More than 155,000 people in Cambodia are living as modern “slaves”, according to a global index released this week.
The Global Slavery Index 2014, released on Monday by Australia-based NGO Walk Free Foundation (WFF), ranks Cambodia 14th out of 167 countries for the prevalence of slavery, with an estimated 155,800 people enslaved, or 1.03 per cent of the population.
The report defines slaves as people subject to forced labour, debt bondage, trafficking, sexual exploitation for money and forced or servile marriage.
“Modern slavery involves one person possessing or controlling another person in such as a way as to significantly deprive that person of their individual liberty, with the intention of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal,” it says.
In ranking of prevalence, Cambodia sits between Iraq and Moldova.
The report also assesses government responses to slavery and, with regards to Cambodia, gives it an average ranking of “CCC”, as one of the countries assessed where the government “has a response to modern slavery, with limited victim support services, a criminal justice framework that criminalises some forms of modern slavery, has a national action plan and/or national coordination body, and has policies that provide some protections for those vulnerable to modern slavery”.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the government is doing its best to address the issue, explaining that it has supported vocational training programs and disseminated information “to explain to people the dangers of trafficking”.
But opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua said the Kingdom’s oversaturated job market perpetuates the modern slavery identified in the report.
Unskilled labour, she said, “is the labour that can be easily exploited”.
A lack of job centres and shelters contribute to the problem, she said, adding that the “national budget is of concern . . . investment in the social sector is still lower than defence and security”.
Sochua said that, as well as domestically, thousands of Cambodians are pushed into slavery abroad, citing women forced into marriage in China, and the exploitation of unskilled migrant workers in Thailand.
“A cycle of debt pushes young people to make a choice that is not their choice.”