Transacted Children and Virginity: Ethnography of Ethnic Vietnamese in Phnom Penh

Rapport de recherche, 2011, Ho Chi Minh Ville: Alliance Anti-Trafic Viêt Nam

The objective of this study was to confirm the hypothesis that Southern Vietnamese women no longer migrate to Cambodia for prostitution. Preliminary investigations in the capital rapidly confirmed that nowadays the majority of the Vietnamese women involved in commercial sex are Vietnamese who are resident in Cambodia and not new economic migrants from Southern Vietnam. The research objective was therefore redirected toward the study of legal aspects and living conditions of Vietnamese in Cambodia, and the study of two forms of transfer and selling of sexual services of minors: the sale of virginity and the sale of young children.

The sale of virginity is relatively frequent among the elements of our sample. In the case study presented, the mother pushes the family’s economic burden onto her daughters as soon as they are old enough to generate income with their bodies. While according to Confucian precepts parents ought to preserve the virginity of their daughters until marriage, in fact they organize its commodification and monopolize the profits.

The sale of a child for adoption has emerged in these communities. Oral tales and news clips give evidence of a market of children for sale for adoption. Informants involved in the trade make a distinction between the “gift of a child” (cho con) and the “sale of a child” (bán con). The gift is made to families for a payment that is lower than the price of a sale. The sale is negotiated for a price between some hundreds and some thousands of US dollars. The motivations, modus operandi and representations utilized by actors try to make morally acceptable what is otherwise a legally forbidden transaction.