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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - In China, nowhere to run

In China, nowhere to run

In yet another case of Cambodian women facing abuse in China, a 19-year-old told the Post yesterday that she has taken to living on the streets after the consulate in Shanghai refused to pay for her repatriation.

Kim Sophea*, who claims she has been forced into marriage in China three times, said by phone yesterday that she had no intention of entering that country as a bride-to-be. She and her cousin left Kampong Cham together last October with a broker known to them as Neang Vanou, who promised an alluring end to their family’s poverty: $500 a month for factory work in China, five times the pay they could earn in Cambodia. But instead of work, Sophea was stripped of her identity – the broker kept her passport and changed her name and age – and sold her to a stranger in Shanghai.

“I did not know any of my husbands’ names, because I do not know Chinese. I just called them ‘Ei Ei’,” she said. “I lived with the first husband for three months. And then the broker took me to another man and then another. They were all the same. They did not love me, they mistreated me and kept me as a slave or servant … but I could not do anything, I had to follow the broker from one man to the next to survive.”

On her third husband in less than a year, and four months' pregnant but not given enough food to eat and often kept locked in a small room, Sophea couldn’t take it anymore. Two weeks ago, she escaped while her in-laws were out. Chinese police took Sophea and her cousin to the Cambodian consulate, where they begged for assistance, but instead of reprieve they found the government officials unwilling to provide a way out of the nightmare.

“The embassy told us that they can help to provide a passport, but said I had to find my plane ticket myself. But how could I find $400? I escaped with only the clothes I was wearing and my husband never gave me any money,” she said.

But a Beijing-based Cambodian Embassy official who was aware of the case said yesterday that embassies in China “do not have enough money to pay for all the Cambodian women’s plane tickets”.

“In some cases, I have spent my own money to help the women,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Sophea and her cousin, who is two months’ pregnant and also escaped an abusive arranged marriage, are now sleeping on the sidewalk and have no money for food, she said.

Eventually, she managed to call her father for help. Though he had nothing to offer, he contacted rights monitor Adhoc, which has assisted 29 victims sold to China this year.

The story is the latest in a growing list of cases in which Cambodian women have been abused in China – and embassies and consulates have been accused of not only being unhelpful, but also placing the women in further danger, sometimes forcing them to return to abusive husbands, or telling them they cannot leave China until obtaining a divorce.

“We know of cases where women have been told they could not be granted a divorce until their babies are born,” said Brandais York, a consultant for Community Legal Education Center. “Under international law, embassies are expected to help any victim of trafficking.… They also have a legal obligation to organise and coordinate the repatriation of victims of human trafficking.”

In a joint submission to the United Nations last year, labour organisations criticised Cambodian embassies for failing to provide “much needed services such as repatriation or legal aid”, and urged the consular offices to offer cost-free repatriation.

In a report released earlier this week, CLEC found that Cambodian embassies were taking an average of four weeks to provide victims with any aid.

Rights groups yesterday singled out the Cambodian Foreign Ministry as providing among the worst consulate services in the region.

“It’s not rocket science, but it’s something the Cambodian government has so far been completely unable and unmotivated to do,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia. “Essentially, Cambodians in trouble overseas are on their own.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong could not be reached for comment yesterday, but told the Post on Monday that the embassies “are trying [their] best” to respond promptly.

*Name has been changed to protect her identity.

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Julien Heng's picture

This is one of many tragic stories of Cambodian women trafficking and sex slavery. What even more outrageous is the Cambodian government's incompetence and irresponsibility to serve and protect its citizens abroad.

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