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US upgrades Cambodia's anti-human trafficking rating

US upgrades Cambodia's anti-human trafficking rating

Tracey Shelton

Once a teeming red light district, Street 70 in Phnom Penh is mostly quiet today. Authorities in recent weeks have pushed to rid the city of visible signs of the sex trade.

The US government has upgraded Cambodia's anti-human trafficking rating for the first time since 2006, saying that the Kingdom has made a significant effort to combat people smuggling.

The country has been placed this year in Tier 2, the middle category in the US State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report, putting it alongside countries like Chile, Angola and El Salvador, which are among the 170 countries assessed.

Since 2006 Cambodia has languished on the Tier 2 Watch List after being relegated to the lowest category, Tier 3, in 2005.

"The Royal Government of Cambodia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so," said the State Department in its report released on June 5.

"Cambodia is placed on Tier 2 for the first time since 2004 due to the government’s increased engagement in combating trafficking in persons over the previous year," it added.

The assessment follows Cambodia's passage of new anti-trafficking legislation which criminalized all forms of human trafficking, as well as the formation in April 2007 of a national anti-trafficking taskforce.

"This legislation provides law enforcement authorities the power to investigate all forms of trafficking and is a powerful tool in efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers and have them face stringent punishments," the State Department said.

 

"High-level government officials have spoken publicly about a 'zero-tolerance' policy for officials profiting from or colluding in trafficking in persons," it added.

But the new legislation has been sharply criticized by advocates for commercial sex workers who say the law has also led to an increase in abuses by authorities cracking down on prostitution.

Many sex workers, advocates claim, have been beaten, raped or robbed while in police detention, and the mass closure of brothels has hindered efforts curb the spread of HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases.

"This law ... increases violence, discrimination and human rights abuses against sex workers. It allows for corruption to spread among law enforcers," said Pich Sokchea of the Women's Network for Unity, who was speaking June 4 at a rally by sex workers against the legislation.

"Many times, when the brothels are raided police rape the women before arresting them," added Sokchea, who is also a sex worker.

Despite its progress, Cambodia remains a source and destination country for persons trafficked both for sex or labor, the State Department points out.

"Women and girls are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation to Thailand and Malaysia.... Some Cambodian male migrant workers returning from India, South Korea, and Malaysia reported being subjected to conditions of forced labor and debt bondage," it said.

"Children are trafficked to Thailand and Vietnam to beg or work on the streets selling candy or flowers or shining shoes," it added, recommending that the government increase anti-trafficking training for authorities and step up court prosecutions of people smugglers.

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