Limited understanding of child sexual abuse in the South East Asia puts children at risk

Bangkok, Thailand- Many adults and children in Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam have a limited understanding of what constitutes child sexual abuse and how to prevent it, revealed a new report, Sex, Abuse and Childhood: A study about knowledge, attitudes and practices relating to child sexual abuse, including in travel and tourism, in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam.

The report, released today by Project Childhood Prevention Pillar, found that most  children and adults understood child sexual abuse narrowly as the penetrative rape of girls. Other sexually abusive acts (such as inappropriate touching or exposure to pornography) were not generally recognised as well as the sexual abuse of boys.

“Limited understanding of child sexual abuse by children and adults means that cases can go undetected ,” says Aarti Kapoor, Program Manager, Project Childhood Prevention Pillar. “We know that child sexual abuse often begins with grooming children, inappropriate speech and touching and escalates to more serious forms of abuse over time. Child sex offenders are often known to the family and target both girls and boys; however there was little understanding of this amongst the people we talked to.” 

More than 600 children and adults in Thailand, Vietnam, Lao PDR and Cambodia were interviewed in the study that was released today in Bangkok, Thailand, on the eve of International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression.

Of all the groups interviewed, parents had the lowest levels of understanding on the issue of child sexual abuse. 

“Lack of awareness of the basics of child sexual abuse means that parents are unlikely to identify risks and cases early within abusive relationships”, says Afrooz Kaviani Johnson, Technical Director, Project Childhood Prevention Pillar. “Parents might miss opportunities to intervene and a lack of understanding can also affect their overall response to the needs of the child.”

The report recommends child sexual abuse prevention education, particularly for parents and carers, children and community members. “We know from international experience that child sexual abuse prevention education is an effective preventative mechanism to build resilience against abuse in vulnerable communities”, says Ms Aarti Kapoor. “Children and adults need the information, skills and strategies to protect children from all kinds of sexual abuse – whether committed by a stranger, foreigner, local person, friend or family member”. 

The full report, Sex, Abuse and Childhood: A study about knowledge, attitudes and practices relating to child sexual abuse, including in travel and tourism, in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam, an Executive Summary and Key Findings snapshot are available for download at

Media enquiries:

Mark Nonkes, Regional Communications Officer - East Asia


About Project Childhood 

Project Childhood is a 4-year Australian Government initiative to combat the sexual exploitation of children in tourism in the Mekong sub-region which is completing in June 2014. Project Childhood has built on Australia’s long-term support for programs that better protect children and prevent their abuse. Project Childhood brought together World Vision and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to address the serious issue of sexual exploitation of children in tourism. The project worked in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam and took a dual prevention and protection approach.

World Vision took a child safe tourism approach in working with governments and communities to prevent children from becoming victims of sexual exploitation in travel and tourism. Through the use of education and training, public campaigns, and strengthening of child helplines; governments, communities, and tourism industries are better aware of the vulnerabilities of at-risk children to sexual exploitation in travel and tourism and better equipped to build a protective environment. UNODC worked with law enforcement agencies to protect children through strengthening law enforcement responses. Through the increased knowledge of law enforcement and stronger regional and international cooperation, governments are better equipped to identify and counter child sexual exploitation.