Cambodia has ordered the expulsion of an American Christian group that rescues child sex slaves after it was featured in a recent CNN report, which Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called an "insulting" story as it exposed how some girls were sold by their own mothers.
The authoritarian prime minister called for the closure of Agape International Missions after CNN interviewed three girls from the Svay Pak area near the capital city who had reportedly been sold into the sex trade by their impoverished mothers and later rescued by the Christian group, according to The Phnom Penh Post.
The California-based group AIM, which has been working since 1988, is run in Cambodia by American Pastor Don Brewster.
"This is a serious insult," Hun Sen was quoted as saying. "In many countries, for only drawing cartoons their magazine must be shut down, but in our country, we are insulted [to the point of] saying that mothers sold children to become prostitutes. … We cannot accept this big insult, and we are going to close the NGO involved."
The three girls interviewed by CNN were ethnically Vietnamese.
Hun Sen added, "CNN of the United States deserves to be cursed by Donald Trump. It's not wrong. [I] support President Donald Trump who cursed CNN."
The New York Times quoted Huy Vannak, an official at Cambodia's Interior Ministry, as saying, "They (CNN) portrayed Cambodian girls sold for sex, but the persons they put in the story were Vietnamese — it's like your body is confused with your head."
In the CNN report, a girl named Sephak said she was only 13 years old when she was sold for sex by her mother.
"She was taken to a hospital, issued a certificate confirming her virginity, and then taken to a hotel room where a she was raped for days. She was returned home after three nights," according to CNN.
The girl's mother, Ann, said that she sold her daughter for $800 because the family had debts to pay, and she saw no alternative.
The mother later pressured Sephak to work in a brothel, but said that she regrets her decisions now. Sephak has since joined AIM as a worker, helping other survivors earn money making bracelets and clothing.
Common people in the Southeast Asian country love the Christian group.
AIM has helped rescue more than 700 people with the help of local police over the past dozen years, according to The Cambodia Daily.
A 65-year-old local resident, Motodop Ya Saley, was quoted as saying that he was "very happy" with AIM, which gave his daughter a sewing job. "They help sex trafficking victims to get another skill. They even help the poor children to get an education," he said.
"I used to be nervous sometimes because of the gangsters. They came to find prostitutes and they caused trouble," another resident, Ek Kunthea, was quoted as saying. "There were a lot of prostitutes. But when AIM arrived, they started to be shut down."
"Prostitution was everywhere," a laborer was quoted as saying. "The NGO played a very important role in shutting the prostitution down."
The CNN report, "Life after trafficking: The Cambodian girls sold for sex by their mothers," broadcast on July 25, was a follow-up to a 2013 documentary.
The U.S. State Department's latest Trafficking in Persons report ranked Cambodia as a "Tier 2" country for failing to "fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking." But the report also said the country was making "significant efforts" to improve.