“We provide crucial help for sexually abused children”: An Interview with Moden Yi from Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE) Cambodia
Moden Yi has been working with APLE Cambodia for over ten years and has worked together with the CPG several times over the past years. He has great experience in combatting child pornography and does so inside a country where NGO work can be particularly difficult. After a recent CPG workshop he attended, we sat down with him for a short interview for our readership.
Could you tell our readers something about the work you do with APLE and what areas you focus on?
My name is Moden Yi, known as Dan, and I am working for Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE) an organisation that primarily fights sexual child abuse online as well as offline. Our work focuses on providing crucial help and support to sexually abused children. In order to achieve this, our work is divided into four different programmes.
The first one is criminal justice development. With it, we help and assist the police force, for example with special training for everyone who is involved here. The second programme is the court support programme, which supports the victims in legal matters. We offer, for instance, free legal support. The third programme is a community engagement programme. In this programme, our purpose is to help the Cambodian society to deal with the topic of child protection. This programme itself is subdivided into three parts: awareness training, networking and online reporting. This means we are organising awareness-sessions and training courses to key stakeholders, local authorities, police officers and key community members. These are key figures who need basic knowledge about child protection which they then pass on to the community. For the networking part, we have our own team as well as volunteer informants. The volunteer informants give us information whenever they see something noticeable or hear about suspect cases. We have more than a hundred of these informants in Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang. They are the eyes and ears of APLE. After we receive information, the criminal justice team will travel to the province in question, inform the police there and support them to investigate the case. For the internet reporting, we have an online reporting platform which you can contact when you find child exploitation materials online. If you send us the link, we use the international system “ICAM” to get the IP address and other information like who is the owner of the website or who is the uploader of the material. We will give the information to the respective law enforcement agency, but our main purpose is to take down the website or the material on the website. The final program is advocacy and research which is about developing new laws or amending existing laws to make them more effective.
What changes have you seen in the last few years? Are numbers of cases increasing or decreasing? Are the offenders more careful? Do you notice a difference in Cambodian society?
I have seen a lot of changes over the last few years. APLE is working with the police and government since 2003 and personally, I started to work with APLE in 2006. Before my time at APLE I worked in different restaurants, hotels and guesthouses. There, I saw almost every day that tourists were going in and out with local children. We reported this to the owner of the business, because at this time, as working staff of the business, our hands were tied and we could not do anything else. However, the owners did not care, they just wanted to make money. They said: “That is their business, not my business. My business is to get the money from the customers, take care of them, it is fine.” Furthermore, the law enforcement was terrible. For example, the Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department did not even believe that child abuse was happening to male children. The hospitals conducted no medical examination for abused boys. Only after they started working with us, they realised the importance of protecting children and that we can help them.
Nowadays this is much improved. In addition to the the police, we are working with more law enforcement as well as the Ministry of Interior. In 2007 for example, there was a case involving a Russian billionaire who abused more than 20 children. He bought motorbikes, cars, land and houses for the children to keep them quiet. It was with this huge case that particularly the police cooperation started to become really good.
Changes regarding the overall situation of child abuse in Cambodia are hard to gauge. Based on our database I can say the number of investigation cases is decreasing but we do not have an official survey which is why the numbers may be biased or incomplete. We simply do not know if the number of investigated cases is really decreasing because we are seeing less abuse, or the offenders moved into the shadows more or are using new techniques which makes them harder to identify and prosecute. For example, in Sihanoukville the number of cases is so small today, that we started to reduce our staff there.
In Cambodia today, opposition lawmakers as well as activists are facing huge headwinds. Can you make any comments on this or whether or not this climate negatively affects your work?
I am not in a position to comment on the persecution of opposition lawmakers and activists in Cambodia. What I can say though, is one thing you have to know about Cambodia: the local authority still thinks that all NGOs are against the government. Therefore, they are very careful and apprehensive about it at times. For us however, we just want to protect the children.