The National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT) said on Tuesday that operations against human trafficking and sexual exploitation networks are increasing.
Last year, the National Police, judicial working groups, and municipal and provincial prosecutors, cracked down on 159 such cases.
This is an increase of 72.82 percent on the 92 cases recorded in 2016. In 2017, authorities made 203 arrests for such crimes – up from 113 in 2016.
The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by improper means such as force, abduction, fraud or coercion for an improper purpose, including forced labour or sexual exploitation, according to the US National Institute of Justice.
Police rescued 345 trafficking victims in 2017 – up from 298 in 2016. Of that number, 138 were under 15 years, 40 were aged between 15 and 17, and 167 were over 18.
Twenty foreigners from eight nationalities were involved, including three Vietnamese, two Britons, two Dutch, a Japanese, an American, a Russian and a Czech.
Speaking at the NCCT’s annual meeting at the Ministry of Interior on Tuesday, Chou Bun Eng, the body’s permanent vice chair, said: “Our willingness and commitment are behind the government’s principle of setting human trafficking as a top priority.
“We must not turn a blind eye to it because it harms human lives and people’s rights and dignity.”
Phnom Penh reported the highest number of human trafficking cases, with 57 victims rescued by police last year in the capital, the report said.
It added that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs rescued 757 Cambodians from trafficking outside the Kingdom, including 351 from Malaysia, 260 from Thailand, 50 from China, 33 from Laos, 18 from Indonesia, 17 from Vietnam, 13 from Somalia, five from Japan, four from Singapore and one from Saudi Arabia.
In 2016, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime released a report, Protecting Peace and Prosperity in Southeast Asia: Synchronizing Economic and Security Agendas, which listed Cambodia as among countries where people were at a “high rising” risk of being trafficked.
The report said unskilled labourers in Thailand, Singapore, India and China mainly come from less developed countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam.
It said the increasingly relaxed border controls between countries, intended to benefit trade, had made law enforcement increasingly difficult.
In recent years, the number of Cambodian women who moved to China to marry men there, only to find themselves in abusive relationships or sold into the sex trade, has also risen.
“There are many types of human trafficking, especially of people desperate for jobs. Women often become the victims of human trafficking because living conditions are difficult,” said Ros Sopheap, the executive director of Gender and Development Cambodia.
“Without proper information, brokers cheat them . . . and because they are far from their families and without access to information, they are forced to rely on authorities for help, who in many cases cannot.
“The loopholes in the law allow brokers to abuse and exploit other people as we have seen with the bride trade. “We can catch the small fry, but unfortunately the big fish seldom get caught in our country.”