AWOMAN from Takeo province has launched a public appeal for help in finding her two missing daughters, who she says may have been trafficked out of the country after she sold them into domestic servitude.
In an interview last week, Sam Pao said she had not seen Lim Phala and Lim Phalli since 2005. As she clutched a photo of the two girls, she said she had no choice but to volunteer them for jobs as domestic helpers nine years ago, when the two were 14 and 9 years old.
“I had no ability to support my family,” Sam Pao said as tears streamed down her face. She added that, at the time, she had four other children to support and no steady source of income.
Under the terms of the deal she struck with the girls’ employer, she said, she agreed to a “loan” of 1 million riels (US$240) that her daughters would work off.
At first, Sam Pao ventured to Phnom Penh to visit them once or twice a year, and she said they seemed comfortable in their positions.
But in 2005, that all changed, she said. The daughters’ employer suddenly barred all contact, and Sam Pao received only fleeting assurances from the woman that the girls were safe.
Within months, Sam Pao had decided to try to get her daughters back. But when she came to the capital towards the end of 2005, the woman insisted she was still owed money. Gradually, all attempts to contact her failed.
“I just want to see the owner of the house where my daughters worked,” she said. “I just want to know what happened to my daughters.”
A dangerous path
Rights groups who research or work with trafficked women say many more young Cambodian girls have been placed in positions in which they are effectively living in servitude.
But because domestic workers are often hidden behind closed doors, it is difficult to determine how many are living in similar danger.
“With domestic servants, because it’s a hidden profession and not regulated by the government, it’s very difficult to track these young girls,” said John McGeoghan, project coordinator with the Phnom Penh office of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
IOM research suggests a link between domestic workers and more dangerous professions. A 2007 IOM report on child domestic workers found 51 percent of sex workers surveyed reported that they were formerly employed as domestic workers.
“There is a path of vulnerability from poor families, to domestic servitude and onwards into other vulnerable professions,” McGeoghan said.
The rights group Adhoc has pledged to investigate Sam Pao’s allegations, according to Lim Mony, the head of the NGO’s women’s programme.
The woman Sam Pao identified as her daughters’ employer, known only by the name Pao, refused to comment when contacted by the Post.
Sam Pao said that, at this point, she just wants to know whether her daughters are alive.
She said she was prompted to launch her appeal by a recent radio report that stated that two girls with identical names had died in Malaysia.
“I want to find any authorities or NGOs that can help me,” she said. “Please help me. I just want to see my daughters.”