others not. For example, children are more likely to experience abuse if they live in a household in which there is domestic violence, an unemployed parent or parents, alcohol and drug abuse and isolation from social support and networks.

Culture can be another important factor in understanding and responding to child abuse throughout the world. Whilst it is well documented that child abuse is a global phenomenon, affecting boys and girls of all cultures and social backgrounds, the specific forms of abuse, or the obstacles faced in tackling the problem, will undoubtedly vary. In Cambodia, for example, the issue of sexuality remains sensitive. Early and arranged marriages, a lack of understanding about the meaning of consent, and aspects of community life (such as a lack of supervision in the home) can all lead to various forms of abuse. For many families and children, the rape of girls and boys is socially stigmatised, and talking about it can damage a family’s reputation and honour.

Cultural specificities must also be understood insofar as their contribution to the silence surrounding child abuse. Cambodian culture has, for example, traditionally valued the honour and reputation of the family more than transparency. Similarly, for many Cambodians, maintaining harmony may take precedence over attaining justice. [1]

The legacy of a violent past and a lack of education are further contributing factors to the state of children in Cambodia. Between 1970 and 1991, Cambodia experienced continuous war. From 1975 to 1979 the Pol Pot regime caused the death of between 1.5 million to 3 million people, resulting in a disproportionately high number of young people in Cambodia. Today, the country remains in a transitional phase, lacking much of the necessary infrastructure necessary to protect its most vulnerable. The capacity of the police force, the lack of an independent judiciary, endemic corruption and the absence of community support are examples of the barriers that need to be overcome before serious progress can be made towards preventing child abuse in Cambodia.

The Cambodian government has international and domestic legal responsibilities to ensure that there is an adequate legal and institutional framework in place to criminalise child abuse;  minimize the opportunities for child abuse to occur (for example regulation of child-oriented institutions); ensure adequate law enforcement and structure for responding to reports or suspicions of child abuse, and so on. A number of law reform efforts have been made in recent years towards combating child abuse - child trafficking in particular. However, government initiatives alone cannot protect children in any country. Community attitudes, support networks and work places need to understand child abuse and the principles and best practices associated with child protection.

[1] Gourley, S., 2009


Definitions of Child Abuse

Child abuse can be broadly defined as any harm inflicted on children physically, emotionally, and/or sexually and which interrupts or endangers their development and wellbeing.


Child abuse affects children across the globe and regardless of socio-economic status. Whilst the form of abuse may vary, child abuse itself does not discriminate between girls and boys, religion or culture. It occurs in schools, institutions, at home, and within the broader community. Moreover, the perpetrators of child abuse include strangers, family members, community leaders, and other children.

What has emerged from recent studies is that the Asia-Pacific region is no different from other regions in terms of the high prevalence of child maltreatment. It does, however, surpass other regions in global studies with regard to specific forms of abuse, such as child sexual abuse .

It is important to note that the categories of child abuse (discussed below) are intended only as a guide and should not be understood to be mutually exclusive. The categories overlap and intertwine so that in most cases, a child will be victim to more than one form of abuse at a time.

Physical abuse is almost always accompanied by emotional abuse; sexual abuse is often accompanied by physical and emotional abuse, and so on. Child Prostitution is an example of both child labour and sexual abuse.

  1. Physical Abuse
  2. Emotional Abuse
  3. Neglect
  4. Sexual Abuse
  5. Child Labour


Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is any action that causes physical harm or possible physical harm to a child. It can occur from adult to child, and also from child to child. Examples of physical abuse are: beating, hitting, slapping, kicking, pulling hair, burning, etc.

A common example of physical abuse in Cambodia is the beating of a child either by a parent or by a teacher as a form of punishment or discipline. The Committee on the Rights of the Child defines "corporal" or "physical" punishment as "any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light." This type of punishment has now been internationally recognised as child abuse and is a violation of international law and the fundamental rights of the child (CRC/C/GC/8), 2006.

According to research carried out in Kandal Stung district in Cambodia , teachers and parents admit to using physical violence to discipline children. 56% of boys and 19% of girls from 12-18 years old said that their teachers had beaten them. Similar results emerged in relation to discipline used by parents .

In a study undertaken by Save the Children in 2005, the physical punishments mentioned by children in Cambodia included being hit with implements such as a stick, a "whip" made of electric cable, a belt, or a chain; the use of sharp implements (knife) and sharp-edged domestic items (brooms, shoes), kicking, punching, pinching, pulling, etc. Of those children who mentioned body parts where they were hit, 39.8% reported being hit on the head and neck, 82.2% on the limbs, 80.7% on the back, 33.1% buttocks, 2.3% chest and 3.3% stomach. Over 80% of children reported being punished in the home.

Bullying can be a form of physical or emotional abuse. Bulling is the harming or intimidation by adults of children, or by children of other children, in order to have power over them. Examples of bullying are: pushing, shoving or otherwise exerting physical, emotional or financial power over another; keeping certain people out of a social group; teasing, etc.

Domestic violence

Domestic violence can be a form of physical or emotional abuse. It is any action that a person uses to control another person in the setting of the home.

According to Cambodian Law, domestic Violence includes: acts affecting life; acts affecting physical integrity; torture or cruel acts; and sexual aggression when it is directed at a spouse; dependent children or other persons living under the roof of the house and who are dependent of the households.

Domestic violence need not be directed against the child to have harmful impacts on the child’s well-being. It may take the form of hitting a child, cursing or blaming a child, or situations where a child witnesses their parents’ fighting.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is almost always present when other forms of abuse are taking place. Whilst emotional abuse often leaves no physical evidence, and may be difficult to demonstrate in order for authorities to intervene, it can have severe, long-lasting psychological and behavioural impacts on children.

The World Health Organisation defines “Emotional abuse ” to include the failure to provide a developmentally appropriate, supportive environment, including the availability of a primary attachment figure, so that the child can develop a stable and full range of emotional and social competencies commensurate with her or his personal potentials and in the context of the society in which the child dwells. There may also be acts towards the child that cause or have a high probability of causing harm to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. These acts must be reasonably within the control of the parent or person in a relationship of responsibility, trust or power. Acts include restriction of movement, patterns of belittling, denigrating, scapegoating, threatening, scaring, discriminating, ridiculing or other non-physical forms of hostile or rejecting treatment.


Neglect, in the Cambodian context, is the failure of parents or carers to meet a child’s physical and emotional needs when they have the means, knowledge and access to services to do so; or failure to protect her or him from exposure to danger. The failure to provide for the development in the areas of health, education, emotional development, nutrition, shelter or safe living conditions can amount to neglect. Neglect occurs when caregivers deny children their basic rights to life, such as food, clothing, shelter, medical attention or supervision, often to the point where the child’s health and development is or is likely to be significantly harmed. A common example of this is when parents do not give their child food as a form of punishment or when parents leave their children at home alone without appropriate supervision.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is described as interactions between an adult, peer or another young person, where the child is being used as an object of sexual gratification for the abuser. Examples of sexual abuse are: fondling of the child’s genitals; masturbation; oral sex; vaginal or anal penetration; exposure of the child to pornography, etc. Abuse can occur through force, threats, bribes, trickery or pressure. 

Sexual abuse does not necessarily involve bodily contact. Abusive activities could include, for example, an adult watching a child undress, making sexual comments to the child, exposing intimate bodily parts to the child, or encouraging or forcing children to engage in sexual activities with one another.

Globally, the WHO estimates indicated that over 200 million children had experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence involving physical contact in 2006. Similarly, data from the region surrounding Cambodia indicates an alarmingly high proportion of children have experienced child sexual abuse, at the level of 28.6% of boys and 27.8% of girls . Significantly, this sexual violence is most commonly committed by family members or other people who were trusted by the child and often responsible for their care.

The available data suggests that the incidents of rape are increasing in Cambodia, including the incidents of gang rape. A recent study by ECPAT found that in the rape cases reported by partner NGOs in 2009, 72% of the victims were children. The majority of the victims were girls between the age of 13 and 17 .

Child Labour

Child Labour is a very common form of child abuse in Cambodia. This involves the various activities that exploit children for their commercial value. It can include begging, hard domestic labour on farms, or commercial sex work among other activities. Children are not only abused but a profit is made arising from the abuse.

Not all children’s work is child labour. Child labour is work that is exploitative, likely to be hazardous, interferes with a child’s education, and is often harmful to their health or physical and emotional development. In its worst forms, child labour involves children being separated from their families, living in slavery-like conditions or being exposed to serious hazards and illnesses . The types of work that is considered child abuse will depend on a number of factors including the age of the child, the affect of the work on the child, the nature of the employment relationship and the circumstances through which the child is engaged to work.
Exploitation can take many forms, such as through involvement in the production of pornography; sex tourism, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude or other forms of child labour; trafficking or sale of children or involvement in armed conflict.

Cambodian children – including many who are younger than the absolute minimum working age of 12 – are engaged in many activities which constitute the worst forms of child labour, including: ‘work in brick factories, work in commercial rubber plantations, work in salt production, work in fish processing, domestic work, prostitution, pornography, begging and scrap collecting. ' Child Prostitution and child trafficking are internationally recognised as among the worst forms of child labour. Surveys indicate that 30 to 35 per cent of all sex workers in the Mekong sub-region of Southeast Asia are between 12 and 17 years of age .

Child Trafficking

As mentioned above, human trafficking often overlaps with other types of abuse and is a form of child labour. The distinguishing feature of trafficking is that it involves movement, and therefore exposes children to a multitude of additional risks. The nature of trafficking means that it is difficult to detect and consequently, there is a dearth of available data, making it almost impossible to ascertain the true extent of the problem. However, it is well recognised, that human trafficking in general – and child trafficking in particular – is a serious and increasing problem in Cambodia .

Human trafficking is the third largest international crime, worth billions of dollars each year. It was recently reported that an estimated 1.2 million child victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation or cheap labour. 79% of all trafficking worldwide is for sexual exploitation and the victims used for this purpose are predominantly women and girls . Whilst trafficking may involve a sexual element, child trafficking can be for the purposes of any form of labour including agricultural work, domestic/household servants, begging, etc. whereby exploitation is the result. Children are, by definition, exploited when they are transported for the purposes of employment. 36% of all sex trafficking victims reported in Cambodia in 2009 were children.

Trafficking is considered amongst the worst forms of child labour. The ILO recognises that victims of trafficking are “commonly the victims of abuse of power. Trafficked children are totally at the mercy of their employers or the people who are controlling their lives and so risk sexual aggression, starvation, loss of liberty, beatings and other forms of violence.”


Profile of a Child Sex Offender

Unfortunately, there is no identifiable profile of people who may abuse or exploit children. There is no single reason or cause that prompts sexual offending and there is no test or easy diagnosis that predicts people’s behaviour. People who abuse children range in age, gender, class, race, and religion. Perpetrators of child abuse include strangers, family members, community leaders, other children, etc.

Nevertheless, available data and studies globally on child abuse suggest that the majority of offenses are committed by someone that the child knows, as opposed to strangers.

A recent study by ECPAT-Cambodia report on victim- offender relationship in rape cases revealed that only 1% of the victims (included in the data) were sexually assaulted by someone unfamiliar to them. Similar data emerged in the data collected on trafficker-victim relationships. A majority of them were friends of the victim or of the victim’s family. The data on rape cases in 2009 found that, of 202 underage victims, 143 children were raped by their neighbours or persons they know, 27 were raped by their fathers, step fathers, or adopted fathers, 16 were raped by other relatives, and 2 were raped by their teachers

Due to the proximity between child victims and perpetrators, there is often a relationship of trust which exists not only between the abuser and the child, but also between the abuser and the child’s family and/or community. The abuser is thus unlikely to raise suspicion. Awareness of this trend, and the behaviours and techniques identified as common to a number of offenders, can help to protect children.

Grooming Techniques of Child Sex Offenders

Child sexual abuse can be planned or not planned. Sex offenders sometimes prepare their victims. This preparation is called ‘grooming’; it occurs before the sex offence in order to access the child and after the offence to keep access to the child as well as to ensure the child’s silence and the parents’/caregivers’ continued trust. Both foreign and Cambodian sex offenders have been found to use grooming techniques to lure their victims in Cambodia.

Grooming has two functions:
  1. The offenders try to create the opportunity to abuse by manipulating people and situations in order to gain and maintain access to their victims. Offenders not only need to train the children they abuse but also the people who protect the children. They build trusting relationships with children and their caregivers.
  2. By isolating the child, offenders are able to abuse them. They make sure that children will not tell anyone of the abuse or that the abuse is not discovered. They ensure that the children will go along with the abuse and won’t tell anyone what has happened.

Fostering an environment whereby the views of the child are respected can help mitigate against the control that child abusers exert over child-victims. By keeping children informed and teaching them how to protect themselves, children are encouraged to seek help and report “grooming”.

Trafficking Recruitment
Child Trafficking and related offenses often originate under slightly different circumstances to other forms of abuse. The first stage of trafficking is recruitment as indicated in the definition offered by the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons. Recruiters may be the person who actually employs the child, or an intermediary, part of a chain of people involved in the trafficking. Whether the child approaches the recruiter, or the child is recruited by someone else, is irrelevant. Recruitment happens in many different ways and usually involves some sort of deception, inducement or threat.

The child may be under pressure from their families to find work to help support the family. Sometimes, the family will seek the help of someone who they know can arrange work for children, or the family will be approached by someone who knows that they are in a difficult situation. The circumstances leading to the recruitment are varied; however, the result is exploitation of the child .

The Myths and the Facts about Child Sexual Abuse

There are many common beliefs about sex offending which are simply not true. Some of these myths surrounding child sexual abuse involve blaming the victims and/or their caregivers for the offence. They minimise the responsibility of the offender. It is important to remember that responsibility for sexual offences always rests wholly with the person who commits the crime.



Myth Reality
“Child sex offenders are high-ranking, rich and powerful men.” Child sex offenders usually present themselves very normally.  Most will go to work and participate in community life without drawing attention to themselves. While some may be rich, some may be poor as well. They can be old, young, short, etc.
“Child sex offenders are gangsters or drug users.” While some are gangsters and/or drug users, as stated above, child sex offenders can appear quite normal. They do not necessarily use drugs or belong to gangs.
“Strangers are the biggest threat to children.” The traditional image of the 'stranger' as the child sex offender is mistaken.  The vast majority of offenders come from the same community and are usually known to the child. In Cambodia,
the most commonly reported perpetrators of sexual violence towards girls are male family members (brothers, uncles), followed by stepfathers, fathers and female family members. Male friends of family were also commonly named as perpetrators. Other research confirms that parents, caregivers, aunts and uncles, siblings, grandparents, cousins, and friends of the family perpetrate sexual violence against children.
"Child sexual abuse does not happen in my community."
Sexual abuse is more common than you would imagine. Statistics say that 1 in 5 children are sexually abused. Sexual abuse is a hidden crime and it is most likely happening without you knowing. Most children who are sexually abused never tell anyone about it and when they do tell someone, most people do not believe them. We must understand the symptoms of abuse and we must listen to children and believe children in order to protect them from sexual abuse.
"Only bad children are abused."
Child abuse is never the child's fault. While abusers can often provide many reasons why they abuse a child, there are never any valid excuses. There is nothing a child does that warrants child abuse. All children have a right to be protected from child abuse.
"Child abusers are easily recognisable."
Often child abusers  are people we know well and trust. Most importantly, they are usually people that children trust.
"I didn't do anything wrong because the child agreed to have sex with me".
The law stipulates that a child does not have the full developmental capacity to make a decision to consent to sexual intercourse and therefore sex with a child is a crime regardless of whether a child gives consent. In no circumstances is it okay to have sex with a child.
In general, sex offenders will frequently justify their crimes by saying that the victim didn't say 'no'.  The assumption that children will resist the abuse, preferably violently, is based both on ignorance about the power relationship between adults and children and an underestimation of the skilfulness of offenders.
"Women never sexually abuse children."
Although the majority of child sex offenders in Cambodia who commit the abuse are men, women are also known to sexually abuse children. Women can be the facilitators in obtaining the children for the sex offender, who is often a new husband or boyfriend .
"It only happened once, and he promised it would never happen again."
It is rare for the sexual abuse of a child to occur only once.  Generally sex offenders have committed more abuses than they are charged with. Sex offenders usually don't change their behaviour and most often repeat their crimes again. Treatment for adult sex offenders, while important, has proven to have had limited success in preventing re-offending.  Treatment for adolescent sex offenders, however, has had results that are more positive.
"Child commercial sex work is tolerated in Cambodia because it is so common."
Cambodia is a conservative country, with strong traditional values of respect and modesty. Many children are victims of commercial sex work due to socio-economic factors, not because it is accepted by the Cambodian society. Child commercial sex work is not a Cambodian tradition. Child prostitution is illegal in Cambodia.
"Sex with a young virgin girl is good for your health and will protect you from HIV/AIDS."
Raping a young girl DOES NOT protect you from HIV and AIDS. In fact, it is most likely due to this myth, along with the growing sense of impunity and lack of desire to convict sex offences that the rape of sexually immature girls is increasing.  Moreover, this purpose for rape of young girls increases the spread of HIV and AIDS.
"Rape is okay if the rapist loves his victim and wants to marry her."
Rape is never okay. Sexual intercourse in all circumstance must be undertaken only if there is mutual consent of both parties. A recent survey found that 68% of Cambodians think that marriage is an acceptable solution to rape if the rapist loves her. This is unacceptable. Rape should never be used as a means to get someone to marry them. This is an abuse of women's rights. Rape is illegal in Cambodia because rape is a violation of the victim's rights. Rape traumatises a victim and forcing a victim to marry the perpetrator is disrespecting and re-traumatising them. It is a continual abuse of the victim's human rights.
"Boys are not victims of sexual abuse"
Both boys and girls are victims of child abuse, including child sexual abuse. Research in Cambodia and other places in the world suggest that at least one in six boys and men will have experienced some form of sexual abuse in their lives (16.5%) .
"Foreigners  (sex tourists) are responsible for most of the sexual abuse in Cambodia"
In Cambodia, the majority of reported cases of sexual abuse are committed by Cambodians. Of the 627 rape offenders recorded in the 2009 ECPAT study, only 2 of the offenders were non-Khmer. Similarly, 83.6% of the alleged trafficking offenders were Khmer.
While cases of foreign child sex offenders often get coverage in the media, most convicted Cambodian child sex offenders are not covered in the news. Disproportionate media coverage can lead to people thinking that foreigners are the only child sex offenders in Cambodia. This is not true. The majority of sexual abuse in Cambodia is committed by Cambodians. It is important to dispel the myth that foreigners are the only threat to children in Cambodia.


Why Children Don’t Speak Up

Children rarely ever tell about their abuse. There is a great deal of reasons why children would keep silent. They are fearful of the consequences for themselves, their family and the offender. Some children are accustomed to thinking no one would ever believe them; or, they are silenced by the thought that they deserved what happened and so are not entitled to help. The children often believe they may be threatened and punished if they tell, or if their parents knew . It is therefore true that: “One of the cornerstones of any strategic response must be to break down the silence in which most children endure episodes of physical, psychological or sexual violence.”

“Don’t take inside fire outside, nor bring outside fire in. ” A Cambodian Proverb.

Reasons for children to keep silent about abuse will ultimately depend on individual and environmental circumstances. Cambodian culture places a great deal of emphasis on honour and reputation and far less is attached to transparency. The reputation of the family can be a factor in a child choosing not to speak up. A recent study in Cambodia confirmed that this attitude is particularly true when it involves female sexual abuse: the participants quoted the proverb:  ‘“A house with a daughter is like a jar of fish paste” to illustrate the view that if a woman breaks sexual norms it brings dishonour on the family, in the same way that breaking a jar of fish paste will stink.’

Moreover, the importance of reputation, along with obvious economic realities, can contribute to the fact that many victims of rape or abuse in Cambodia will choose to accept financial consideration in favour of legal action. The victim may even be forced to marry their attacker.
The consequences of the silence surrounding child abuse are many:

  • Victims do not receive the support and understanding they may need to overcome the trauma of the abuse;
  • Child abusers are not punished because the offenses are largely unreported.
  • Victims often believe they deserve the abuse.
  • It is almost impossible to collect accurate data on child abuse, either locally or globally, as most abuse remains a secret.

Case Studies of Child Sexual Abuse in Cambodia

International Law

The Rights of the Child

Cambodia’s Legal system incorporates the texts of the international instruments to which it has signed. The Constitution provides in Article 31: “The Kingdom of Cambodia shall recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the covenants and conventions related to human rights, women’s and children’s rights.”

According to a decision of the Cambodian Constitutional Council dated July 10, 2007, all international Conventions that Cambodia has recognized form part of Cambodian law.

The Constitution is the primary legislation in Cambodia, and will prevail against any subsequent legislation which appears inconsistent with its provisions, it is therefore essential that the international human rights law is understood for the purposes of application in Cambodia.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

The CRC is founded on four overarching principles:

  1. Non-discrimination (Article 2)
  2. Best Interests of the Child (Article 3)
  3. Right to Life, Survival and Development (Article 6)
  4. Respect for the Views of the Child (Article 12)

In addition to the CRC, a number of other core international instruments contribute to the international legal framework supporting children’s sight to be protected. These include:

  • Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against women (CEDAW);
  • International Labour Organization’s convention on the Minimum age for admission to employment (no. 138)
  • International Labour Organisation Convention on elimination of the worst forms of child labour (no. 182);
  • Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime;
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Specific Issues

Physical Violence

The international laws aimed at protecting children from physical violence include:

  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) Article 19.
  • Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1987)
  • ILO Convention 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999)
  • Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (2000)
  • Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children. UN General Assembly Resolution A/C.3/61/L.16/Rev.1 (2006)
  • The right of the child to protection from corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment. General Comment No. 8 to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC/C/GC/8) (2006)
  • UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (2006)


Child Labour

The primary international instruments aimed at protecting children from child labour include:

  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) Articles 32
  • ILO Convention on the Minimum Age for Workers (1973)
  • ILO convention concerning the prohibition and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour (No.182)
  • International covenant on economic, social and cultural rights (ICCPR), Article 10(3)

As discussed above, international law does not proscribe all children’s work. The types of work that is considered a violation of international law will depend on a number of factors including the age of the child, the affect of the work on the child, the nature of the employment relationship and the circumstances through which the child is engaged to work.

According to Article 3 of the ILO Convention 182, worst forms of child labour are defined as follows:

All forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.

The use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances.

The use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities.

Work which is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.


Sexual Abuse and Exploitation

The international legal framework on physical abuse, and child labour, is complemented by a number of specific laws and policy guidelines addressing sexual abuse and exploitation, including:

  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) Article 34.
  • Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (2000)
  • ILO Convention 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999)
  • Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime

Regional instruments related to Trafficking

Mekong subregional Cooperation Agreement to Fight Human Trafficking (2004)

The Mekong subregional cooperation agreement to fight human trafficking is a Memorandum of Understanding between the six countries in the Mekong subregion. It is an aspirational document containing a detailed preamble followed by 34 specific commitments in a range of intervention areas.

  • Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters (AMLAT) 2004
  • The ASEAN Tourism Agreement (2002) reaffirms States’ adherence to the UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism and specifically commits to taking stern measures to prevent tourism-related abuse and exploitation of people, particularly women and children.
  • The ASEAN Declaration against Trafficking in Persons, Particularly Women and Children (2004) affirms States’ intention to embrace the spirit of international agreements against trafficking.
  • Memorandum of Understanding between Cambodia and Thailand on Bilateral Cooperation in Eliminating Trafficking in Children and Women and Assisting Victims of Trafficking (2003)
  • Memorandum of Understanding between Cambodia and Thailand on Cooperation in the Employment of Workers (2003)
  • Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of labour and Vocational Training of the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Ministry of Labour of the Republic of Korea on the Sending of Workers to the Republic of Korea under the Employment Permit System
  • Memorandum of Understanding on the Field of Exchange of Manpower between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Government of the State of Kuwait.
  • Agreement between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on Bilateral Cooperation for Eliminating Trafficking in Women and Children and Assisting Victims of Trafficking (2005)
  • Agreement between Cambodian and Vietnamese Police (2008)
  • Cooperation Agreement on Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for the Identification and Repatriation of Trafficked Victims, between the Government of Cambodia and the Government of Vietnam (2009)
  • Guidelines on Repatriation of Trafficking Victims for Cambodia and Thailand (2005)
  • Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking (COMMIT) Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation Against Trafficking in Persons in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (2004)


Cambodian Law

The Constitution directly ensures that the international instruments related to the rights of the child have the force of domestic law in Cambodia. The international legal framework on this issue is far more comprehensive than the national legislation currently provides, and is therefore the primary legal reference for the purposes of understanding the laws related to children in Cambodia.

Nonetheless, Cambodia has made significant progress in the past decade towards expressly incorporating many of these obligations into various laws.

Table 1 Domestic Laws and guidelines for child protection in Cambodia

Domestic Law relevant to Child Protection in Cambodia

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia

The Law on Education (2007)

Law on Domestic Violence and Protection of Victims (2005)

The Law on Marriage and Family

The Penal Code of the Kingdom of Cambodia, 2009 (the “Penal Code”) – the full text of this law is due to come into force in late 2010

Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation 2008

Labour Law 1997

Law on Criminal Procedure 1993

Law on Nationality 1996

Law on Immigration 1994

A number of regulations, parkas, sub-decrees and other domestic “soft Law” instruments are also in force.


The Rights of the Child

The Constitution of Cambodia reinforces Cambodia’s legal obligation to protect against Child abuse:

Article 31 provides: “The Kingdom of Cambodia shall recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in the UN charter, the UNHCR, the covenants and conventions related to human rights, women’s and children’s rights.”

Article 46: “The commerce of human beings, exploitation by prostitution and obscenity which affect the reputation of women, shall be prohibited.”

Article 48: “The State shall protect the rights of children as stipulated in the Convention on Children, in particular, the right to life, education, protection during wartime, and from economic or sexual exploitation.”


The Law on Marriage and Family (1989) provides: “Parental power shall be revoked and transferred to any organization or relative by blood, from parent who is at fault as follows:

  • The parents fail to educate the child;
  • The parents use improper power in violation of the child’s rights or forcing him to commit crimes or acts against society;
  • The parents treat their children badly;
  • The parents behave against the moral standards which have a bad influence over their children” (Article 119)

Article 115 of the Law on Marriage and Family expressly states that parents have an obligation to love, bring up and take care of their child’s education.

Article 116 provides that parents shall not mistreat his or her, child-in-law, adopted child or step child.

Physical Violence

Article 38 of the Constitution protects individuals from physical abuse.

Article 217of the new Penal Code covers the crime of intentional violence. Article 219 proscribes a higher sentence for when these acts are committed against a person who is particularly vulnerable due to his or her age.

The Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of Victims (2005) defines violence to include: Acts affecting life; Acts affecting physical integrity; Tortures or cruel acts; and Sexual aggression (Article 3). Domestic violence includes violence towards “dependent children” (article 2)

Corporal Punishment

Corporal punishment is lawful in the home in Cambodia: The Civil Code  states that “The parental power holder may personally discipline the child to the extent necessary” (article 1045, provisional translation).

Article 8 of the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of Victims, states that traditional discipline of children should not be considered as violence or domestic violence.

Corporal punishment is unlawful in private and public schools pursuant to The Education Law (2007). Pursuant to Article 35, learners have the right to be respected and paid attention on human rights, especially the right to dignity, the right to be free from any form of torture or from physical and mental punishment.


Child Labour

The Labour Law of the Kingdom of Cambodia states the minimum age for entering into labour force. The minimum age for wage employment of children is 15 years old and above. Children can involved in work even at the age of 12 if it is light work, it does not cause harm to the health and mental development and does not interfere with their education or training

Article 177 of the Cambodian Labour Law 1997 states, ‘[t]he minimum allowable age for any kind of employment or work, which, by its nature, could be hazardous to the health, the safety, or the morality of an adolescent, is eighteen years.'


Human Trafficking, rape and sexual exploitation

The New Penal Code contains provisions criminalising rape (article 329); immodest acts (article 246) and prostitution (including procuring and acting as an intermediary; Articles 285- 295).

The Law on the suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, 2008 (the LHTSE) is the principal law on this issue in Cambodia. Article 13 of the LHTSE defines ‘the act of selling, buying or exchanging a person’ as ‘to unlawfully deliver the control over a person to another, or to unlawfully receive the control over a person from another, in exchange for anything of value including any services and persons’.

Article 12 defines ‘any form of exploitation’ as meaning ‘the act of unlawful recruitment which means to induce, hire or employ a person to engage in any form of exploitation with the use of deception, abuse of power, confinement, force, threat or any coercive means’.

The LHTSE also prescribes punishment for indecent act against minor aged under 15.

Under article 42 of the LHTSE, whoever engages in sexual intercourse with a minor under 15 years of age will receive 5 to 10 years of prison term

Child Prostitution

Article 34 of the LHTSE on “Purchase of Child Prostitution” states that: A person who has sexual intercourse or other sexual conduct of all kinds with a minor who is 15 years of age or above (16-18) by providing, or promising to provide, anything of value to the minor, an intermediary, a parent, a guardian or any other person who keeps the child under his or her supervision or control shall be punished with imprisonment for 2 to 5 years.



  • The Law on Juvenile Justice has been reported to have been drafted. At the time of writing, Child Wise was unable to obtain information as to the status of the law, nor access the text in English.
  • Chapter 5 of the new “Penal Code” prescribes the law with regards to endangering a minor.
  • The new legislation contains specific provisions criminalising the following acts:
    • Depriving food or care to minors (article 337);
    • Placing a minor in working conditions which endanger his or her health (339);
    • Failure to send a minor to school (343);
    • Abandonment of minors (321);
    • Failure to Hand Over a Minor   (326) and;
    • Taking away a minor (327).