The Cambodian people are, on average, very young, engaged in the difficult search for well being, ready to forget but can no longer ignore the tragedy they suffered.
They are ready to implement concretely, within the limits determined by politics and social conventions, their desire for justice. With public life characterized by corruption and the unscrupulous administration of power; with society marked by terrible evils such, exploitation, Aids and drug addiction … even in the immense and sometimes cluttering presence of international benefactors, Cambodia today is still an uncertain country in which it is not timber, precious stones or the incalculable riches of the Khmer civilization that are being plundered but the lives and dignity of thousands of people. It is a country where the future of many people in the productive age-band – which amounts to 64% of the population – is in danger of being brought to nothing.
The problems of the country derive in part from its past but are present everywhere in daily life, starting with the many needs of the population. An annual pro capita of around $1,000 indicates a poverty band affecting 25% of the inhabitants whose life expectancy is around 63 years. It is encouraging that, together with these facts, there is a high proportion of children attending basic schools but this also results in a higher level of unemployment among educated people, rather than sufficient jobs for all. Among the consequences are large areas of economic and employment neglect with a rural situation that still shows many signs of backwardness. Emigration is high, especially to Thailand.
The textile and footwear industries are vital for the country, given that they produce 80% of Cambodian exports valued at $5 billion, with 700,000 employees, especially women and have a great economic and social impact. The textile industry is the only one that guarantees a minimum wage, due partly to the vast presence of multinational industries that are bound to respect minimum standards, with mixed results.
Consequently, tourism, dependence on international aid, a massive foreign presence but also local requirements and customs, give rise to what is another of the Cambodian “dramas”: the exploitation of human beings.
This is seen also in the “market” of deregulated local and regional work, but also in the sex industry. Sex tourism has, in recent years, made Cambodia a les problematic destination than nearby Thailand and other countries of the region, especially with regard to the prostitution of minors.
The Cambodian constitution prohibits prostitution but there is no specific legislation to protect those involved the citizens caught up in this particular “industry”. Widespread poverty and the near certain guarantee of impunity nourish and sustain lucrative activities at the expense of the Cambodian people. There are also many cases of violence and abuse, few of which are reported. For example, the brokers who go through the villages of the poorest areas of the country, often deceiving families or young women with promises of work and help to pay for studies resort in many cases to violence and drugs to break down resistance when the “victims” come to know they were deceived. Phenomena of prostitution and exploitation are spreading throughout the country but have two centres in Siem Reap, in the North, bordering on the Khmer temple area of Angkor Wat, visited by two million visitors per year, and Sihanoukville in the extreme South, an axis of investments and trafficking, as well as being a rather liberal place of seaside tourism. (S.V.)