Cambodia’s Kids for Cash Scheme Echoes Our Own

June 16, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

By now the world knows that Somaly Mam, Cambodian activist against trafficking for sex, is a liar. As this article revealed, Mam’s lurid tales of being kidnapped, raped, sold and resold into sex slavery in Phnom Pen were entirely made up (Newsweek, 5/21/14). In fact, numerous friends, relatives, teachers and the like testify that Mam had a fairly typical upbringing by her parents and attending school until she met and married a French man and emigrated. But Mam is attractive and apparently spins a good yarn, certainly one many westerners are eager to hear and therefore believe. So she was able to parlay her fantasies into millions of dollars in donations to her charity that, Mam claims, rescues women from the sex trade.

But again, in more than one case, women who’ve gone on television to tell their heartbreaking stories, have been revealed to have, like Mam, fabricated them totally. Indeed, Mam was revealed to have conducted tryouts of the women to see who could tell the most convincing lies. Exactly what Mam and her charitable organization actually do that’s legitimate seems to be unknown at this point, but suffice it to say that she’s bilked millions out of gullible westerners from Oprah to Angelina Jolie, Sheryl Sandberg and countless others. Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times of course avidly channeled her claims.

Just why Mam isn’t in prison for fraud is one question I have that none of the articles about her have yet addressed.

But it turns out there’s still more as this article shows (New York Times, 6//14). Apparently the one thing Mam didn’t invent was how to scam gullible westerners with too much money and too little sense. That’s been going on at least since the fall of the Khmer Rouge government in the late 70s. The depredations of the Khmer Rouge included the slaughter of some 1.7 million people, most of them adults. Unsurprisingly, that produced a lot of orphans and, to our credit, westerners stepped in to adopt as many of those kids as possible.

But when the populations of orphans dropped, the number of Cambodian orphanages kept rising. Why? The flow of western money was just too tempting to pass up and who tugs at the heartstrings better than a little kid whose parents were killed by a brutal dictatorship? So the orphanage business in Cambodia was a big moneymaker, a fact Mam unquestionably knew given the fact that one of her many lies was that she was an orphan. In short, Mam went to school on what she saw around her and followed suit. She seems to have been far from the only one to go into that line of work, just the best.

Now, as the New York Times article points out, western largess has created an orphanage industry. The powerful pull of that money has, ironically, resulted in real trafficking in children of the type Mam mostly just fantasized about. Poor Cambodians who can’t support their kids are offered a place for them in an orphanage. They’re told the children will be cared for and educated and many give their children up sometimes for money. But the stories told by adult children of the orphanage industry paint a picture of owners’ greed and children being used as bait for donations.

The empathy of foreigners — who not only deliver contributions, but also sometimes open their own institutions — helped create a glut of orphanages, according to aid workers, and the government says they now house more than 11,000 children. Although some of the orphanages are clean and well-managed, many are decrepit and, according to the United Nations, leave children susceptible to sexual abuse.

“The number of orphans has been going down and the number of orphanages going up,” said Sarah Chhin, who helps run an organization that encourages children in orphanages who have families to return home. “We are forever having people say, ‘I’ve come to Cambodia because I want to open an orphanage.’ ”

A United Nations report three years ago said some orphanages “exploit the problem of poverty by actively recruiting children in poor families by convincing, coercing or even paying parents to give their children away.

In many cases, human rights activists say, the children are ordered to pose as orphans to attract foreign donations.

Worse, the overwhelming majority of “orphans” in those orphanages aren’t orphans at all.

A government study conducted five years ago found that 77 percent of children living in Cambodia’s orphanages had at least one parent.

So yes, children in Cambodia are trafficked alright, just not in the way Somaly Mam claims. She’s in fact an active part of a system of scamming money out of westerners that ensures poor parents will effectively sell their children for Americans and Western Europeans to adopt. And in the process, orphanage owners will make out like the bandits they are.

Now, horrible and tragic as all this is, I’d like to point out a few of its similarities to what goes on in the United States. Oh, we’re much more open and above board here. Here the scam is government-sanctioned operated, so we often don’t notice that, all too often, we too traffic children.

Consider the elements of the Cambodian child trafficking business. Children are taken from poor parents, often against their will. That’s done because there’s money to be made. Many of those children are not orphans. By adopting children who have parents from those orphanages, children who don’t have parents and need adoption, go without.

Here we have a system of child welfare agencies whose role it is to determine what children are being abused and neglected. Often that means removing them from parental care and terminating those parents’ rights. Overwhelmingly, those parents are poor. The federal government pays states for every child taken into foster care and every child adopted out of foster care. That creates a huge incentive for CPS agencies to take children from parents. In over half the cases in which a mother is found to be unfit, CPS agencies make no effort to contact the father to see if he’d be an acceptable placement for the child. Whenever a child with a fit father is adopted out of foster care, another child somewhere who truly needs adopting, goes without.

In short, federal money encourages states to take children into foster care whether they need to be there or not and that means they’re adopted away from their parents, or simply remain in foster care.

In short, we too traffic children for money. But in Cambodia, much of the system operates outside the law, whereas here, the system is the law.

No, the two systems aren’t the same. And yes, most of the kids taken into foster care in this country need to spend some time apart from their parents. But the money-driven dynamics of the two systems look disturbingly the same as does the avidness with which those who stand to get the money act to increase the flow of those saleable little profit centers, kids.

The New York Times will never notice the comparison in part because to do so would be to question one of our most powerful industries and threaten the flow of money from Washington to the states. It would also suggest that fathers should be consulted before their kids are shoved into foster care. And we can’t have that, now can we?

So, come to think of it, that’s another comparison between the U.S. and Cambodia; there’s not the political will in either to stop the shady business that makes a few so much money.

‘Twas ever thus.

#childtrafficking, #Cambodia, #childprotectiveservices, #SomalyMam

2 replies on “Cambodia’s Kids for Cash Scheme Echoes Our Own”

When it comes to Sex trafficking the only people the media speak with are the anti-sex trafficking organizations or zealous politicians and no one else. This is a biased one-sided conversation. The media will never question, check or research any of the claims that these groups make. Always taking their word for it and never once researching or questioning their statistics or anything they say. This results in misleading and false reporting by the media and news organizations.
Prostitutes are NOT forced! They do sex work of their own free will. The media, NGO’s and government officials will never admit this or ask the sex workers rights groups or prostitutes themselves about the sex industry.
Here are some good websites about this:

Robert, you profess surprise that CPS are prepared to put up children for adoption when there are plenty of children needing adoption. It makes perfect sense in a warped kind of way and perfectly illustrates the law of perverse incentives. I believe that there are targets and financial incentives to get as many children as possible adopted. It is always easier to place healthy new-borns and these are in short supply with most of the children in care having behavioural and other problems as a result of their experiences both with their birth families and in care.

Furthermore, similarly warped logic supports placing children with foster families, rather that fathers. The former does not create a new status quo and if mum cleans up her act and resolves her problems the children can be returned to her easily. This is not so easy if the children have been living with their father for a substantial period of time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *