Child Safe Tourism for Cambodia and the World

This is not a hotel industry article. You may want to avoid reading this piece due to its disturbing content on child abuse and sex tourism. This may not be the most appropriate way to promote Passports with Purpose fundraising efforts to build a school in Cambodia, but the sex tourism trade in Cambodia is something that I have been aware of for the past 16 years. You should be aware too.

Some travelers visit places like Cambodia, Costa Rica, Thailand, and Eastern Europe and have a great time sightseeing, hanging out with locals, and enjoying beaches, restaurants, and pubs. Other travelers are looking for a cheap prostitute vacation.

I’ve met sex tourists, mostly while staying at upscale hotels in places like Bangkok, Singapore, the Virgin Islands, and Guatemala. I have heard some stories in my travels I wish I hadn’t been told.

Passports with Purpose is working to build a school to educate children in rural Cambodia. My travels have never taken me to Cambodia, however, my background as a certified California public school teacher has taken me into dozens of schools around the USA and some schools in other parts of the world. Education doesn’t eliminate poverty, but at least it gives a person more tools to fight poverty. Education allows a person to envision the possibility of better life choices.

In 1993, I was working on my Masters in Labor Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. One of my research projects focused on child labor issues outside the U.S.A. My studies of international child labor laws evolved into case studies of working and living conditions for children in Cairo, Egypt working in the cotton dye trade; children in Bangladesh working in the textile trade, and children in Cambodia working in the sex trade.

It is still widely reported that one-third of prostitutes in Cambodia are girls under the age of 18.

Passports with Purpose

Passports with Purpose is raising money for a school in rural Cambodia. The potential for an educated girl to bring lifelong revenue to the family is a way to circumvent a girl living in an impoverished rural area of Cambodia being indentured to a sex trafficker. Education is a proactive alternative for children and families who are struggling with poverty.

Sex tourism is a dark side of global travel and when it involves children it touches evil. The issue is too often an unspoken evil. I am reluctant to bring it up since it is unpleasant and not a side of tourism or the hotel industry most people want to read or hear about when looking for travel information.

When traveling alone, a single man out and about around the world, I have been surprised at the number of times men in hotels discuss their prostitution sexcapades around me. 

Years ago while still in my twenties traveling with my wife, before we became teachers, I was sitting by the pool at a Caribbean island hotel when two guys told me their story describing in detail how they kept a 15 year old boy locked in a room as a sex slave for two weeks in Miami. I went back to my hotel room and ranted to Kelley. I didn’t do it then, but if that scenario were to happen around me today, I would be calling the cops from my hotel room.

As a teacher I am a mandated reporter of child abuse. A sexual encounter with a child is abuse. Observation of children is a key component of classroom teaching and some of my more severely impaired behavior students turned out to be child molestation victims.

How is a child supposed to function normally around other children and adults when childhood innocence has been shattered by the age of 10?

Why am I advocating you put your money into helping build a school in Cambodia when as a certified teacher I know we need money right here in the USA to build better schools?

“Every year it is also estimated that 5 million tourists run to Far East and Thailand for sex. They bring more than 25 billion dollars worth of cash to these countries. This is nearly 10 times more than the electronics export receipt of Thailand which is highly praised.”


The government in Cambodia supports “Child Safe Tourism” with hotel staffers who participate in preventing and reporting child labor violations including sex tourism involving children. Implementation of literacy programs is a key recommendation for tackling prostitution in key tourist areas of Cambodia. Being able to read and write is a skill most prostitutes in Cambodia lack and  prerequisite to improve their livelihood options”.


Cambodia by the Numbers

I have been looking at numbers today. Here are some numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor on child labor in Cambodia from ten years ago. I find the numerical data along with my background in labor studies and education a compelling call for the urgency to build more rural schools in Cambodia now.

1999 Cambodia

24.1 % of children age 10-14 worked.

The percentage of girls as workers outpaced boys  by the age of 12.

65,000 children age 5-13 worked over 25 hours per week and did not attend school in a population of about 4,000,000 children.

2008 Cambodia

80% of the population in Cambodia is rural in a country population of about 14.5 million.

88% of girls and 92% of boys were in primary school in 2007. 85% of children complete primary school.

Only around one third of children were in secondary school in 2007, but this is more than double the rate of ten years ago.

Adult literacy rate has jumped dramatically over the past ten years from 63% to 76%. 86% of Cambodia’s youth are literate. Most European countries and the USA/Canada is 99%. Mexico is around 93%. Cambodia is on par with countries like Guatemala, Egypt, Jamaica, and Syria.

The number of children attending school has increased, but girls are underrepresented in schools in both urban and rural areas. One of the greatest changes in the education statistics is the closing of the literacy gap between males and females. Literate females are 20 percentage points behind males for all persons over 15, but only 7 percentage points behind males (90% literacy) at 83% literacy for 15 to 24 year olds.

By Cambodian government statistics, at least 1 in 6 children under the age of 15 is a worker and some NGO reports place this number as high as 44% of children work in Cambodia.


Help Build a School in Cambodia

A $10 contribution to Passports with Purpose will help build a new rural school in Cambodia in 2010.

Hyatt Gold Passport made a generous donation of 50,000 points as a raffle prize in the Passports with Purpose fundraiser running through Monday December 21. Your donation can make a difference in children’s lives and you just might win enough points to take a wonderful hotel vacation.

Sources on Cambodia Child Labor and Education

US Department of Labor – Child labor in Cambodia

UNESCO Education Statistics (2007)

UNESCO General Education Statistics

Somaly Mam Foundation is a non-profit organization to rescue, shelter, and rehabilitate women and girls from human trafficking in Southeast Asia, founded by Cambodian sexual slavery survivor Somaly Mam.

If This Isn’t Slavery, What Is?” Nicholas Kristof, New York Times (Jan 3, 2009)


Loyalty Traveler : Win 50,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points through Passports with Purpose raffle (Dec 1, 2009)

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined in 2008.

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