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Cate DeMetrovich

Dr. Chin

Core 201

2 November 2017

Cambodia: A Society Struck by the Impact of Genocide

Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia and is home to about 15.5 million people (Lum

35). It is considered one of the poorest countries in the world (Sodhy 153). The high levels of

poverty derive from all of the tragedy that has occurred in its past. The Khmer Rouge, a

Communist party led by Pol Pot, took over Cambodia in 1975, which led to a complete

destruction of society (Khmer Rouge History). The Cambodian society has had to rebuild itself

from a state of nothing. Due to the slow rehabilitation of society, many social problems have

arisen, such as sex trafficking (Davy 800). The genocide led to the deaths of many of their

educated people, along with their Buddhist morals, resulting in the perfect location to build the

sex trafficking industry.

Despite all of the tragedy that has occurred in Cambodia, the country still has a rich

culture. Cambodia is located between Thailand and Vietnam and encompasses about 70,000

square miles, which is about the size of Missouri. Their government currently rules as a

parliament under a constitutional monarchy. Also, about 95 percent of the population practices

Theravada Buddhism, which is considered their national religion (Lum 35). Their religion plays

a major part in their everyday lives. The Buddhist temple complex is central to community life.

On the other hand, corruption plays a major part in society. Many people do not trust the police

and judicial systems because of the large amounts of corruption in their society (Marston).
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Overall, the country has had a difficult time rebuilding after the Khmer Rouge rule, which only

ended around 40 years ago.

During the 1940s in Cambodia, the communist movement began as a result of the

struggle against French colonization. This movement was drastically influenced by the

Vietnamese. With Americans’ help, Marshall Lon Nol, a Cambodian politician, staged a

revolution to overthrow Prince Sihanouk as head of state. He was successful in this coup and

planned to turn Cambodia into a capitalist country. At the same time of this revolution, the

Khmer Rouge was gaining power and planned to take over, wanting to instill the communist

values on the Cambodian people. With the help of the Vietnamese, the Khmer Rouge continued

to defeat Lon Nol’s forces so much so that the Vietnamese withdrew their help. By 1973, the

Khmer Rouge controlled about 85 percent of the country. With backing from the United States,

Lon Nol was able to hold them off for another two years. Eventually the capital, Phnom Penh,

fell to the communist forces. On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge had complete control of

Cambodia (Khmer Rouge History).

During the three-year genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge, some historians have argued

that it “may proportionately have been the worst bloodbath of the 20th century” (Puddington 49).

Cambodia was completely isolated during these three years. The government did not allow

foreigners to enter, and they would be tortured or executed if they did. Some aspects of daily life

during the rule were reeducation camps, the execution of dissenters, religious persecution, and

transformation of agricultural work into prison-camp labor. The Khmer Rouge put a huge

emphasis on the agricultural industry during their rule, mostly due to their outward hatred of

urban life. This hatred stemmed from their opposition to private property. The Khmer Rouge also

destroyed organized religion. Before these three years, there were about 60,000 to 80,000
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Buddhist monks; however, there are now less than 1,000 practicing. Another aspect that they

destroyed was family life, and they planned to regulate sexual relations, marriage, and the raising

of children. To control this, they assigned each person a new monosyllabic name. Nobody could

use endearing names for each other such as “mother” or “father,” but instead has to use the word

met, meaning comrade. The biggest struggle for most was finding food. Food was now

distributed based on the class that one belonged to. Membership in a low social class was usually

a death sentence by starvation. The Khmer Rouge used the communist ideology to justify these

horrendous crimes (Puddington 49-54).

To continue his rule, Pol Pot used children to build his army. He highly favored youth

from isolated and destitute regions of Cambodia because they were the most anti-urban. To train

the youth, he used animal torture. He wanted them to look at violence, pain, and killing with

indifference. He forced them to dismember and burn domestic animals such as dogs or monkeys.

He believed that this would begin “hardening their hearts and minds” (Puddington 53). The

youth were also given the responsibility of educating and training other child soldiers to build

their army. Many historians consider this army one of the most effective guerrilla movements in

history. These child soldiers served as a major weapon for the Khmer Rouge (Puddington 53-54).

Sex trafficking is popular throughout many Southeast Asian countries. The legal

definition of sex trafficking is “the illegal business of recruiting, harboring, transporting,

obtaining, or providing a person and especially a minor for the purpose of sex” (Sex Trafficking

Legal Definition). In Cambodia, the sex trafficking industry is heavily influenced by the history

of civil conflict. The country has been extremely slow to recover, and the poverty levels make it

the perfect environment for this industry to flourish. Due to the immense number of deaths

during the Khmer Rouge rule, a drastic number of the population is all around the same age,
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making unemployment rates exceedingly high. Since there is not much work to be found in

Cambodia, many are susceptible to the grasp of traffickers. On the other hand, the government is

still quite corrupted, making it difficult to pass laws limiting this from happening (Davy 799-


The sex trafficking industry has flourished since the end of the Khmer Rouge rule in

Cambodia. Many people argue that this is due to the slow reconstruction of society, but

unemployment also plays a major role. The Khmer Rouge rule completely obliterated the

Cambodian society, along with all of its systems in place. To have any chance of removing the

sex trafficking industry from society, they must start at the beginning and rebuild their society,

starting with the structure of the government.

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Works Cited

Davy, Deanna. "Understanding the Complexities of Responding to Child Sex Trafficking in

Thailand and Cambodia." The International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 34.11

(2014): 793-816. ProQuest. Web. 2 Nov. 2017.

Hume, Tim. "Child Sex Trafficking: Why Cambodia?" CNN. Cable News Network, 12 Dec.

2013. Web.

"Khmer Rouge History." Cambodia Tribunal Monitor. Northwestern University School of Law

Center for International Human Rights and Documentation Center of Cambodia, n.d.



*." Current Politics and Economics of South, Southeastern, and Central Asia 25.2

(2016): 33-49. ProQuest. Web. 31 Oct. 2017.

Marston, John. "Cambodia." Countries and Their Cultures. Advameg, Inc., n.d. Web.

Puddington, Arch. "Pol Pot in Retrospect." Commentary 04 1987: 49. ProQuest. Web. 2 Nov.


"Sex Trafficking Legal Definition." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web.

Sodhy, Pamela. "MODERNIZATION AND CAMBODIA." Journal of Third World Studies21.1

(2004): 153-74. ProQuest. Web. 2 Nov. 2017.

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