CorruptION among police and high-ranking officials is contributing to a growing human
trafficking problem in Cambodia, according to consensus opinion of women's rights
groups, police and government officials.
At an October 3 workshop on the trafficking and sexual exploitation of children,
Minister for Women's and Veterans Affairs, Mu Sochua, called on the government to
fight corruption in the police and judiciary that helps perpetuate the problem.
"The obligation to work against human trafficking not only belongs to the government
and NGOs," said Sochua. "The participation of parents is also necessary.
The perpetrators have to be punished."
Serey Phal Kien, executive director of the Cambodian Women's Development Association
(CWDA), said that traffickers were increasingly using the country as a staging post
to send teenage girls and women to work abroad in the sex industry.
"Trafficking here is constantly growing and changing in both its form and level
of complexity. Cambodia has become a center for both sending and receiving [trafficked
people]," she said.
Chanthol Oung, executive director of the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center, said that
human trafficking to Thailand through Poipet had doubled in the past year.
Chanthol said her figures showed the Thai authorities had repatriated 1,650 people
trafficked to Thailand to work as beggars or in the construction or sex industries.
Last year around 800 were sent back. The three CWCC centers annually received 600
girls aged between nine and 16 years old who were trafficked into the sex industry.
CWCC's Serey Phal said that the precise number of women and children trafficked abroad
was not known, but said numerous girls were sent to Taiwan, Malaysia and Thailand
for sex work or as purchased brides. Traffickers from Vietnam and China increasingly
regard the country as a staging post to bigger markets in Thailand, Malaysia and
Taiwan, she said.
She added that the problem of sexual exploitation of women and children was made
worse by widespread poverty and the low level of education. CWCC's figures show that
52 percent of prostitutes in their centers were tricked into prostitution through
promises of a decent job, while 11 percent were sold by their parents.
An international police expert at the Ministry of Interior (MoI), speaking anonymously,
admitted that much remained to be done to prevent the situation worsening. He said
investigations of human trafficking generally proceed extremely slowly.
"The police often arrest these traffickers, only to release them when they are
paid off," said the expert. "The police will then only re-arrest those
traffickers who are unable to pay more bribes. Certain high-ranking officials are
behind the trafficking problem."
He added that many brothels and hotels were protected by high-ranking military officers.
Touch Ngim, head of the anti-human trafficking office at the MoI, concurred. Although
police were unable to control the sex industry in the country as a whole, he said
the situation in Phnom Penh was worst of all.
He said his office was awaiting government approval for a new initiative that would
survey the numbers and nationalities of sex workers. The survey would target workers
at brothels, karaoke bars, massage clubs and hotels, and should start before the
end of the year.
"It would mean police could control the [problems of the] sex industry, and
would make investigation of human trafficking easier," he said. The need is
becoming more urgent: Ngim said traffickers have recently come to Phnom Penh from
Vietnam and set up a network to send people across the Thai border for shipment to
other Asian countries.
Ngim said that 17 people, mainly Cambodians, had been arrested this year and were
awaiting trial in Prey Sar prison over allegations of trafficking teenage girls for
prostitution here and in Macao and Malaysia.
Serey Phal said that the number of child prostitutes continued to increase despite
better cooperation from the police and more help from NGOs. She estimated that 55,000
prostitutes were working in Cambodia. Of these around a third are under 18, while
World Health Organization figures show that 40-45 percent of Cambodia's sex trade
workers are HIV-positive.
"We have seen police taking action against traffickers, but this has not helped
improve the situation since corrupt officials conspire with the perpetrators. With
just one phone call traffickers can escape punishment," she said. "Enforcement
of the law remains weak."
The MoL official said that urgent action was required.
"We have to protect children and those women who do not want to work as prostitutes.
Human trafficking is booming, because people are poor and the economic situation
is getting worse," he said.