Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

US State Department: Cambodia's Trafficking in Persons Report 2010

Country Narratives
Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Trafficking in Persons Report 2010


Cambodia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children who are subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor and forced prostitution. Cambodian men, women, and children migrate to Thailand, Malaysia, and other countries for work and many are subsequently forced into commercial sexual exploitation or forced to labor in the Thai fishing and seafood processing industry, on agricultural plantations, in factories, in domestic work, or for begging and street selling. Debt bondage is sometimes a factor that contributes to the vulnerability of Cambodians to trafficking. Some Cambodian men report being deceived by Thai fishing boat owners about the expected length of service and the amount and circumstances of their payment; some remain at sea for up to several years, and report witnessing severe abuses by Thai captains, including deaths at sea. The number of workers who went to Malaysia for employment through Cambodian recruiting companies tripled in 2009, and many of these were believed to be under the age of 18. Recruiting agencies often charge $500-$700 in fees, which includes fees for several months of required pre-departure training provided by the recruiting agencies. Recruits are sometimes detained in training centers during the pre-departure training period, and the fees make workers more vulnerable to debt bondage. Some workers are reportedly subjected to confinement and conditions of involuntary servitude in, Saudi Arabia, and other destination countries, and some returning Malaysia workers reported being paid only at the end of their contract, at which time they were also informed that a substantial part of their pay was deducted. Cambodian children are also trafficked to Thailand and Vietnam to beg, sell candy and flowers, and shine shoes. Parents sometimes sell their children into conditions of forced labor, including involuntary domestic servitude.

Within the country, Cambodian and ethnic Vietnamese women and children are trafficked from rural areas to Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville for commercial sexual exploitation. The Svay Pak brothel area of Phnom Penh remains a hub for child prostitution, despite attempts by authorities to close it down. Children are also subjected to forced labor, including being forced to beg, scavenge refuse, work in quarries, and work in the production and processing of bricks, rubber, salt, and shrimp. Cambodia is a destination for Vietnamese women and girls trafficked for forced prostitution. The sale of virgin girls continues to be a serious problem in Cambodia, with foreign (mostly Asian) and Cambodian men paying up to $4,000 to have sex with virgins. A significant number of Asian and other foreign men travel to Cambodia to engage in child sex tourism. Some Cambodians who migrate to Taiwan and South Korea through brokered international marriages may subsequently be subjected to forced prostitution or forced labor.

The Government of Cambodia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Law enforcement efforts stepped up significantly, resulting in a significant increase in convictions over the prior year. However, impunity, corruption, and related rent-seeking behavior continue to impede progress in combating trafficking in persons. Authorities reported one conviction of a public official for trafficking-related corruption during the year. Labor trafficking among Cambodians migrating abroad for work is a growing problem that will require greater attention from authorities in the coming year.

Recommendations for Cambodia:

Conduct robust investigations and prosecutions of government officials involved in trafficking activities; hold labor recruitment companies criminally responsible for illegal acts committed during the recruitment process, such as debt bondage through exorbitant fees, detention of workers during pre-departure training, and recruitment of workers under age 18; expand efforts to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, including the institution of nationwide victim identification procedures and referrals to adequate victim services; institute a law to regulate the recruitment, placement, and protection of migrant workers going abroad; engage governments of destination countries on the protection of migrant workers, as well as the safe repatriation of Cambodian trafficking victims and the prosecution of their traffickers; continue to prosecute criminal cases involving trafficking for both forced prostitution and forced labor; continue to train and sensitize law enforcement and court officials about trafficking, proactive identification of victims, victim referral procedures, and victim-sensitive handling of cases; improve interagency cooperation and coordination between police and court officials on trafficking cases; institute procedures to ensure victims are not arrested, incarcerated, or otherwise punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; and conduct a public awareness campaign aimed at reducing demand by the local population and Asian visitors for commercial sex acts.


The Government of Cambodia demonstrated significant progress in law enforcement efforts against sex trafficking during the last year. The February 2008 Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation covers a wide variety of offenses, with 12 of its 30 articles explicitly addressing trafficking offenses. The law prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. During the reporting period, authorities convicted 36 trafficking offenders, compared with 11 convictions in 2008; all but one of these convictions were for sex trafficking. While there were increasing reports of Cambodian migrant workers falling victim to trafficking due to exploitative conditions in destination countries, including Malaysia, the government has never criminally prosecuted or convicted any labor recruiters whose companies were involved in labor trafficking. In February 2010, the Phnom Penh municipal court convicted a woman for the forced labor of an 11-year-old girl enslaved as a domestic worker; the woman was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, and two related offenders were also sentenced to imprisonment.

The government partnered with NGOs to train over 4,000 police, social workers, court officials, and other employees on the 2008 law and its enforcement. There remain a large number of officials, particularly provincial-level police, who still need training. Consequently, confusion of trafficking offenses with other trafficking-related crimes such as prostitution, pornography, and child sex abuse is a sporadic occurrence, and some officials believe that enforcing laws against non-trafficking sex crimes contributed to efforts to combat trafficking. Judges and prosecutors sometimes continued to classify trafficking cases under non-trafficking articles and laws, or prosecuted non-trafficking cases using trafficking statutes. In March 2010, Cambodian police conducted raids in several cities on establishments suspected of engaging in “immoral” activities, but did not make sufficient efforts to arrest perpetrators for human trafficking offenses or identify trafficking victims, including children in prostitution. In one case, an NGO reported that military police in Sihanoukville kept the women and girls who were rounded up from multiple sites and offered them back to establishment owners for $50 a person. The government licensed 26 companies to send laborers to Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan that frequently work with independent brokers to locate potential workers. Authorities are negotiating additional labor agreements with other countries in Asia and the Middle East. However, Cambodia does not have a law to regulate the recruitment, placement, and protection of migrant workers, or to provide specific criminal penalties for negligent or exploitative recruitment agencies. During the year, police arrested one labor broker for the unlawful removal of nine children with the intent of selling them to work as servants in Malaysia; the broker is in pre-trial detention. A June 2009 inspection of a recruitment agency revealed that 20 of the 57 females questioned were under the age of 18, but the government did not arrest any labor export company officials during the year for such practices.

Impunity, corruption, and related rent-seeking behavior continue to impede anti-trafficking efforts. Police and judicial officials are both directly and indirectly involved in trafficking. Some local police and government officials extort money or accept bribes from brothel owners, sometimes on a daily basis, in order to allow the brothels to continue operating. Authorities prosecuted and convicted one public official who accepted $250,000 in exchange for forging documents intended to secure the release of a convicted child sex offender. Authorities did not prosecute the former president of Cambodia’s appeals court, who reportedly accepted $30,000 in 2008 for the release of brothel owners convicted of trafficking; the official remains employed with the Cambodian government.


The Government of Cambodia demonstrated limited efforts to protect victims of trafficking during the year. In August 2009, the Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSAVY) issued a new “Policy and National Minimum Standards for the Protection of the Rights of Victims of Human Trafficking,” which includes guidelines to improve victim treatment and protection, and began to train officials on the use of these standards. However, the effects of this policy have yet to be seen. The government lacks national procedures and sufficient resources for training to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as foreign women and children arrested for prostitution. Raids in March 2010 against “immoral” activities were not conducted in a manner sensitive to trafficking victims and did not involve trained anti-trafficking police or anti-trafficking organizations to assist in identifying or assisting potential trafficking victims. The government continued to refer victims to NGO shelters, but did not itself offer further assistance. There were not enough places in NGO shelters to accommodate all trafficking victims; this was particularly true for children, and specifically boys, which negatively affected authorities’ ability to carry out additional victim rescues.

MOSAVY reported that local police referred 535 victims of sex trafficking to provincial offices during the year (compared with 505 in 2008) who, in turn, referred victims to NGO shelters. Authorities worked with NGO partners to repatriate 11 female victims to Vietnam during the year. Building on technical assistance from an international organization, MOSAVY began to interview persons repatriated from Vietnam to help identify trafficking victims, and reported identifying 143 labor trafficking victims in this way. MOSAVY provided transportation assistance to return the victims to their home communities, but lacked the resources to provide further assistance. In partnership with UNICEF, MOSAVY also identified 83 Cambodian victims who had been repatriated from Thailand as trafficking victims; those victims remained briefly at a transit center jointly operated by the government and UNICEF in Poipet and were provided some reintegration assistance while officials conducted family tracing. Authorities encouraged victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions of traffickers. Cambodia’s weak judicial system, the lengthy legal process, and credible fears of retaliation are factors influencing victims’ decisions to seek out-of-court compensation in lieu of criminal prosecution. Victims who participate in the prosecution of their traffickers are not provided witness protection – a significant impediment to successful law enforcement efforts. Although victims legally had the option of filing civil suits to seek legal actions against their traffickers, most did not have the resources to do so, and the government did not provide assistance to victims for this purpose. In December 2009, the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Vietnam on victim identification and repatriation.


The Government of Cambodia continued some efforts to prevent trafficking in persons in partnership with international organizations and NGOs. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs maintained programs to prevent the trafficking of children to Vietnam for begging. The Ministry also held “Anti-Human Trafficking Day” ceremonies in December 2009 in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Poipet, which brought together several thousand Cambodian officials, civil society, and the public to increase awareness of trafficking, and was widely publicized on local television stations. Authorities cooperated with several international organization partners to produce radio programs on human trafficking. The Ministry of Tourism produced billboards, magazine advertisements, and handouts targeted to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, though these efforts should be expanded. Authorities convicted nine child sex tourists during the year and initiated prosecutions against at least 17 other foreigners, including a Korean karaoke bar owner and two more Japanese citizens involved in the commercial sexual exploitation of children. State-run media ran anti-child sex tourism messages, as well as several television programs in Khmer targeted at the local population to discourage demand for child sex. Cambodian military forces participating in peacekeeping initiatives abroad received training on trafficking in persons prior to deployment.

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