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August 22, Sometime in the late spring of , a year-old Cambodian girl woke up to find herself in a small brothel in her country's capital, Phnom Penh.
Her aunt had drugged her into unconsciousness and handed her over to a brothel owner in exchange for money. When Cheung - a pseudonym - told the brothel owner she wouldn't sleep with his customers, he drugged her again. This time the substance was different. It left her groggily, submissively awake. She was taken to a hotel room where she had no choice but to have sex with several men, she says. After a week in the hotel, she was sent to a brothel in Battambang, Cambodia's second-largest city.
There the proprietor kept Cheung in locked room, once whipping her with an electric cord. She was freed during a police raid in August This year she and other former prostitutes put on a play about their experiences. Her advice would apply not only to girls in Cambodia. In many ways Cheung's story is emblematic of the way in which young people all over the world are drawn into the sex trade. She came from a disrupted home, someone close to her was willing to consign her to a period of sexual slavery in exchange for money, and an industry was in place that could exploit her sexually and even transfer her from one city to another.
A year has gone by since her rescue and Cheung is still recovering. She lives in a shelter in Battambang run by a charitable group, the Geneva-based International Catholic Migration Commission, where she is learning how to be a hairdresser and a restaurant cook.
Her parents died several years ago, so she has no home to return to. Once "sold," women and girls in forced prostitution are often sent someplace else, sometimes to other countries, to work in areas where they are more vulnerable, less able to communicate with people who might help them, and more dependent on their keepers. Indeed, the number of children being "trafficked" in this way is growing, according to human rights groups and child advocates. The scope and the breadth of the trafficking underscores the role that criminal organizations and networks play in forcing children into sexual servitude.