Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Cambodia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 27 June 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Cambodia, 27 June 2011, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
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)

Cambodia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Cambodian men, women, and children migrate to Thailand, Malaysia, and other countries for work, and many are subsequently subjected to sex trafficking or forced to labor in the Thai fishing and seafood processing industry, on agricultural plantations, in factories, in domestic work, or for begging and street selling. The number of workers who migrated to Malaysia for employment through Cambodian recruiting companies increased significantly since 2008. In 2010, licensed Cambodian labor recruitment agencies – members of the Association of Cambodian Recruiting Agencies – trained and sent 16,395 workers to Malaysia, of which 11,918 were females trained as domestic workers. This was an increase from 9,982 Cambodians who migrated to Malaysia in 2009, and 2,654 in 2008. Some Cambodian migrants become victims of labor trafficking when they pursue what they believe to be legitimate employment opportunities abroad, but are then forced or coerced to work through debt bondage.

Although the practice was prohibited late in 2010, it was common for recruiting agencies to require families of Cambodians traveling to Malaysia for work to agree to repay pre-departure loans, a means of ensuring the departing worker would fulfill employment contracts in Malaysia. Some workers do not understand their obligations or cannot read the contracts, which note $800 to $1,200 in placement and processing fees deducted from the worker's expected wages in destination countries, amounting to four months' to one year's wages. Other workers agree to the terms because, even with the risk and required salary deductions, they see no other viable opportunities to pull themselves out of poverty. Workers are sometimes not given copies of their employment contracts, and typically have their passports confiscated. Recruitment agencies also reportedly engaged in the falsification of legal identification and age verification documents to allow for the illegal recruitment of children. During the three-to six-month training period, recruitment agencies often place restrictions on women and children from leaving the training center, sometimes incurring hefty fees if they leave in violation of their contracts. Once in Malaysia, some Cambodian domestic workers report experiencing indicators of trafficking including long working hours, no days off, inability to leave their workplace, nonpayment of wages, payment delays, and wage deductions. These high fees and abusive practices have been used to facilitate forced labor and debt bondage of foreign migrant workers in Malaysia.

During the year, Cambodian men who were victims of forced labor on fishing boats were returned from India, Thailand, and Malaysia. One United Nations study estimated that among some 89,000 Cambodians deported from Thailand at the Poipet border alone, over 20,000 of them were actually trafficking victims not identified by Thai authorities. Some Cambodian men report being deceived by Thai fishing boat owners about the expected length of service and the amount and circumstances of their payment. Remaining at sea for up to several years, some men report witnessing severe abuses by Thai captains, including violence towards, and murder of, fellow fishermen. Cambodian children are also taken across the border to Thailand and Vietnam by Cambodian traffickers and forced to beg, sell candy and flowers, and shine shoes. Parents sometimes sell their children into conditions of forced labor, including domestic servitude. Organized Vietnamese criminal gangs move Vietnamese women and girls through Cambodia to onward destinations in Thailand and Malaysia for forced and child prostitution.

Within the country, Cambodian and ethnic Vietnamese women and children are trafficked from rural areas to Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Poipet, Koh Kong, Sihanoukville, and Svay Pak for commercial sexual exploitation. Some large entertainment establishments each may exploit between 100-200 women and children on premises on a given night. In an effort to evade prosecution, many of these establishments have stopped offering sex on premises in favor of having customers pay to take the women and girls off-site. In a similar manner, underage girls, many of whom are brought in from Vietnam, remain available upon demand to brothels and guesthouses in Svay Pak area, but are not kept on site. Children are also subjected to forced labor, including being forced to beg, scavenge refuse, work in quarries, as domestic servants, or in the production and processing of bricks, rubber, salt, and shrimp. According to the International Labor Organization, there are an estimated 28,000 child domestic workers in Phnom Penh alone. Cambodia is a destination for Vietnamese women and girls subjected to prostitution, many of whom are also victims of debt bondage. The sale of virgin girls continues to be a serious problem in Cambodia, with Cambodian and foreign (mostly from Asia) men paying hundreds to thousands of dollars to have sex with virgins. A significant number of Asian and other foreign men travel to Cambodia to engage in child sex tourism. Some Cambodians who migrate to Taiwan and the Republic of Korea through brokered international marriages may subsequently be subjected to forced prostitution or forced labor. Forced labor in drug treatment centers in which administratively-sentenced drug offenders are reportedly required to perform low-skilled labor was also a concern.

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. The government continued to prosecute sex trafficking cases, convicting 20 trafficking offenders during the year – a decrease from 36 during the previous reporting period. Corruption at all levels continued to impede progress in combating trafficking and fostered an enabling environment for trafficking. Labor trafficking of Cambodians migrating abroad for work continued to be a serious concern. The government has never convicted any labor recruiters whose companies were involved in labor trafficking or fraudulent recruitment.

Recommendations for Cambodia: Significantly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute offenders of both labor and sex trafficking; conduct robust investigations and prosecutions of government officials involved in trafficking activities; institute and enforce a law to better regulate the recruitment, placement, and protection of migrant workers going abroad; hold labor recruitment companies criminally responsible for illegal acts committed during the recruitment process, such as debt bondage through exorbitant fees, detention of workers during pre-departure training, and recruitment of workers under age 18; increase efforts to make court processes sensitive to the needs and best interests of both child and adult trafficking victims; expand efforts to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, including the institution of nationwide victim identification procedures and referrals to adequate victim services; increase engagement with governments of destination countries on the protection of migrant workers, as well as the safe repatriation of Cambodian trafficking victims and the prosecution of their traffickers; increase efforts to train and sensitize law enforcement, prosecutors, and court officials about trafficking, proactive identification of victims, victim referral procedures, and victim-sensitive handling of cases; improve interagency cooperation and coordination between police and court officials on trafficking cases; and conduct a public awareness campaign aimed at reducing demand by the local population and Asian visitors for commercial sex acts.


The Government of Cambodia did not demonstrate progress in law enforcement efforts against trafficking crimes during the year. The February 2008 Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation covers a wide variety of offenses, with 12 of its 30 articles explicitly addressing trafficking offenses. The law prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. Government officials reported prosecuting 72 trafficking cases and convicting 20 offenders, compared with 36 convictions in 2009. While labor trafficking remained a significant concern, there were no convictions of labor trafficking offenders during the year, and the government has yet to convict any labor recruiters whose companies were involved in labor trafficking or fraudulent recruitment. Prosecutors sometimes failed to charge trafficking offenders using the most appropriate articles of the 2008 law. In some cases, Cambodian police were reportedly unwilling to pursue investigations of several suspected trafficking establishments during the year because the establishments were thought to be owned by or affiliated with high-ranking officials. Information leaks by law enforcement authorities to traffickers were reported to significantly harm efforts to enforce anti-trafficking laws. Although the Ministry of Labor was aware of the seriousness of the abuse of Cambodian adult and child migrant laborers by licensed recruitment agencies within Cambodia and abroad, they have not adequately addressed the issue.

Sources reported that several labor recruitment agencies allegedly involved in labor trafficking reportedly are connected to senior Cambodian officials. NGOs reported witnessing recruitment, detention, and deployment of children by labor recruitment agencies for work abroad and submitting case information to authorities, but expressed concern authorities did not respond to, or act on, these reports. As reported in the previous reporting, one labor broker was arrested in December 2009 for the unlawful removal of nine children with the intent of selling them to work as servants in Malaysia; the broker was released on bail in April 2010. Authorities report initiating four prosecutions of Cambodian labor recruiting companies for abduction, detention, and confinement of women and children recruited for work abroad; the suspects are still in custody and no trial dates had been set at the time of this report. The government continued to cooperate with NGOs to educate police officers and other government officials on the 2008 law and its enforcement. Nevertheless, continued confusion by police and the judiciary regarding human trafficking and the 2008 law harmed anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and victim protection efforts. Judges and prosecutors continued to inaccurately charge trafficking offenders under non-trafficking articles and laws, or prosecute non-trafficking cases using trafficking statutes, resulting in difficulties in disaggregating trafficking and non-trafficking cases. A lack of coordination between police investigators and prosecutors continues to impede effective prosecution of trafficking offenders, as did delayed trials caused by absent defense lawyers and judges. In some cases, court officials also failed to notify parties when such trials were continued. Such delays caused unnecessary anxiety for victims, many of whom were children, and required additional preparation and travel for hearings. There was a decrease in the number of victim rescues and perpetrator arrests during the year.

During the year, the government passed a corruption law in April 2010 and declared a "zero-tolerance" policy for corrupt officials. Nevertheless, endemic corruption at all levels continues to create an enabling environment for trafficking, and in some cases, actively helped facilitate trafficking. Police and judicial officials continue to be both directly and indirectly involved in trafficking. One source reported that some large entertainment establishments involved in sex trafficking were connected to officials. Some local police and government officials extorted money or accepted bribes from brothel owners, sometimes on a daily basis, in order to allow the brothels to continue operating. Police tip-offs of impending anti-trafficking brothel raids continued to cause interference into investigations and planned rescues led by NGOs. The child sex trafficking ring in Svay Pak is believed to be well-connected and protected from effective government investigation and prosecution. Several informed sources report government officials are involved in the labor recruitment of Cambodians for work abroad; this is believed to be the cause of impunity of firms engaging in illegal recruitment practices that contribute to trafficking. During the year, there were some reports that Cambodian law enforcement authorities gave advance notification of inspections to labor recruitment firms so that the firms could remove children detained on their premises, some of whom may have been trafficking victims. In March 2011, authorities arrested a police major for trafficking-related corruption and reported ongoing efforts to investigate the case; the investigation was still ongoing at the time of this report. Authorities also reported the conviction of a provincial commune clerk in February 2011 for accepting bribes to forge an age document to assist a child in eligibility to work overseas; he was sentenced to five years in prison but will be released after one year.


The government did not improve efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims during the reporting period. The government continued to refer victims to NGO shelters, but did not itself offer further assistance. There continued to be a lack of shelter facilities to accommodate men and boys who were victims of trafficking. The government did not provide statistics on the total number of trafficking victims identified and assisted by authorities during the reporting period. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veteran and Youth Rehabilitation (MOSAVY) reported assisting in the placement and temporary shelter of 595 trafficking victims referred by local police and 501 referred from foreign authorities during the year. MOSAVY continued to jointly operate with UNICEF a transit center in Poipet for victims returned from Thailand, and reported identifying 119 victims who had been deported by Thai authorities during the year. The government worked with NGO partners to repatriate five female trafficking victims to Vietnam during the year.

Authorities encouraged victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions of traffickers. However, Cambodia's weak and corrupt judicial and law enforcement systems, the lengthy legal process, credible fears of retaliation, and the lack of witness protection continued to hinder victims' willingness to cooperate in cases and impeded their access to legal redress. Additionally, authorities failed to make adequate efforts to provide child and victim friendly space for those waiting to give testimony, forcing victims to share spaces with their traffickers. Although victims legally had the option of filing civil suits to seek legal actions against their traffickers, most did not have the resources to do so, and the government did not provide assistance to victims for this purpose. Additionally, while the 2008 law allows for victims to pursue restitution from their traffickers, the victim is expected to wait until a perpetrator finishes a jail sentence before obtaining compensation.


The Government of Cambodia's efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period remained incomplete. The government continued some efforts with the help of international organizations and NGOs, but failed to make efforts to prevent the trafficking of Cambodian migrant workers or to reduce significant local demand for commercial sex acts. Authorities continue to negotiate additional labor agreements with other countries in Asia and the Middle East. Cambodian laws on the recruitment, placement, and protection of migrant labor are limited and outdated. They lack clear delineation of responsibilities of recruitment agencies during the recruitment process, do not detail suitable controls and monitoring of agencies to avoid abuses, and do not assign penalties for agencies' misconduct. Additionally, there are no policies that regulate, restrict, or standardize the amount recruitment agencies may charge workers. During the year, the government drafted a sub-decree of regulations on international labor recruiters, though the sub-decree was not finalized as of April 2011. NGOs report the government limited their involvement in consultations about the sub-decree, while allowing substantial input from the Association of Cambodian Recruiting Agencies – a group representing the agencies the sub-decree intends to regulate. Cambodian migrant workers abroad lacked an understanding of where they could submit complaints regarding their labor experiences, and reports indicate when Cambodian government representatives intervene in dispute resolution, they generally negotiate for the recruitment agency rather than for the migrant worker. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Labor reported that it began providing pre-departure training for potential migrant workers on their rights.

In March, the government established a Department of Counter-Trafficking in Persons and Reintegration within MOSAVY. The ministry held "Anti-Human Trafficking Day" activities on December 10, 2010 in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Banteay Meanchey. The Ministry of Women's Affairs partnered with IOM to conduct safe migration campaigns in several provinces and participated in a radio talk show raising awareness of trafficking through marriage. While local demand accounts for the majority of demand for child trafficking, the government did not make efforts to reduce the local demand for commercial sex acts during the reporting period. The Ministry of Tourism continued efforts with NGOs to produce billboards, magazine advertisements, and handouts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, though these efforts were targeted at foreign sex tourists rather than local populations. Authorities convicted eight foreign child sex tourists during the year and initiated prosecutions against seven other foreigners. Cambodian military forces participating in peacekeeping initiatives abroad received training on trafficking in persons prior to deployment.

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