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Asia

Cambodian Women's Activist Gets Human Rights Award

Cambodian women’s rights activist Somaly Mam has received the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award, a human rights award in Berlin, Germany. Herself a former victim of prostitution, Somaly Mam has been fighting against forced prostitution for over 12 years.

Cambodian women's rights activist Somaly Mam runs the NGO 'Acting for Women in Distressing Situations'.

Cambodian women's rights activist Somaly Mam runs the NGO 'Acting for Women in Distressing Situations'.

Somaly Mam was presented the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award at a ceremony in Berlin this week. As she stepped up on stage to receive the award from German president Horst Köhler, she was visibly moved.

Troubled childhood

‘’When I got the call one morning telling me that I have received the Human Dignity Award, I went to the (NGO’s) shelter and told the girls that we have received a word, it is called dignity. Do you know what dignity means for us? When I was born, I did not know my mother, I did not know my parents. I didn’t even know if Somaly was my real name. People sold me because I was dark-skinned,’’ said Mam, her voice choked with tears.

Mam worked as a domestic slave to an unknown older man at the age of ten, and was sold to a brothel a few years later. There she was subjected to violence, abuse, and malnutrition, until she met a Frenchman named Pierre Lagros who helped her escape from the brothel.

Changing lives of others

Today, through her NGO "Acting for Women in Distressing Situations", Mam helps other women like her. The NGO runs shelters and rehabilitation centres for prostitutes, caring for them and providing them with an alternative education. Today, her beneficiaries are not only in Cambodia, but in other countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.

Mam dedicated the award to the victims in the shelter, who she said inspire her and give her all the love that she missed when she was young. ‘’These girls are five, six, seven years old. They have been raped, some of them have HIV/AIDS. But they stand up and go to school, take their pills, three times a day. They are so strong,‘’ she said.

The award has brought a stronger focus not only on Mam’s extraordinary journey from a victim to an active social worker, but also on the issue of human trafficking in today’s society.

Human trafficking needs more attention

Speaking at the award ceremony, German president Horst Köhler said that abject poverty forced many women into prostitution and prevented them from living a life of dignity.

He said that while globalisation had made it possible for many people to free themselves from poverty, it had also brought to light the distress of people in other parts of the world, and also new forms of human degradation. ‘’We must now work for a better globalisation. A globalisation that is for the benefit of all,'' said Köhler.

Entrepreneur Roland Berger, who instituted the award, said that unsung heroes like Mam need unrestricted support from society.

The Roland Berger Foundation focuses on the issues of slavery and human trafficking, and also provides support to socially disadvantaged youth.

  • Date 28.11.2008
  • Author DW staff 28/11/08
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsAk
  • Date 28.11.2008
  • Author DW staff 28/11/08
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsAk