Human Trafficking: What is Cambodia Doing About It?

Jody Hanson, Ph.D / Khmer Times No Comments Share:

Boys who are trafficked may end up on a fishing boat. (KT Photo: Billy Otter)
 
PHNOM PENH, (Khmer Times) – In 2013 there were 35 reported cases of human trafficking in the Kingdom. Eighteen led to convictions: eight for forced labor and 10 for coercion into the sex-industry. 
 
Historical Overview
 
“Human trafficking” is a wide ranging term and has a long history. Included under the rubric, for example, is forced labor. Historically, drunk men in Britain were “Shanghaied” and woke up on a ship headed out to sea. Now it may refer to Cambodians who are promised a good job and end up on a fishing boat in Thailand making little or no money. 
 
Another segment is bonded labor or indentured servants. From the 17th to the 19th century that meant an individual agreed to work for a certain period of time in exchange for transportation, food and shelter in North America. Today, it might involve having to repay high fees plus interest to an agent who arranges a job as a maid in Malaysia. 
 
Another development is fake marriages, where young women are promised jobs and are instead sold off as wives who end up as virtual servants. The Chinese one-child policy – which resulted in many females being aborted as parents wanted a son – is beginning to have ramifications.
 
Domestic servitude, being forced into the sex industry and child soldiers are also victims of human trafficking. To strip it to the basics, human trafficking often – but not always – involves poor people who are desperate.
 
What are the rankings?  
 
In 2000, the US State Department passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Using this criteria – which has been updated – the department does an annual assessment of how countries rank in terms of human trafficking.
 
Tier 1 includes countries which fully comply with standards outlined in the TVPA. In this ranking are Canada, New Zealand, Australia and most of western Europe. Some that might not immediately spring to mind are Taiwan, South Korea and Colombia.
 
Tier 2 slips a degree to those that do not fully comply, but are making a significant effort to improve the situation. Cambodia has a tier 2 ranking, along with Hong Kong and China. Perhaps somewhat unexpected; Iceland, Japan and Greece are classified in this category.
 
A sub-division of tier 2 is the watch-list. This ranking applies to countries where the number of victims in increasing and there is little evidence to indicate the problem is being addressed. 
 
In the recent Trafficking in Person (TIP) report Thailand was on the watch-list and, subsequently, downgraded to tier 3. The repercussions may affect the seafood industry, foreign aid and trade with the US and other countries. 
 
Tier 3 is defined as countries that are not meeting the minimum standards and are not making an effort to improve the situation. North Korea, Myanmar and Kuwait – where there are virtually no human rights and no indication of addressing the problem of human trafficking – are rated at this level. 
 
The final category is the “special cases” that are reserved for the worst countries and may be due to severe conflict or natural disasters: Sierra Leone, Haiti and Somalia. 
 
What Action is Cambodia Taking?
 
According to a high ranking official who spoke with the Khmer Times on the agreement of not being identified, “Human trafficking is treated as a serious problem in Cambodia and we are working to eradicate it. We have joined the UN – the same as other Asian countries – to combat the problem. The two predominant trafficking categories are labor and the sex industry.”
 
He continued; “There are various level of surveillance. First of all, there is the national police force. Sub-divided there are also the provincial, the district and the community networks. The people involved in human trafficking are very covert and they use various routes to avoid detection.”
 
“For example, traffickers will arrange that people are going to Japan to study. No. They go there to work for a low salary. Generally what happens is that the trafficked people complain when they don’t get paid and then the authorities can act.”
 
Cambodia is a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking. The traffickers reportedly  are organized crime syndicates, parents, relatives, friends, intimate partners and neighbors. Primary destination countries include Thailand, Malaysia, Macao and Taiwan.
 
Who is trafficked?
 
Men are trafficked for forced labor in agriculture, fishing, and the construction industry; women are trafficked for sexual exploitation, and forced-labor in factories or as domestic servants. Generally, children are trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced-labor, including organized begging rings, soliciting, street vending and flower-selling. 
 
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Youth Rehabilitations found that 76 percent of trafficked people who returned from Thailand came from families who owned land. Further, 93 percent owned their own house and had no debts. Perhaps most shocking, however, is that 47 percent of the victims repeated that it was their mother who had arranged for them to be trafficked. Prices range from a low of US$100 to as much as US$3,000.
 
Nationally, Cambodia has internal trafficking of women and children from rural to urban areas for sexual exploitation. Many victims believe they will be working as domestic servants, but are later coerced into the sex industry.
 
Internationally, Cambodia is a destination country for women and children who are trafficked from Vietnam and China for sexual exploitation. Common destinations for trafficking victims include Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville.
 
A reliable source confirmed that the Cambodian police and Interpol, are working hand-in-hand with counterpart agencies in ASEAN countries to eradicate human trafficking. Their primary focus is the recruitment of domestic help – especially to Malaysia and Singapore –  where these trafficked victims end up as reluctant sex-workers.
 
“We know they are there. In Kuala Lumpur’s Star Walk area they pose as massage girls. Some have knowingly gone to Malaysia and overstayed their visas. Others were lured there by their friends with the promise of good money and a decent lifestyle,” a senior police official confirmed.
 
The same official added that it was a well organized ring and involved various parties, including departments which could have prevented the trafficking from happening. He declined to name the departments or be more specific, other than to point out that it would be apparent to anyone who wanted to investigate the matter further.

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