Two Cambodian women allegedly coerced into prostitution after seeking work in Malaysia are considering legal action against their former employer.
In August, the two women, aged 24 and 27, travelled to Malaysia through an unregistered Cambodian employment recruiter, said Huy Pich Sovann, the Community Legal Education Center’s (CLEC) officer in charge of human trafficking. The recruiter had promised them lucrative jobs in a Malaysian restaurant.
“It’s common that people are tricked by the broker,” Sovann said. “They were forced to do sex [work]; they wanted to leave, but they couldn’t, because their passports were kept by the employer.”
The women had originally sought work as maids, but were barred from this due to a 2011 ban on Cambodian maids working in Malaysia. Sovann declined to name the recruiter or province in which they operated due to concern those responsible could flee before a possible police investigation.
Finding themselves in an all-too-familiar predicament for Cambodians who gain employment abroad, they arrived to find they owed an exorbitant amount of money for their $130 passports and transportation to Malaysia, Sovann said. The recruiter told the 27-year-old that she owed about $1,260, and the 24-year-old that she owed $4,715.
After contacting Sovann, the women fled the restaurant last week, seeking shelter with Tenaganita, a Malaysian NGO that works with human trafficking victims, Sovann said.
Their escape was a risky endeavour, said Aegile Fernandez, a consultant with Tenaganita’s anti-trafficking unit.
“They are always watched 24 hours,” Fernandez said. “There are some women who have tried to escape, and then they are caught and they are physically and sexually abused as a warning.”
Tenaganita and CLEC are in the process of assisting the two women’s return to Cambodia.
If they decide to pursue criminal charges, the women must remain in Malaysia for another three to four months for the trial, Fernandez said. Defendants in these cases are rarely convicted, she added.