I Am the Mother Too: Reflections on The Women Who Sold Their Daughters


A neighborhood in Cambodia is a global hotspot for the child sex trade. The people selling the children? Too often, their parents. CNN Freedom Project and Mira Sorvino, award-winning actress and human rights activist, investigate.
By Tim Hume, Lisa Cohen and Mira Sorvino
Photography by Jeremie Montessuis for CNN

Blog By Sue Wallingford

From all the stories that I have read about the trafficking industry and the selling of children for sex in Cambodia, I think this one by CNN, The Women Who Sold Their Daughters Into Sex Slavery struck me most.  Perhaps it’s because I’m a mother myself, so to even imagine the idea of selling my daughter to someone as a means toward their sexual gratification makes me ill.  But instead of turning away, I am transfixed.  There is so much I can’t imagine about this industry, as a human being, much less a mother.  And despite the horrific and unbelievable nature of this crime, the selling of sex is one of the fastest growing industries, both at home and abroad, even by mothers, causing me deep reflection about the moral fiber of humankind and my place in it.

It would be, and has been, easy for me to respond to such atrocities as a mother selling her own child to the sex trade with utter disbelief, disgust and epic amounts of judgment.  I would rather separate myself from “these people,” the pimps, the johns, the brothel owners, and these mothers, and claim myself as someone better than that.  But the truth is, I am as much a part of the problem as I am the solution.  My privilege alone affords me the opportunity to separate myself from “them,” because I have no idea what it is like to be “them.”  Oh so convenient.

One thing I have learned from the many visits to Cambodia that I have made, working with our partners, the study and research of the history and culture, and the many conversations I have had with the Cambodian people, is that the Cambodian people are complex.  Their history of trauma, that has become endemic to their culture, the corrupt political system that has for decades oppressed and victimized them, poor treatment from neighboring countries, a near absence of healthcare and education, and the extreme poverty that more that 90% of the population knows creates a system that breeds fear, mistrust, hatred, and the most primitive of survivor skills.  To just live from one day to the next without starving, having your home taken, or being physically harmed is the reality for far to many Cambodian people.  And yet, I would characterize the Cambodian people as some of the dearest and kindest peoples I have ever encountered.  They are a paradox to me for sure. It is hard for me to understand because unlike them, I am well above Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  I have never wanted or needed like my South-Asian friends.

But this story made it different for me. When I gaze upon the faces of the mothers in this story my heart breaks, and I don’t feel so removed or so separate, because I don’t see monsters. I see fellow women, mothers, their faces etched with deep fear, unbearable shame and despair, having bared years and generations of inexplicable trauma. I can’t avoid the pain because I know they are victims too.  And there is something in their faces, despite our apparent differences that is familiar.

As stated before the Cambodian people are complex, made from their long-standing history of trauma and we can see it being played out in this story by CNN.  The parents today, the mothers and fathers, were the children of the Khmer Rouge, who watched their families being brutally murdered, along with the monks, teachers, healers and artists, before they were forced to fight for the cause.  The parents they had are gone, the grandparents aunts and uncles who are supposed to guide them are all dead. The political system today, the children too, instead of coming to the aid of the people, continues to violate and oppress, forcing families in deep debt, taking homes and demanding people work for $2 a day in a garment factory that clothes me and you.  There is little direction coming from the elder population about the way to live in peace in harmony, or what is right and good in bringing up children.

So why not prostitute your child when it could feed your whole family?  Which is worse, a whole family starving or a whole family surviving at the sacrifice of one?   And a body is not expendable and can be used over and over again, yielding a lot of money.  So why work in garment factory for 2$ a day when you can make $50 a day or more servicing men, especially if you can save your whole family.  Why not?  What is the moral obligation?  What would you do if you had been brought up in the same situation?

There is a poem by Thich Nhat Hanh about a young girl, a pirate and himself.  The poem came to him after a meditation about the problem of piracy off the coast of Siam, where many boat people, women and children were being raped and killed while seeking refuge in camps along the Southeast Asia border.  I think it relevant for this story.

Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow

because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

We are inter-connected, I believe this is true.  I am both the victim and the perpetrator and in this story – I am the child being raped, the pimp who abuses and holds the child hostage, the John who rapes the child and the mother who sells the child.  I am responsible, I have to see the truth, and I have to do something about it to make things better.  You?

“The Teachings of the Elders”: Precept Day in Cambodia by Nathan Thompson

An Expat Joins ‘Precept Day’ in Cambodia

By Nathan Thompson

Article obtained from Khmer440.com.

I first became aware of Precept Day when I was awoken from sleep by the sound of 20 ancient Khmers chanting outside my bedroom door. The old people were sat on the tiled floor of the head monk’s residence chanting some mystical language.

The males sat on one side and the females on the other while the head monk sat fanning himself on a throne-like wooden chair. It took me seven months to work out what they were doing and one more month to try it myself.

In Cambodia religion is inextricably tied to everyday life. Most people practice Theravaden Buddhism which means “The Teachings of the Elders,” and is the oldest version of the Buddhist faith dating back 2300 years.

It is has lasted so long because of a sacred agreement between the monks and the lay people. The lay people support the monks and in return the monks preserve the Buddha’s teachings and work to free themselves of imperfections such as selfishness and desire so they can be of service to the community.

In order to be of maximum benefit Cambodian monks observe 227 rules. Indeed, one of their first tasks after ordaining is to learn all of them by heart. Buddhist laypeople are expected to keep five rules also known as precepts. They are: no killing, no stealing, no lying, no sexual misconduct and no taking of intoxicants.

If you are wondering why not many Cambodian’s stick to them it is because that, in Buddhism, there is no God, no permanent “you” and no afterlife. The absence of a vengeful deity idly twirling the keys to the gates of Hell waiting for you when you die seems to make the necessity of living an ethical life lose its force.

Precept Day falls on new, half and quarter moons. On this day laypeople can choose to follow an upgraded precept system and take eight precepts. As well as the usual five three more are added. They are: no eating between 12pm and 6am, no entertainments and no sitting or sleeping on comfy beds and chairs.

I class myself as a practicing Buddhist having begun in the Western Vipassana movement which is purely based on meditation and then learning the sacred practices of Cambodian and Thai Buddhism while living here.

So there I was on Precept Day sitting on the floor with the old people having twisted myself into the traditional posture with both feet swept to one side just about tolerating the pain it was causing in my right hip. In my hands was my Kindle with the relevant religious chants showing in romanised form.

I joined in with two chants in Pali – the ancient language of the Buddha. The first was the “Three Refuges” which is something like the Christian profession of faith. It confirms you are a Buddhist by “going for refuge in the teaching of the Buddha”. The second chant involved vowing to observe the eight precepts for the day. Then I handed over 1000Riel, did various bows and received approving nods and smiles from the old people who were sat around me.

Cambodian people love their religion and I have found my own attempts to practice it have been met with encouragement and pleasure. Indeed, when a woman in the village found out I would be joining in on Precept Day she walked 3km barefoot to deliver lunch to me to make sure I ate enough given that I would be observing the precept not to eat between 12pm and 6am. By supporting my spiritual practice the woman was practising generosity which one of Buddhism cardinal virtues. She was also making merit for herself.

The idea of making merit has to do with the concept of rebirth. There is a debate about whether or not the Buddha taught rebirth. Those who believe he did preach the concept of merit: that if you give gifts (especially gifts to the monks) you will get a good rebirth in the next life. While those reformists of the 20th Century argued that the Buddha never taught reincarnation and the idea of “making merit” was something of a racket. They raised the question that if people began to believe that their gifts got them no reward in a future life would they still give them?

Leaving aside the ability of my actions to affect any future rebirth, there was plenty of benefit to be found practicing the eight precepts on this day. It gave me an excuse to turn off my phone, laptop and Kindle and free myself from the glittering screens of the internet with its exciting stories and videos. I didn’t find myself bored in their absence; instead a mellow feeling of relaxation pervaded. In this respect, Precept Day is similar to the Jewish Sabbath, when Orthodox Jews will not allow themselves to drive or even operate a light switch.

Giving myself this respite from the trappings of modernity resulted in a kind of psychic renewal of the kind you might feel after returning from a relaxing beach break.

The effect of all this was to bring myself more into the present moment which, as anyone with who has had the vaguest brush with Eastern spirituality will tell you, is an important part of realizing the sacredness of life.

I felt more connected to my village community. The Cambodian’s have such a great affection for their religion that by practicing it with them I was able to more to integrate my Barang self.

The hunger of not eating past 12pm was not as bad as you would expect but I did find it difficult to sleep, thinking as I was, of those delicious dumplings served by Chinese Noodle on Monivong.

And now, as the temple gears up for the latest in what seems like weekly religious festivals, I find myself looking forward to sitting again with the ancient Khmers on Precept Day so I can remove myself from the pressures of work and modernity and experience a more idle and peaceful life.

If you want to join in Precept Day talk to your local temple. Relevant chants can be found here: http://www.suanmokkh-idh.org/talks/chanting-book-ver1-02.pdf


The Women Who Sold Their Daughters Into Sex Slavery

If you took the Slavery Footprint survey yesterday you may have felt overwhelmed, angry, or even embarrassed about your contribution to modern-day slavery and human trafficking. Let’s take a step back and see how our global society has created an atmosphere that enables people to be treated and sold as objects.

Please click on the link below to hear the story of a Cambodian mother who sold her daughter to the sex trafficking industry. This article was written by Tim Hume, Lisa Cohen, and Mira Sorvino and published by CNN.


Slavery Footprint

BOqHhy3dtHsJanuary is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and a time for us to unite with other organizations also attempting to end these unspeakable crimes.

Our daily actions contribute to this global injustice. Please check out your impact by taking this survey at http://slaveryfootprint.org/

To learn how and why this survey was created check out Made In A Free World’s video at http://youtu.be/nOiJ81-JeIA.

Continue to check in with us everyday this month to see how you can learn more and get involved.