What You Haven’t Heard About Human Trafficking in Cambodia

And why you should care about this horrific and continuing problem, which afflicts too many victims

Millions of people worldwide are trapped in modern-day slavery.

This terrible reality, plaguing innocent people around the globe, often goes unnoticed. Behind the scenes, human-trafficking victims in Cambodia have been tangled in a web of deceit and bondage.

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“Child brides, domestic servitude, and other employment scams fall into the broad category of labor trafficking,” noted Kate Shellnutt in Christianity Today, reporting from Phnom Penh, Cambodia. “It happens on a massive scale around Cambodia; some recent studies estimate a quarter-million Cambodians are victims of modern-day slavery.”

False job advertising, the selling by family members, and a “lover-boy” technique to seduce young girls are among the actions that trap young women, according to the nonprofit A21 campaign, which is battling human trafficking and forced slave labor.

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“Over the past two decades, significant improvements have been made in the Cambodian public justice system’s response to trafficking in persons,” according to the International Justice Mission (IJM), a global Christian group that focuses on human rights issues. “Research has shown that Cambodian government agencies, supported by intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, have grown in capacity and sophistication in addressing trafficking issues.”

IJM conducted an assessment in 2016 on the labor-trafficking conditions in Cambodia as part of the “Cambodia Countering Trafficking-in-Persons” program funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

“Cambodia is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to labor trafficking,” the IJM report, published November 2016, noted. “While the prevalence of sex trafficking has significantly reduced over the past decade, labor trafficking remains a growing and significant concern. In 2016, it was estimated that the vast majority (over 75 percent) of Cambodians living in modern slavery conditions were victims of labor trafficking.”

“Hundreds of thousands of Cambodian laborers migrate domestically and internationally each year to pursue high-risk jobs in poorly regulated markets, which increases their vulnerability to forced labor,” the report also said.

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Many trafficked individuals in Cambodia have been identified in the fishing and seafood industries, according to IJM research.

“Cambodian victims of labor trafficking have been identified in Malaysia, China, Indonesia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and other destination countries in bride trafficking, forced begging, forced labor in factories, agriculture, construction, and domestic servitude.”

Nonprofit Winrock International implemented the Cambodia Countering Trafficking-in-Persons program, of which the IJM assessment is part.

“Cambodian women are trafficked for forced labor in factories or as domestic servants and for sexual exploitation,” according to Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian humanitarian aid organization. “A broker will coerce a woman to accept a position as a paid house worker for a family across the border, but she will actually become their slave.”

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Samaritan’s Purse runs its Safe Migration and Trafficking Awareness program to educate this vulnerable population about the realities of trafficking.

“Of all trafficking victims, children are perhaps the most tragic,” Samaritan’s Purse noted in 2015. “In Cambodia, young girls and boys are trafficked for forced labor, such as organized begging rings or street vending, and also for sexual exploitation.”

The below video from Samaritan’s Purse depicts the horrible truth about trafficking in Cambodia.

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“Labor trafficking has a wide range of consequences,” Barry Jessen, program manager for Samaritan’s Purse’s anti-trafficking program in Cambodia, said in the video. “Probably the worst end of the spectrum, at the moment, is the Thai fishing industry, where men will be put on the boats and they’re drugged to keep working to 20 to 22 hours a day. They are fed only just enough to stay alive, and they are discarded as soon as they are not useful any more,” said Jessen.