Original report from Phnom Penh
04 February 2008
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While trafficking in persons, especially women and children, remains a big challenge facing Cambodia today, authorities and other agencies are debating whether the addition of a new task force to combat the crime is working.
The National Task Force was created last year, together with a senior task force led by the Ministry of Interior, in a bid to prevent the human trafficking, protect the victims and prosecute traffickers.
Ten Borano, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Trafficking Department, told a training seminar in Phnom Penh recently that the two task forces are involved from top national officials to local authorities.
The trafficking problem has been reduced as a result, he said.
Bith Kimhong, director of the ministry’s Anti-Trafficking Department, said the setup of the task forces is crucial in fighting human trafficking.
“The creation of the mechanism involving levels from the top to the bottom is essential for police, as well as local authorities, to prevent and crack down on human trafficking because, as [Deputy Prime Minister] Sar Kheng instructed, there has to be a leading force at not just district but commune level.”
“I think the problem of human trafficking takes root with locals,” he said. “If the local authorities can create their own task force, that’s really good. At least they can understand what human trafficking is.”
However, Adhoc President Thun Saray, said the creation of the additional task forces is unnecessary and serves mainly to expose the inability of the existing authority.
“The most important thing to do is to strengthen the existing authority,” Thun Saray, “If it can’t be strengthened, we have to find out why its performance is ineffective.”
Regarding the creation of the new task forces to fight human trafficking, Marielle Sander Lindstrom, who heads a counter-trafficking program at the Asia Foundation, said she believes the task forces will make improvements.
“One of the problems up until now has been that many agency organizations have not been working together,” she said. “They’ve not followed the same agenda; everyone has had their own project to implement. Now that we have a national task force that’s led by the government, in collaboration with the NGOs, we have a much, much better chance of having a coordinated action that would translate into more effective protection for victims.”
In addition to the setup of the task forces, Cambodia has also just created a new law on the human trafficking.
The new law, which consists of nine chapters divided into 52 articles, recognizes all forms of trafficking, including forced begging.
Lawyer Liv Sovanna, from the Khmer Lawyer Office, said the new law is better than the old one but added that a good law alone is insufficient without widespread implementation.
“The newly approved law is good, but the mechanism of its implementation is vital,” Liv Sovanna said. “So there must be participation of all organizations involved as well as of the people themselves to ensure that the problem of human trafficking in Cambodia can be solved.”
The new law still needs the King’s ratification, which is expected soon.
Although no accurate and reliable figure is available, a remarkable number of Cambodian women, men and children become victims of human trafficking. The victims, most of them women and children, are sent to neighboring countries such as Thailand and Malaysia for sexual exploitation or into forced labor in factories or as domestic servants. Some children are forced into begging rings. Meanwhile, male victims are trafficked for forced labor in fishing or construction.
Some 30,000 Cambodians were deported from Thailand over the past two years for illegal entry into the country. Most of them were victims of sex trafficking, according to the Thai Department of Immigration.
Most victims of the human trafficking are from poor rural areas where their communities understand very little about the true intention of traffickers, who use various methods to acquire victims. In many cases, they lure the victims by promising them high-paying jobs in other countries, such as Thailand, Malaysia, Korea or Taiwan.
Sometimes acquaintances, friends or even family members sell the victims or are paid by traffickers for help in deceit.
You Ay, secretary of state for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, said traffickers use different ways to get the victims.
“There is another form of trafficking: fake marriages, which happen a lot. Another form is a request for child adoption,” she said.
Those trafficked for sexual purposes in particular face the risk of contracting disease like HIV and AIDS.
According to UN estimates, more than 5 million people were living with HIV in the Asia Pacific region in 2006, with 140, 000 to 610,000 dying from AIDS-related illnesses.
In Cambodia, a lack of information, low education and the lack of family income are seen as the most common reasons why Cambodians are so vulnerable to physical and sexual exploitation.
You Ay, who is also the head of the National Task Force To Fight Human Trafficking, said the government is trying to raise awareness of the issue so that the people do not fall prey to human trafficking.
“We see that a huge number of the people are well aware of the problem,” she said. “For emergencies, we have a telephone hotline. But we’ve noticed that some people are still being cheated, so the Royal Government is striving for safe migration for them, no matter where they go. Thus, everyone, including the media, has to get involved, to make sure our people can no longer be cheated.”