Anti-trafficking and military police yesterday raided a purported spa business in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district and removed 13 young women suspected of being detained illegally.
The young women, whose ages ranged from 14 to 22 years old, were questioned by officers from the anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection department, said the chief of the department’s Phnom Penh office, Sen Komonn.
Three adults – including a Thai national – and the cook were also questioned by police.
More than half of the girls were underage, Komonn said. But police were still unsure if any charges were going to be filed against the spa owner. “They lured the girls,” he said. “They kept the girls at a hidden location.”
The business has been shut down, according to Seng Chieng, military police chief in Chroy Changvar district.
A 15-year-old staying at the villa called her family on Tuesday to take her home after she found out some of the girls might be sent to Thailand, Komonn said.
When a relative showed up to pick her up, an assistant at Malica Spa and Health refused to let the girl go unless she returned $100 she had been paid, Komonn said. The girl’s relative reported the incident to police, which led to the bust.
Sorn Sophal, municipal director of the department of social affairs, veterans and youth rehabilitation, said the victims would be asked if they wanted to return home or if they wished to be referred to an NGO.
“If they want to go back home, [we] will send them home,” Sophal said.
The villa’s owner, Mean Sovanly, said she leased the building to spa owner Chan Malica at the end of January, and the girls moved in on April 18.
“I saw the girls go in and out to the market,” she said. “They had freedom.”
Malica, who was driving from Battambang to Phnom Penh yesterday after her business was closed by police, claimed it was only a spa and the young women were being trained in anticipation of the official opening in July.
Police said her business was not licensed, but Malica maintained she was in the process of preparing the paperwork for registration before opening in the summer.
Malica said that she recruited the girls from remote areas, and said only the hard-working ones and those older than 18 years old were going to be hired.
When asked why she was recruiting girls as young as 14, she claimed she wanted to help the girls gain skills.
“I hired a Thai spa trainer to teach them,” she said. “Those girls are poor, illiterate and living in rural Cambodian areas. We let them live and work here because our house is big.”
The girls were getting paid $40 per month, she said.
“My mistake is [that] I brought all of the girls, and even underage girls because I wanted them to have skills,” she said.