Anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection police need broader powers to conduct undercover investigations in order to crackdown on entertainment venues that exploit young women, human rights workers said yesterday.
Field Office Director for International Justice Mission in Cambodia, Patrick Stayton, said at a meeting of the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking in Phnom Penh yesterday that the Ministry of Justice should issue a prakas giving anti-human trafficking police more scope in undercover operations.
“Right now … [police officers] could go into an establishment pretending to be a customer, dressed up in non-police uniform, but what they’re told is that all you can do is make observations,” he said, adding that Cambodian officials feared committing entrapment. “So they can see and listen but they can’t take it a step further.”
While the number of “traditional” brothels had declined due to crackdowns last year, young women largely between the ages of 15 and 17 were hired by “entertainment establishments” such as karaoke bars and beer gardens, where customers could pay a fee to take them off the premises for sex, Patrick Stayton said.
Ten Borany, deputy director of the anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection department at the Ministry of Interior, said yesterday that it was difficult for undercover police to protect workers who leave venues with customers.
“We send undercover police to karaoke bars, nightclubs, beer gardens or guesthouses that hide human trafficking, to observe and monitor … but we cannot arrest [owners and managers] even if we know that they commit human trafficking because it is a drinking venue,” he said.
“The customer and the hostess cannot not talk directly about sex in the venue but if they agree to go somewhere and the hostess agrees to leave with the customer, the police cannot arrest them.”
Under Cambodian law it is not illegal for a female between the ages of 15 and 17 to engage in consensual sex with an adult, Patrick Stayton said.
Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Centre, said yesterday that the authorities often waited for complaints before launching investigations into human trafficking.