On April 17th, 1975, the Khmer Rouge, a communist party in Cambodia led by a man named Pol Pot, captured Phnom Penh and took control of the entire country. Pol Pot brought with him a reign of terror that would last for the next 4 years. Pol Pot immediately ordered the detention and execution of all people in the country that were considered to be enemies of the party. These “enemies” included Buddhist monks, Western-educated intellectuals (apart from themselves), educated people in general, people who had contact with Western countries or with Vietnam, people who appeared to be intellectuals (for example, individuals with glasses), the crippled and lame, as well as ethnic minorities like ethnic Chinese, Laotians and Vietnamese. The only people who were not considered to be enemies of the party were the uneducated peasants.
The new regime led to the death of roughly one third of the countries entire population (estimated between 1.2 to 3 million people) through either starvation, overwork, disease, or murder. Many were tortured to death. The most notable place of torture was a camp simply known as S-21. An estimated 17,000 people were tortured to death at this camp by a variety of means including removing toenails with pliers, suffocating a prisoner repeatedly, and skinning a person while alive. Only 12 people out of the 17,000 are known to have survived this camp.
To keep the urban population from reverting to capitalistic mindsets, Pol Pot ordered the evacuation of every town into the country side. The goal of the Khmer Rouge in this was to effectively drive the country back to a completely agrarian society. Pol Pot believed and announced that only one to two million people were needed to form a new agrarian utopia. All other people were considered a liability and more than expendable.
The urban evacuees, known as “depositees,” as well as many others, were marked for death by the new government. They were placed on starvation rations, forced to dig their own mass graves, and then, because “bullets were not to be wasted,” were either beat to death with iron bars and hoes or buried alive. These mass graves have come to be known as the “killing fields.”
Conflict with Vietnam grew and eventually led to Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1979. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were forced to flee and the regime lost control of the country. Phnom Penh was a ghost city when the Vietnamese found it. Money, which had been made completely useless by the Khmer Rouge under the new “utopia” littered the streets. The entire country was dying of starvation. Due to a very complex political climate, Western governments drug their feet in sending aid due to the very complex international political climate surrounding Cambodia. The only nation making any real attempt at providing aid was that of Vietnam but its resources were limited. Hundreds of thousands continued to perish.
Rebel forces kept the country in a constant state of turmoil through the 80’s and into the 90’s. In March of 1992, the United Nations engaged in its second largest peace keeping mission to date with nearly 17,000 troops and 5,000 civilians. The region finally began to stabilize in 1993 with two of the three main rebel factions putting down their arms to become actively engaged in the political process. In the midst of this shift towards normalcy and peace a new humanitarian crisis was quietly growing. It was at this time that a small number of western peace keepers began to pay the locals to have sex with their children and the seeds of child sex slavery were born. This may not have spelled disaster for many other countries, but Cambodia’s economical, social, and ethical climate made it particularly susceptible to this new cancer.
The children who grew up during Pol Pots reign of terror, and after, knew nothing but starvation, disease, torture and murder.. They grew up in a system that was worse than immoral, it was amoral. The only virtue that they knew was that of surviving by any means necessary. It did not matter what happened to other people as long as “you” survived. It is these same children who now comprise the majority of the countries current day fathers and mothers. It is no wonder that they lack even the slightest concept of remorse for selling their daughters (and sons at times) into the sex trade. The average annual income is less than $350. A family can receive up words of $500 for their daughters virginity from a westerner. Many families give their children to the brothels and share the profits on the continual rape of their child. Young children are subjected to torture day and night and the downward spiral of violence continues to evolve in Cambodia.
To truly bring positive change to this country will take more than increased raids, prosecution, or political pressure on the Cambodian government. The entire country needs a social and ethical enema to put things lightly. How can you tell a mother and father that they can no longer make the best money they have ever seen by selling their child into slavery while not, in turn, offering them the opportunity to support themselves just as well through ethical means? How can you convince a mother (or father) who grew up in an environment saturated in murder and torture to care if it happens to somebody else, even if it is her (or his) child? That is the battle that Agape is fighting every day. That is the battle that Agape is slowly, but steadily winning.