In early January, Oum Raden asked the Phnom Penh Municipal Appeal Court to reduce her sentence.
“Please release me so I can take care of my children, who are just 7, 12 and 13 years old. Their grandfather, who was taking care of them, passed away from Covid-19 and they are helpless while I serve my sentence,” she pleaded.
Raden was convicted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with smuggling under Article 11 of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation. She transported seven young Cambodian women to Malaysia, and was subsequently arrested and charged. Her release date is currently slated for 2032.
During her 2016 trial, Raden told the court that she worked with Chan Sokhim and Sam Yong, who lived in Kampong Thom province. They persuaded women aged 16-19 from the rural areas of the province that young Cambodian women were highly paid when they worked in Malaysia. After convincing their victims, Sokhim and Yong took them to a house in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo commune and district to fill out passport applications.
Raden said that Yong had processed the paperwork for them at the Choam Chao commune hall, but lied to officials and changed the names and ages of the women in order to make legal passports. The trick was discovered by commune authorities, who notified the Anti-Human Trafficking Department, who freed the seven girls and arrested the three traffickers.
After being charged, Raden and Sokhim were sentenced to 16 years in prison. Sam Yong was sentenced to one year for providing false documents.
“I filed a grievance, not to deny my poor conduct, but to appeal the length of my sentence. There is no one to take care of my children, so I respectfully ask the court to reduce my sentence,” she told the Appeal Court, in tears.
Nhek Vannara, secretary of state at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, said that despite the ministry’s best efforts, the protection and provision of services to victims of human trafficking was not yet fully comprehensive, especially when it came to the provision of support services for victims.
“Criminals are taking advantage of the challenging circumstances of the country at this difficult time to exploit people,” he said.
Meas Saim, ADHOC deputy director of women and children’s rights, said that during the Covid-19 pandemic, her organisation had recorded several women being cheated and forced into marriage to China, or trafficked elsewhere. A fairly large number of them had returned, she said, but both NGOs and government institutions found it difficult to assist them, and many of them struggled after their returns.
She added that some older cases in Malaysia appeared to have stalled, as several women who travelled through a recruitment agency had gone missing after their contracts expired. ADHOC had not received any recent information.
She said her organisation was also assisting some women to receive the salaries they were promised, through Malaysian legal procedures.
“According to our data, however, recently there have been more women returning from China than any other country,” she said.
Meas Saim added that most of them were duped by promises of work or marriages to wealthy loving husbands. Most of them had made the decision to go because they were uneducated and blindly believed the brokers, who are very adept at enticing them into marrying or working in China. Many had returned pregnant, with no choice but to marry someone they did not love.
While in China, they often had their rights and freedoms restricted and were seriously affected, physically or mentally, she said, adding that some had fallen ill but been denied treatment. Some had approached the police for help but been turned away.
Most of those who got cheated in Malaysia worked as housemaids, with some arranging work through their Cambodian-Muslim relatives, who had networks there. Some had correct paperwork, whereas others had flown there without the documents required to work, she said.
“Some were detained temporarily by the police and some have gone missing. The majority were young women,” she added.