Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

2013 Trafficking in Persons Report - Cambodia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2013
Cite as United States Department of State, 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report - Cambodia, 19 June 2013, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/51c2f3d016.html [accessed 20 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

CAMBODIA (Tier 2 Watch List)

Cambodia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Cambodian men, women, and children migrate to countries within the region – primarily Thailand and Malaysia, but also Singapore, Vietnam, and South Korea – for work in factories, restaurants, or other industries, but many are subsequently subjected to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, debt bondage, or forced labor within the fishing, construction, food processing, and agricultural industries. Vietnamese women and children, many of whom are victims of debt bondage, are transported to Cambodia and forced into commercial sex. Corrupt officials in Cambodia and Thailand facilitate the transport of victims across the border. Additionally, an unknown number of unidentified trafficking victims are among the large number of migrants deported from Thailand each year. During the year, male Cambodians continued to be subjected to forced labor on Thai-flagged fishing boats; an organization that assists victims in Cambodia reported an increase in the number of repatriations of Cambodian victims in the Thai fishing industry in the first two months of 2013. Cambodian victims who escaped their fishing industry traffickers were identified in Malaysia, Indonesia, Mauritius, Fiji, Senegal, and South Africa. The men reported being deceived by Thai fishing boat owners about the expected length of service and their wages. Some Cambodian men also reported severe abuses by Thai captains and being forced to remain aboard the vessels for up to two years.

The inability to understand formal obligations, read contracts, or pay processing fees, and inadequate regulatory government oversight rendered some Cambodian migrant workers vulnerable to forced labor and debt bondage in destination countries, especially in Malaysia and Thailand. Cambodian migrant workers have reported employers in destination countries withholding copies of employment contracts and confiscating passports. Recruitment agencies have reportedly engaged in the falsification of legal identification and age verification documents to allow for the illegal recruitment of children. The ban on the legal emigration of Cambodian women to Malaysia for work in domestic service caused many recruitment agencies to shut down. In many cases, these recruitment agencies were the only link between Cambodian workers in Malaysia and their families in Cambodia. As a result, the ban created difficulties in accounting for the workers already in Malaysia and increased their vulnerability to exploitation and abuse. Despite the ongoing ban, women and girls seeking employment continued to migrate to Malaysia, reportedly through the use of tourist visas; some of them subsequently became victims of domestic servitude. NGOs report that some Cambodian victims transited through Thailand en route to Malaysia, and some Vietnamese victims were transported through Cambodia by criminal gangs before being exploited in Thailand and Malaysia.

Within Cambodia, children from impoverished families are highly vulnerable to forced labor, including domestic servitude, and have been sent by their parents to beg on the streets in Thailand. Cambodian children are also transported to Vietnam for forced labor and forced begging. The Svay Pak brothel area outside Phnom Penh, where young children are exploited in the sex trade, continues to operate despite numerous attempts by police to close it down.

Within the country, Cambodian and ethnic Vietnamese women and girls migrate or are transported from rural areas to Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Poipet, Koh Kong, and Sihanoukville, where they are subjected to sex trafficking in brothels and increasingly in venues such as beer gardens, massage parlors, salons, karaoke bars, and non-commercial sites. Police and NGOs report that child sex traffickers have adopted new tactics designed to evade prosecution; increasingly, commercial sexual exploitation of children occurs in locations other than brothels, often through the use of additional brokers, though traffickers in commercial establishments continue to facilitate this type of exploitation. Sex trafficking of children under the age of 15, once promoted through highly visible methods, has become increasingly clandestine. The sale of virgin women and girls continues to be a problem in Cambodia. Cambodian men form the largest source of demand for child prostitution; however, men from other Asian countries, the United States, and Europe travel to Cambodia to engage in child sex tourism.

The 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. Despite these measures, the government failed to make progress in holding trafficking offenders and child sex tourists accountable because of inadequate prosecutions and sentences, and its efforts to protect victims remained inadequate. The government prosecuted and convicted fewer trafficking offenders and identified fewer victims than it did in the previous year. The government did not make efforts to address trafficking-related corruption during the year, and complicity of government officials contributed to a climate of impunity for trafficking offenders and a denial of justice to victims. The government developed operational procedures to assist male trafficking victims but did not provide adequate protections to such victims during the year. The government continued to lack systematic procedures for its diplomatic missions abroad to assist trafficking victims. The government's policy not to allow undercover anti-trafficking operations hampered law enforcement's ability to pursue cases successfully, as did its failure to address disincentives keeping victims from participating in investigations and prosecutions. The government prosecuted and convicted the staff members of one labor recruitment company for their role in labor trafficking. Because the government did not demonstrate evidence of overall increasing efforts to address human trafficking over the previous year, Cambodia is placed on Tier 2 Watch List.

Recommendations for Cambodia: Increase efforts to vigorously investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish offenders of both labor and sex trafficking; issue an executive decree (prakas) authorizing the use of undercover investigative techniques in the enforcement of the anti-trafficking law; improve efforts to investigate and prosecute government officials complicit in human trafficking; initiate more stringent monitoring and enforcement measures to better regulate the recruitment, placement, and protection of migrant workers going abroad; enforce criminal penalties for labor recruitment companies engaging in illegal acts committed during the recruitment process, such as debt bondage, detention of workers during pre-departure training, and recruitment of workers younger than 18; sensitize law enforcement authorities and policymakers to the prevalence of trafficking of adult men, especially in fishing, and make more services available to male victims; streamline procedures for reporting and responding to cases in which victims are identified in countries without Cambodian diplomatic representation; revise sub-decree number 190 to include more comprehensive, transparent, and unequivocal stipulations for the protection of migrant workers; increase efforts to make court processes more efficient and sensitive to the needs and interests of trafficking victims; establish witness protection provisions specifically for trafficking victims; expand efforts to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as children and Cambodians emigrating for or returning from work in other countries; institute a nationwide victim identification protocol; augment governmental referrals of trafficking victims to NGOs with increased support and services, including legal aid, psycho-social support, and reintegration programs; establish systematic procedures to assist Cambodian victims through diplomatic missions abroad, perhaps by appointing a dedicated labor attaché in countries with large numbers of Cambodian workers; improve interagency cooperation and coordination between police, court officials, and other government personnel on trafficking cases and victim referral processes; and continue to promulgate public awareness campaigns aimed at reducing the demand for commercial sex and child sex tourism by locals and foreign nationals.

Prosecution

The Government of Cambodia failed to demonstrate progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2008 Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation explicitly addresses trafficking offenses in 12 of its 30 articles. The law prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape. During the current year, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) reported 50 prosecutions resulting in 44 convictions, a decrease from the 102 prosecutions and 62 convictions in the previous year. Of the 44 convictions, five offenders were prosecuted using the anti-trafficking law and 39 trafficking-related offenders were prosecuted under the penal code and Law on Aggravated Circumstances. The majority of the convictions were reportedly related to sex trafficking; four staff members from one licensed recruiting agency were convicted of labor trafficking and the remaining for sex trafficking. During the year, the government designed and delivered donor-funded training for more than 1,400 law enforcement and judicial officials on implementation of the anti-trafficking law, but police and judicial officials lacked adequate expertise to identify and prosecute a significant number of trafficking cases. Officials at times conflated labor trafficking and human smuggling, and a lack of expertise in evidence collection led officers to rely almost wholly on victim testimony to build cases. Inadequate efforts to protect victims, including a lack of incentives for victims to participate in prosecutions, left many unwilling to participate. Victims whose families received out-of-court settlements from traffickers at times changed their testimonies, hampering the pursuit of successful prosecutions.

Though not explicitly prohibited by Cambodian law, undercover evidence collection operations in human trafficking cases have been deemed illegal by Cambodian judges in recent years. While the government has specifically approved undercover investigation authority for other types of investigations, such as counter-narcotics investigations, similar approval has not been extended to the investigation of suspected offenses under the 2008 human trafficking law. Furthermore, child sex traffickers' methods have become increasingly sophisticated and difficult to detect, making proactive and undercover investigation necessary for collecting sufficient evidence and building cases.

Endemic corruption at all levels continued to impede anti-trafficking endeavors. Local observers believe corruption to be the cause of impunity afforded to recruiting firms, including some with reported financial ties to senior government officials, engaging in illegal recruitment practices that contribute to trafficking. Police officials reportedly cooperate with labor brokers who send migrants across the border into Thailand without regard for their vulnerability to trafficking. The government reported that no government officials were investigated, prosecuted, or convicted for involvement in trafficking or trafficking-related activities. The former head of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police's Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department, convicted in absentia for complicity in trafficking in the previous year, was not apprehended during the reporting period and remained at large.

Protection

A number of government entities continued to employ systematic procedures to identify victims and refer them to NGOs for care, but the government made limited progress in strengthening these procedures and making them uniform nationwide, and the number of victims identified decreased from the previous year. The majority of medical, legal, and shelter services were provided by NGOs, which cared for victims of a number of forms of abuse. Although there were no procedures in place for law enforcement officials' proactive identification of victims among vulnerable groups, the government continued efforts to develop victim identification guidelines in consultation with UN agencies. Authorities systematically referred identified victims to NGO shelters to receive care but did not develop a policy for formally transferring custody of child victims, leaving NGOs that accepted these victims for care vulnerable to court actions against them. The government operated a temporary shelter in Phnom Penh for female victims of trafficking and other crimes, though the authorities did not offer further assistance to victims. Lack of available long-term care made victims, particularly child sex trafficking victims, highly vulnerable to re-trafficking. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation (MOSAVY) released an Operational Standard Procedure on Reintegration Support to Male Trafficking Victims outlining procedures for the processing and reintegration of male trafficking victims, but protection for male trafficking victims remained inadequate. Despite the prevalence of male victims, the availability of men's shelters remained severely limited, as NGOs were not required by the Cambodian government to accept male victims and many refused to do so. Foreign victims of trafficking had the same access to victim care facilities as Cambodian trafficking victims; however, there were a limited number of shelters with the ability to provide specialized care to foreign victims, including foreign language capabilities and culturally sensitive support.

MOSAVY reported receiving and referring 570 trafficking victims to shelters, and the local police referred 388 victims of sex trafficking to provincial agencies for NGO referrals. The total number of victims identified and referred, 958, is a decrease from the 1,131 victims identified and referred during the previous reporting period. With assistance from an international organization, MOSAVY continued to operate a transit center in Poipet, where it received 27 victims identified by Thai authorities and identified an additional 64 victims of trafficking from among the approximately 100,000 Cambodian migrants deported from Thailand, a decrease from the 104 victims identified during the previous year. Because victim identification procedures on both sides of the border were inadequate, the number of actual trafficking victims among this population was likely much higher. International and local NGOs unofficially repatriated victims of Thai fishing vessels, thus the total number of returning victims was not known. One organization reported repatriating 51 male victims from Mauritius, Indonesia, Fiji, Senegal, China, Malaysia, and South Africa and providing support for the government in repatriating 17 male victims from Indonesia and Malaysia during the reporting period, but this represented only a fraction of the total number of Cambodian men believed to have been trafficked onto fishing boats. The government did not have adequate procedures in place to facilitate the rescue of victims of forced labor on fishing boats identified overseas; NGOs reported the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation did not have a focal point for these cases and did not respond to requests for assistance during the year.

In the previous reporting period, the government prohibited the migration of additional women to Malaysia for domestic work but failed to ensure that procedures or safeguards were in place to assist Cambodian women already working in Malaysia. This prohibition may have contributed to the increased vulnerability of Cambodian domestic workers in Malaysia, because when the majority of the recruitment companies subsequently shut down, exploited women who remained in Malaysia had little access to support or remediation, which the companies had provided in the past. The Cambodian embassy in Kuala Lumpur provided temporary shelter to an unknown number of Cambodian domestic workers who faced abuse in Malaysia, but it did not have systematic procedures to assist trafficking victims through its diplomatic mission in Malaysia or other countries.

The Cambodian government required foreign victims found in Cambodia to be repatriated to their home countries and did not provide legal alternatives to their removal should they face hardship or retribution upon return to their countries of origin. There were no reports that identified victims were punished for crimes committed as a result of being trafficked; improved efforts to proactively identify victims among vulnerable groups would help ensure that unidentified victims were not punished. Authorities reportedly encouraged victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions of traffickers, and foreign victims were eligible for temporary legal residence in order to do so. However, Cambodia's weak and corrupt judicial and law enforcement systems, lengthy legal processes, and credible fears of retaliation on the part of victims combined with the lack of witness protection, long-term residency options for foreign victims, or access to resources continued to hinder victims' willingness to cooperate in cases, thereby impeding their access to legal redress. The government did not consistently follow procedures to ensure victims' interests. Although it had in place standards that required service providers, including police, to ensure a safe place in which to conduct interviews with victims, the government typically lacked the necessary equipment and office space to do so, and perpetrators and victims were often interviewed in the same location. Victims were theoretically eligible for restitution, though this was limited in practice by a legal requirement that compensation be paid only following the completion of a convicted offender's jail term.

Prevention

The Government of Cambodia continued efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period. The National Committee on the Suppression of Human Trafficking, Smuggling, and Labor and Sexual Exploitation and its secretariat continued to lead the country's anti-trafficking efforts, including through issuing an annual report on the government's anti-trafficking efforts and working to implement the committee's anti-trafficking action plan. The committee, its working groups, and its provincial-level affiliates held a total of 176 meetings during the year. In an effort to better address exploitation of Cambodian workers abroad, the government established a migration working group within its anti-trafficking committee comprising representatives from the government, recruitment agencies, and civil society. Although this group sent a delegation to Malaysia in December 2012, the two countries did not finalize a bilateral MOU on the labor migration of Cambodian domestic workers to Malaysia. The government did not improve or enforce sub-decree 190, approved during the previous reporting year, which governs the activities of companies that recruit Cambodians to work abroad, though it did convict four staff members from one licensed recruiting agency for labor trafficking. Overall, Cambodia's laws and regulations governing recruitment, placement, and protection of migrant laborers abroad remained weak. These policies lacked clear delineation of responsibilities of recruitment agencies and government authorities during the recruitment process and did not detail suitable controls or monitoring of agencies to avoid abuses, prevent corruption, or assign criminal penalties. Issues such as passport confiscation and debt bondage were not adequately addressed.

Foreign and local donors provided support to the government to conduct education and awareness campaigns. The government distributed CDs and DVDs with content to educate the population about the risk of trafficking posed by unsafe migration. Officials from the Ministry of Women's Affairs held events to raise awareness about safe migration and collaborated with an NGO to host a televised roundtable discussion on the topic. The government once again organized events to commemorate an anti-trafficking awareness day in December; it conducted awareness campaigns in four provinces and held a march along the Cambodia-Thailand border with approximately 1,600 government and civil society participants. The Ministry of Tourism sustained collaboration with NGOs in producing billboards, magazine advertisements, and handouts aimed at reducing the demand for commercial sex acts and child sex tourism, though these efforts were targeted at foreign sex tourists rather than the local population that is the main source of demand for commercial sex with children.

Authorities convicted three foreign nationals for child sex tourism offenses during the year, and two cases were ongoing. The government's handling of pedophilia cases weakened the credibility of Cambodian efforts to combat child sex tourism. The government deported a convicted foreign pedophile – who was pardoned and released early from prison in the previous reporting period – to South Korea, but only after extensive advocacy by NGOs and the international community. He was subsequently deported to face child sex abuse charges in Russia. In December 2012, the government reduced the charge against a convicted Australian pedophile and released him from prison without investigating claims that his lawyer bribed the victim's family to change her testimony. Several convicted pedophiles were among the 412 criminals pardoned in February 2013 as part of the funeral ceremonies for Cambodia's former king. Five Cambodian officials testified in the United States in prosecutions of pedophiles accused of exploiting children in Cambodia. In an effort to decrease the demand for commercial sex acts, the government continued to conduct police raids on brothels. Although there were no reports that identified victims were punished for crimes committed as a result of being trafficked, improved efforts to proactively identify victims among vulnerable groups would ensure unidentified victims were not punished as law violators. The anti-trafficking committee provided members of military forces with training on human trafficking prior to their deployment abroad on peacekeeping initiatives.

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