A senior official from the Ministry of Interior has warned the public to take precautions to avoid being deceived by fraudsters who use technology to deceive people into making illegal border crossings or falling victim to human trafficking.

At an official function observing the 15th National Day against Human Trafficking on December 15, Chou Bun Eng – ministry secretary of state and permanent vice- chair of the National Committee for Counter-trafficking (NCCT) – said opportunists have used all kinds of tricks to exploit and traffic people who have been rendered vulnerable by the economic downturn of Covid-19.

“Illegally crossing into a foreign country is unsafe and people can easily be trapped by criminals who often take advantage of their hardships … and exploit them mercilessly without exceptions – not even for minors, children or infants,” she said.

She added that currently another form of sexual exploitation of children was taking place online, which is bad enough but then some young people and even children have been lured into crossing the border and then trafficked.

Other people have been tricked into crossing the border because they are hoping to meet a romantic partner in person that they met online who turns out to just be bait set out by traffickers.

“We are concerned that children are being exploited or harassed by online predators, leaving some children in such despair that they commit suicide, and not only in Cambodia but everywhere.

“Initially, the perpetrator will approach the victim on social media and chat with them until they gain their trust, even if it takes weeks or months. Then they will exchange nude pictures with them, which are sometimes then used to blackmail the victim into meeting the offender who abuses them further,” she said.

She recommends that all parents monitor their children’s online activities closely and communicate with them about the dangers of online predators so they understand in advance to be wary of anyone they meet online.

She said the authorities continue to crack down on trafficking and all forms of exploitation or similar heinous crimes and she warned those responsible that the Cambodian government will not tolerate human trafficking.

Siem Reap provincial governor Tea Seiha, who attended the event, said that border trafficking was not just about exploitation of the labour force, sex trafficking or drugs but there is also cross-border trafficking of surrogate mothers, babies and even human organs like kidneys.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group Licadho, noted that there was currently an online scheme to exploit children involving the lending of money to them as if it were a legitimate loan. Then eventually when they are not able to pay it back, the children are intimidated and the “lender” demands pornographic pictures or videos from them.

Yu Sophea, permanent vice-president of the Siem Reap provincial committee for counter-trafficking, said the provincial authorities prosecuted 34 cases of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

“Authorities arrested 35 suspects – 33 Cambodians and two foreign men. There were 69 victims – 50 of them are female, including 27 minors under 15 years old and 11 minors over 15 years old,” she said.

Sophea said the authorities encountered 16 cases of rape, three cases of child prostitution, three cases of illegal adoption, five cases of sex with minors under the age of 15 and one case of harassment against a minor under the age of 15.