Helping Protect Children in Southeast Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Oct. 12, 2005 — Cambodia, one of the world’s poorest countries, has long struggled with a growing concentration of sexual predators targeting Southeast Asian children. According to the United Nations children’s agency, there are roughly 33,000 child sex workers in Cambodia.

This week, Microsoft and British intelligence specialists began a two-week seminar to train approximately 150 Cambodian, Indonesian and Thai law enforcement officials and humanitarian workers how to combat pedophiles who use the Internet to exploit Cambodian children. Many of the officials have never worked with a computer or the Internet, but they will learn PC and Internet basics, as well as how to trace sex offenders to network security.

PressPass spoke with Rich Sauer, Microsoft associate general counsel for the Asia Pacific region, to learn more about the program and Microsoft’s efforts to help promote online safety.

PressPass: How did this seminar come about?

Sauer: We co-organized this seminar with the British Embassy in Cambodia. It all started about a year ago, when Microsoft, the International Center for Missing & Exploited Children and Interpol held a conference on child online safety in Hong Kong. We met people who were as equally passionate about the cause of online safety as we were, and one of them brought our attention to the important work that needed to be done in Cambodia. It didn’t take very long for us to figure out that Cambodia was one of the main countries targeted by Asian and Western pedophiles for their sexual activities. There are possibly a few reasons why that is so – the state of legal infrastructure, level of poverty, lack of integrated social fabric and lack of resources and technical expertise by the Cambodian law enforcement.

While we were exploring how to work or deepen our partnerships with Cambodia, law enforcement and with NGOs, the British Embassy approached us, and we realized then that we had the same level of concern and interest in improving the same social issue. That was how the partnership came about.

Very soon, we were organizing training courses together for Cambodian law enforcement.

PressPass: Is child exploitation a big issue for you in Asia Pacific?

Sauer: Because of the wide cultural gap and wide gap between the rich and the poor, countries in Southeast Asia are a lot more vulnerable to these social issues. There is a role that we can play as a responsible corporate citizen. We have technical and training expertise as well as software and technology that can help make it easier for law enforcement officers to track down sex predators. And that is exactly what we must do as an industry leader and citizen. There are children as young as five years old who are sex abuse victims. And without having the right tools and facilities, law enforcement agencies in these countries are finding it very hard to track down sex predators who are growing bolder by the day.

PressPass: How do sex predators use computers to further their criminal acts?

Sauer: Sex predators today are using sophisticated ways to network. They network on theInternet; they plan tours to Cambodia and other poor countries to pursue their interest; they trade news of police actions and exchange intelligence on local facilitators, etc. They utilize bulletin boards and chat rooms, and use personal e-mails to correspond. They distribute photographs of their exploits via the Net. And in countries like Cambodia where there is simply no infrastructure, it becomes even more difficult to track these pedophiles down.

PressPass: How are law-enforcement agencies being trained these two weeks in Cambodia?

Sauer: We are working very closely with the British Embassy to bring this course together. We have over 150 attendees from Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia who want to find out more about how they can use technology effectively to track down pedophiles – something which they have not been able to learn or do so far.

We have three tracks organized at this two-week training course. The first one is targeted at law enforcers and judiciary groups, with a focus on investigating and prosecuting child sex abuses and the impact of technology. The second track, targeted at the civil society group, focuses on how one can develop child advocates – supporting child safety investigations and protecting children. Lastly, prosecutors and legal professionals can benefit from a workshop that explains the legality behind child sexual abuse, prosecutions and the impact of technology.

We’re hoping that this training session will help the law-enforcement agencies be more active in what seems to be a growing social issue in Cambodia.

PressPass: What else have you done in the other Southeast Asia countries to combat this growing problem?

Sauer: We have partnered with a few NGOs in other Southeast Asia countries, and we are exploring other government partnerships. It is very important that we establish a good public-private partnership in order to work closer together. There is a long road ahead of us. We are hoping that with the training course that we have put together with the British Embassy we can continue to raise awareness and put together a coalition that will help eradicate the problem.

PressPass: How is this related to Microsoft’s focus on online safety?

Sauer: We aim to ensure that our outreach efforts will one day result in a safer online environment. We believe that it is part of our responsibility as a good corporate citizen and industry leader to help protect people, and especially children, who use PCs and the Internet for education, commerce, keeping in touch with friends and family, or entertainment. Our work in Cambodia is another step toward our goal – in addition to our work to protect consumers from malicious code writers, identity theft, unwanted spam and other efforts to protect PCs.

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