Bayside Church in Roseville this weekend will host a special screening of a new CNN documentary that examines child sex trafficking in Cambodia and highlights efforts by Sacramento-area residents to combat the problem.
Since 2007, Bayside has sent about two dozen of its members overseas each year to help rescue young girls, said Jim Holst, the outreach pastor.
Because of widespread poverty and lax enforcement, Cambodia has become ground zero for child trafficking. Pimps and even parents sell girls as young as 4 years old into slavery and the sex trade.
Prostitution is legal in Cambodia, and the legal age of consent is 16. Still, 35 percent of the nations 15,000 prostitutes are thought to be underage, according to a UNICEF survey.
Sometimes, teenage girls dont have any choice. Their parents send them to the city for money, said Clayton Butler, director of Siem Reap ministries at Agape International Missions, which focuses on ending child sex slavery. Were helping to provide education, jobs and safe housing.
CNN partnered with actress Mira Sorvino to expose the issue in the documentary CNN Freedom Project: Every Day in Cambodia. The piece features both Agape International Missions and 3Strands, a Vacaville nonprofit that focuses on providing respectable job opportunities for rescued girls and women.
Butler said Agape has four different goals prevention of trafficking, rescue, counseling of victims and reintegration into society.
Its just heart wrenching. After you hear about it, how can you not respond? Holst said, noting that the church has donated $400,000 to the organization thus far.
Agape International Missions, based in Roseville, was founded in 1989 as a humanitarian aid and church planting organization for Cambodia. But in recent years, the missionary organization has shifted its attention to ending child sex slavery.
One of the challenges is reintegrating girls into society.
Established last year, 3Strands runs employment centers or factories, where rescued girls and women can make a respectable living making goods for export. A special woven bracelet featuring a red seed has gained popularity in the United States as a way to increase attention for the sex-trafficking problem in Cambodia.
Theres a holistic approach to their employment, with education being a focus. They are treated with care, said Scott Edwards, executive director of 3Strands. From a monetary perspective, they make three to four times the average wage.
About 70 people work at the three employment centers in Cambodia. More than 60,000 bracelets have been distributed so far.
Were buying freedom for a girl. It allows her a job where she can grow, Butler said.
Sarah Holst, a schoolteacher and wife of Jim Holst, has seen firsthand the problem. Six years ago, she and other church members visited Svay Pak, Cambodia, hoping to counsel and reintegrate girls into society.
Svay Pak, a small town outside the capital of Phnom Penh, has become a hub for child sex trafficking.
We brought in crafts, sang songs and did skits, said Sarah Holst, who worked with 300 children each day during her two-week stay. It was really a joy to watch the smiles on their faces.
Call The Bees Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.