“Selling my daughter was heartbreaking, but what can I say?” says Neoung, the mother of a young girl whom she sold into slavery.
Kieu was just 12 when her family ran into trouble with loan sharks in Svay Pak, the neighborhood in Phnom Penh, Cambodia which experts now call the epicenter of child trafficking in the region. Neoung told her daughter she would have to take a job – but she didn’t explain what that job would be.
She then drove her daughter to a hospital where Kieu was examined by a doctor and handed a “certificate of virginity.” After that she was taken to a hotel where a man raped her for two days. For 12-year-old Kieu, it marked the beginning of a years living in and out of brothels in Cambodia and the Thai border.
A CNN crew recently travelled to Phnom Penh to hear Neoung’s story, and the stories of numerous other parents like her – parents who sold their children into slavery.
“It was because of the debt, that's why I had to sell her,” she says. “I don't know what to do now, because we cannot move back to the past.”
Kieu eventually fled her family and is now living in a safe house. She is 14 years old.
Don Brewster, a former pastor, relocated to Cambodia from California his wife Bridget in 2009, after they witnessed firsthand the plight of girls such as Kieu.
“When we came here three years ago and began to live here, 100% of the kids between 8 and 12 were being trafficked,” says Brewster. “We didn't believe it until we saw vanload after vanload of kids.”
Today the Brewsters work with girls like Kieu, who is finding a new path in life – away from her family and far from the brothels where she spent her early teens. Today she says she plans to be a hairdresser.