Human Beings to Buy and Sell: Pedocriminal Sex Tourists in Cambodia

For most people, a holiday in the south-east Asian country of Cambodia means kilometres-long white sandy beaches, crystal-clear water and the opportunity to enjoy sites of cultural interest. But it’s not just tourists who simply want to get away from everyday life: this is not only the land of the Khmer, but also that of pedocriminals, looking out for new victims. 


Sex tourism, also known as prostitution tourism, refers to journeys made first and foremost in order to experience sexual encounters with locals of the country being visited. This often happens with people working in the field of prostitution. 

One particularly disturbing problem connected with sex tourism is the fact that minors are exploited in many countries of the world. In recent decades, this sad reality has been strengthened further still by economic crises, the rapidly-growing tourism business and increasing demand for such services. According to estimates by  UNICEF, the children’s aid arm of the United Nations, around 150 million girls and 73 million boys around the world under the age of 18 are forced into sex every year. The real figures could be significantly higher, however.  

Regions where income disparities between the tourists and the local population are very wide, such as South-East Asia, Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe, are particularly vulnerable.  

In addition to this, it is worth mentioning that we often also refer to “abuse of children in tourism” rather than “sex tourism” in relation to this field, since, in a certain way, the latter term is misleading. The word “tourism” gives the impression of an exotic holiday, and by doing so, conceals the actual gravity of the act, since there is no such thing as “consenting (holiday) sex“ between children and adults. 

In contrast to the assumption that the children have “voluntarily” decided to sell their bodies for sex, prostitution is not a question of choice for the children affected. Rather, they are forced into this “industry” based on external circumstances such as poverty, violence at home, misleading promises, blackmail or threats. As a result, the girls and boys affected suffer considerable health-related, psychological and social damage.


According to  Franck Michel, Anthropologist and Lecturer in Tourism Science at the University of Corsica, there is no such thing as a “typical sex tourist”. The stereotype of the white, western, wealthy sex tourist, middle-aged with paedophile tendencies, is not actually so close to reality, he says. Because nowadays, the sex tourist is increasingly merging with the mass of tourists, and as a result, is hard to distinguish from other travellers. According to estimates, around 4,000 Austrian men are believed to travel abroad regularly to abuse children while there. 

This goes back to two core factors, according to Franck Michel. Firstly, many men in the west are experiencing a kind of sexual identity crisis, which can lead them to have doubts about their own manliness, increased competition and existential angst. This drives some to seek out sexual contact in eastern and southern countries. 

Secondly, globalisation is having a significant influence on the exploitation of children. Both tourism and the sex industry are profiting strongly from this global networking.

As a result, some people become occasional abusers. These are people who exploit children sexually, not because they had planned to do so because taking their journey, but because the opportunity to do so is offered – a shocking reality. While abroad, they feel safer and less observed. and are often less fearful of the legal consequences due to their status as a tourist. Even if the crime takes place abroad, however, they can be punished for it in Austria.  


According to information provided by various aid organisations, around  400,000 are said to have travelled to Cambodia for this reason and this reason alone. Although prostitution is officially forbidden in Cambodia, business with “human” goods is widespread. The extreme economic crisis, which is being suffered by numerous people in Cambodia, is driving many young girls and boys into prostitution. Some decide to go into prostitution themselves, in the hope of making life easier for themselves and their families, while others are offered for sale by their own parents.

The prices human traffickers pay for the children range from the equivalent of 8 to 80 euros. By comparison, locals often earn as little as 50 cents a day, which they have to use to cover their basic needs to ensure their survival. According to estimates, around one-third of all prostitutes in Cambodia are under 18 years of age. As payment – if anything – they are often given one euro or drugs designed to make them more compliant. If and when they are eventually saved, most of the children are deeply traumatised. Unfortunately, the financial resources needed to get them professional help are usually lacking.

On top of all this, there is the fact that, even in a business as dirty as this, hardly anyone stops to think about protection against disease. Very few men are prepared to use condoms. Some even prefer children, as they believe the risk of being infected with HIV is lower. The HIV epidemic often spreads rapidly, and nowhere in South-East Asia is the rate of people infected with HIV higher than in Cambodia. According to information from UNICEF, more than 130,000 people in the population of twelve million live with the virus, 59,000 of whom are women aged 15 or older.


A special reporting point has been set up at the Austrian Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt or BK) to deal with cases of child pornography and child sex tourism. As it is extremely rare for children to talk about such incidents, it is highly important that any suspicion or tip-off be passed on to the reporting point at the BK or your local police office. 

Please don’t delay in reporting any sign of suspicious behaviour to the following e-mail address:
You can also report your suspicious cases or tip-offs of sexual violence against children at the site

Translated by Tim Lywood

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