Former sex slave seeks help as 4-year-old found in brothel

Mon Aug 3, 2009 12:54am EDT
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By Belinda Goldsmith

CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) - A former sex slave on Monday launched a global campaign against trafficking, saying the age of girls forced into prostitution keeps getting younger.

Cambodian Somaly Mam, whose eponymous foundation is dedicated to fighting the $12 billion a year sex-trafficking industry, said a four-year-old girl was found last month at a brothel in Cambodia after being reported by a male client.

The youngster had been sold to the brothel by her mother, who is also a prostitute.

She is now being cared for at one of the seven shelters run by the Somaly Mam Foundation in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam set up to protect and rehabilitate girls rescued from sex slavery. The group also has an office in Thailand dealing with repatriation.

"You just have to hold her and stay with her and show her that you love her. Children can become children again," Mam told Reuters as she launched a joint venture with cosmetics retailer The Body Shop to raise awareness of sex trafficking.

"There is this belief that having sex with a virgin will cure you of HIV so there is an increasing market for younger and younger girls. In my time it was girls aged 15 or 16 but it has got younger and younger."

The United Nations estimates that two million women and children are trafficked every year, with 30 percent of these in Asia. Poor families sometimes sell a daughter to pay off debts.