The vast majority of former child sex workers surveyed on behalf of a local NGO said their main clients were Cambodian men.
The executive director of the NGO that commissioned the study described the finding as “very surprising”.
A report detailing the findings of the study states that paedophiles “tend to be Cambodians, rather than foreigners, contrary to the usually held assumption that paedophilia is a Western problem and that Cambodians are not engaged in such activities”.
Chin Chanveasna, executive director of End Child Prostitution, Abuse and Trafficking in Cambodia, said that local demand for commercial sex with children was often overlooked, as NGOs and other stakeholders focused on foreigners.
In the study, done earlier this year and presented at a conference on trafficking, all but one of 43 former child sex workers surveyed in Phnom Penh said their regular clients were Cambodian men.
Of the 13 respondents who reported having sold their virginity, 68 percent said their clients had been Cambodian, according to the study.
Chin Chanveasna said the study, which also surveyed 47 Cambodian men from “male-frequented establishments” such as beer gardens and snooker clubs, found many local men preferred child sex workers.
“Cambodian men prefer beautiful, fair-skinned and younger-looking sex workers – basically minors,” he said, and added that they were often willing to pay a premium for virgins.
“Especially the powerful, the rich people, spend thousands of dollars to have sex with children,” he said.
The study’s “surprising” results had highlighted the fact that more attention needed to be paid to local demand for commercial sex with children, an issue that he said had been the subject of very little research.
The impetus for the ECPAT study, he said, had come from a researcher at Harvard University who wrote the report on its findings.
“The foreign researcher contacted us and suggested doing research on this issue,” he said. “Before this research, even ECPAT overlooked this issue.”
Samleang Seila, director of the child protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfants, said he believed the media’s focus on foreign sex criminals could be one of the main contributors to the misconception that there are fewer local perpetrators of sex crimes.
“We had 12 cases of child rape involving local offenders so far this year – 11 cases were arrested and we sent reports to the media, but very few were publicised,” he said.