For the third straight year in a row, Cambodia has found itself on the Tier 2 Watch List of the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report, a ranking reflective of a seeming inability to fully implement the country’s own anti-trafficking plan.
A Tier 2 ranking indicates a country does not meet the minimum standards of the US’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act, but is making “significant efforts” to do so.
Being placed on the “Watch List”, however, indicates a lack of evidence of “increasing efforts” to fight against severe trafficking, including increased protections for victims and prosecutions for perpetrators and complicit authorities.
Tier 3 countries – such as Thailand, a common destination for trafficked Cambodian labourers – are identified as neither adhering to minimum standards, nor making significant efforts to do so.
“Cambodia was granted a waiver from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan,” the report states.
The report notes some strides made by Cambodia in certain areas, such as “modest progress in prosecutions and convictions”.
Though the government didn’t provide data on its enforcement measures, the report says, information gathered from various sources shows that 29 traffickers were convicted in 2014, up from 18 in 2013.
The report also points to a promising decline in child prostitution, but also notes that “the Svay Pak area outside Phnom Penh, once known as an epicenter of Cambodia’s child sex trade, is now sometimes a transit point for sex trafficking victims from Vietnam”.
Despite an increase in the prevalence of male trafficking victims, the report goes on to say “the government did not make progress in providing protection” to them.
The State Department also faulted the government for, among other things, its slowness in allowing the practice of undercover sex-trafficking investigations, its “weak and corrupt legal system”, and a lack of diplomatic assistance for victims abroad – long a criticism highlighted by rights groups.
However, government spokes-man Phay Siphan yesterday contested the assertion that Cambodian embassies were poorly equipped to repatriate trafficking victims.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is very active on that issue,” he said, referring to the dozens of women repatriated from China, where they had been lured into abusive marriages.
“The embassy has an open door and open telephone lines.”
Siphan went on to say that the government was committed to fighting the factors that make emigration attractive and open up would-be migrants to exploitation.
“We do take action. One, through education; second, through improving lives . . . increasing salaries . . . giving a chance for better work opportunities.”