Operations against human trafficking networks increased by a whopping 127 percent compared to the same period in 2016, according to a six-month report released yesterday by the National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT).
The report states that in the first six months of 2017, authorities launched 66 “crackdowns” – or investigations and raids on human trafficking networks – a marked increase over the 29 crackdowns executed during the same period last year. This year’s crackdowns resulted in 87 suspects being sent to court, compared to 70 in the same period last year.
Speaking at the launch of the report, Permanent Vice Chair of the NCCT Chou Bun Eng said the “increase is because of our efforts”, but did not elaborate on any other reasons behind the enormous spike.
According to the report, the number of documented cases of sex trafficking also doubled, with 50 cases documented in the past six months, compared to 25 cases in the same period last year.
Although the report does not say where victims were trafficked or at what point in the trafficking process they were rescued, it notes that 155 victims of trafficking were rescued in the first six months of 2017, compared to 87 in the first six months of 2016.
In her remarks, Bun Eng said that the increasing number of raids on trafficking networks indicated progress. However, she said, the report remains incomplete as Mondulkiri and Kampong Speu have yet to submit reports on human trafficking in their provinces.
She also reiterated the NCCT’s commitment to preventing all human trafficking activities, making a point to include commercial surrogacy under that umbrella. The industry was dragged out of the shadows last year when a government edict forbade the practice, and an Australian national and two Cambodian associates are currently on trial for allegedly facilitating surrogate matches.
Bun Eng also enumerated the challenges she perceived in bringing suspected traffickers to justice, saying, “some of the victims do not have obvious or solid evidence to burden the suspects and it consumes a lot of time to collect evidence”.
Some victims, Eng said, do not file complaints, thinking “as long as they get some compensation from the suspects they can just compromise”.
Contacted yesterday afternoon, Bun Eng was unable to comment further.
However, recent reports point to systemic failures on the government’s part as well. Last month, the US State Department’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons report noted that while Cambodia made “significant efforts” to combat human trafficking, corruption and inflexibility impeded efforts to prosecute traffickers.
“[D]espite endemic corruption that contributes to trafficking in many sectors and among several vulnerable demographics, the government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any complicit officials” in 2016, the US report says. It also states that by not using undercover methods to investigate human trafficking rings, the Cambodian government seriously limits its ability to arrest traffickers.
Moeun Tola, director of the labour rights group Central, agreed that allowing undercover investigations of human trafficking might lead to more arrests. “The very big fish seldom get caught,” he said.
At a more basic level, Tola said, recruitment agencies helping migrant workers move abroad should face more scrutiny. By charging high job “recruitment” fees to facilitate their job search abroad, said Tola, many of these agencies deliver workers into debt bondage.
There “should be a policy to not charge recruitment fees from workers”, said Tola, who said he believed foreign companies hiring Cambodian workers should pay the fees.