The exploitation and trafficking of children often happens because of a lack of awareness – children and parents alike don’t know what steps there are towards prevention. What it takes is people in the community who are willing to move past social stigmas and advocate for change. The My Son project in Cambodia empowers young boys to educate their peers on sexual abuse and exploitation of boys, making their community a safer place.
By Kylie Foley
“It doesn’t happen here.”
A World Vision worker tried to explain to us why, in a country that is actively fighting against sex trafficking and abuse, sexual exploitation of boys is not a concern for communities or the government. It’s probably that this generalization is not one that all Cambodians hold, but there are undeniably more services for girls who have been exploited than boys. Sexual abuse of boys is rarely reported, or understood.
World Vision’s “My Son” project tries to change that. Founded in 2008, the program brings this issue to light. Often targeting poor boys in slum areas, foreigners or brothel owners will lure boys with drugs, candy, love, anything. The stigma against male rape prevents most boys from telling anyone. Even if they do, it’s usually ignored.
Though World Vision leaves the legal and investigative matters in the hands of partner organizations, they have discovered that these boys need more than to have their abusers put away. They need healing, and steps must be taken towards prevention. As a safe way to discuss sexual abuse, My Son put soccer and volleyball teams together and have the boys play in the heart of their poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Break time means eating a snack and learning about ways to protect yourself. The boys create and direct small dramas, illustrating what potential abusers do to trap boys. The other boys laugh as they watch, but the message is clear; sexual exploitation is wrong and you do not have to be a victim.
Along with door-to-door education and a recovery center housing 30 or so boys after abuse, World Vision is trying to provide for boys in every way. For those who have been harmed, there is hope and healing. They don’t have to feel neglected or ashamed. For those who are kids joyfully playing soccer, there is awareness education that empowers these boys to protect themselves.
One boy told us that he learned how to stay away from a potential abuser. He knows to run away, tell his parents, and call the police. He absentmindedly stated that he didn’t want to go off with stranger just because he wanted to feel love. Multiple boys shared that their friends get lured away because they don’t feel loved at home, and then someone promises to make them feel special.
These boys watch for perpetuators, and recently helped give information about a Canadian man who had been offering boys candy from behind the kids’ volleyball court on occasion. In the cutthroat survival culture of the slums, they learn to share through sports.
Many boys in Cambodia are sexually exploited, but now there’s a conversation, which leads to action. Abuse should never be hidden; victims should never carry the full burden of others’ actions. The “My Son” project hopes to guide boys from a place of shame to a state of advocacy and inherent worth.
Learn more about how microfinance is a key to strengthening communities and preventing exploitation. Be a part of providing freedom from trafficking and exploitation. Sign up to receive free resources, including Working for Tomorrow, a film about microloans in Cambodia. http://worldvisionmicro.org/acts
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