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Fishermen that were saved from slave-like working conditions sit on a bus at Phnom Penh International Airport last month after being repatriated from Malaysia.
Fishermen that were saved from slave-like working conditions sit on a bus at Phnom Penh International Airport last month after being repatriated from Malaysia. Heng Chivoan

‘Surprise’ over trafficking rank

Cambodia's low rating in the United States’ Trafficking in Persons report, which was the same as last year’s, comes as a surprise to some non-governmental organisations that say the government’s efforts to tackle human trafficking have been delivering results.

When the US State Department’s TIP report was released yesterday, Cambodia remained a Tier 2 country on the watch list for the third year running.

Even though Cambodia managed not to tumble down to the lowest rank of Tier 3 – usually being on the watch list for more than two years in a row would result in an automatic downgrade, but Cambodia received a special waiver – some have expressed surprise at the result.

In a press release, anti-trafficking NGO International Justice Mission criticised the TIP report for keeping Cambodia as a Tier 2 country, given recent government improvements.

“Cambodia still has a long way to go, particularly with regard to labour trafficking. But the data shows there has been a sea-change with regard to stronger government leadership in counter-trafficking efforts, the justice system’s response to trafficking crimes and increased collaboration between the Cambodian government and civil society,” Holly Burkhalter, IJM vice president of government relations and advocacy, said in a statement.

Earlier this year, the IJM reported that child sex trafficking had been almost eliminated in the Kingdom, with 2.2 per cent of sex workers falling under the age of 18 in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap in 2015.

Fellow anti-trafficking NGO Cambodia ACTs echoed the sentiment, saying that because of rising pressure from civil society and the media – and the risk of damaging Cambodia’s reputation – the government had stepped up its efforts to fight trafficking.

“In my point of view, the government of Cambodia in the last few years has been working very hard to counter trafficking, especially working with NGOs,” said Seng Eav Eng, Cambodia ACTs secretary-general, citing the recent launch of a four-year action plan by the National Committee for Counter Trafficking.

The plan calls for creating clear guidelines on undercover investigations, which police are currently wary of using due to the inadmissibility of evidence in court obtained from undercover investigations.

Nevertheless, the gap between promised reforms and on-the-ground action remains wide, said Sara Piazzano, chief of party at the USAID-funded Counter Trafficking in Persons Program run by Winrock International.

Piazzano said some issues, such as authorities only catching “small fish”, remain unlikely to be resolved soon due to bureaucratic hurdles.

“The government has put the foundation for a good job. Next year, let’s see the implementation.”

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