Police from the anti-human-trafficking department swooped down on the headquarters of a Korean migrant protection agency in the capital yesterday, detaining nine women they suspected of being involved in human trafficking.
The presence of about 50 young women at the Association for People Protection in Tuol Kork district’s Boeung Kak II commune had police believing young women were being lured from the provinces against their will.
As of last night, however, no charges had been laid.
Investigations would continue, Keo Thea, director of the Phnom Penh municipal anti-human trafficking police said, but it was more likely that many of the women at the agency were willingly having their “faces checked” by two men in their 40s from South Korea – prospective husbands.
“[The women] are over 18 and are volunteering to be married,” he said. “However, our investigation has not yet finished. We’re questioning them all to see if they’re being swindled by brokers.”
The 49 would-be brides are aged between 18 and 25, Thea said, while both Korean men appeared to be in their mid-40s.
The nine detained women, who were still being questioned last night, are Cambodian and much older than the other women.
Factory worker Sopha Len, 25, a sister of one of the young women, said they had been invited to the agency yesterday.
“We know this association through our friends and relatives who have married in Korea. Many of us want to live and work abroad by marrying Korean men," she said, adding that by living in South Korea they could make a lot of money. “My sister has applied. Today was her day to come here so a Korean groom can look at her face to see if she has passed or not.”
Another woman whose face was “being checked” said she had applied to be a bride in Korea a few months ago.
“I want to try to live abroad, because it could make me so much money to support my family,” she said.
Eric Meldrum, operations director for anti-human trafficking and exploitation group SISHA, said South Korea was very much a destination point for Cambodian women wanting to marry because of the quality of life there.
“But from what I understand, it can also ... involve physical abuse and sexual abuse,” he said.
The government temporarily banned marriages between Cambodian women and Korean men in March 2010 in an attempt to prevent human trafficking.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday the ban was no longer in place, provided the groom is under 50 and a request is made to the couple’s embassies, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Interior.
“With regards to this raid, I think maybe the police suspect there is something wrong with their procedures,” he said. "If they abide by the law, there will be no problem, but they may not have done this.”
Mathieu Pellerin, a consultant with rights group Licahdo, said that even if a woman volunteered to be married to a stranger, it could be considered human trafficking if they were deceived about the conditions they were marrying into.
“If there is evidence to prove it, arranging marriages can constitute a form of trafficking,” he said. “But you have to have evidence of trafficking intent.”
APP could not be reached for comment.