Cambodia

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
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 adults and children migrate to countries within the region and, increasingly, to Africa for work; many are subsequently subjected to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, debt bondage, or forced labor on fishing vessels, in the agricultural sector, or in factories. Cambodian migrant workers—especially in Thailand and Malaysia—are vulnerable to forced labor and debt bondage; employers in destination countries have withheld copies of employment contracts and confiscated passports. Recruitment agencies have falsified legal identification and age verification documents to facilitate illegal recruitment of children. Despite an ongoing ban, Cambodian women and girls continue to migrate to Malaysia to work in domestic service. These women often travel on tourist visas and transit through Thailand; some subsequently become victims of domestic servitude.

Male Cambodians continue to be subjected to forced labor on Thai-flagged fishing boats operating in international waters; the number of Cambodians subjected to this form of exploitation is unknown, but local observers have expressed concern over the increasing trend of victims trafficked in the fishing industry. Cambodian victims escaping fishing industry traffickers have been identified in Malaysia, Indonesia, Mauritius, Fiji, Senegal, and South Africa. Cambodian men report being deceived about the expected length of service and their wages by fishing boat owners in Thailand, where the majority were recruited for work in fishing; some have reported severe abuses by Thai captains and being forced to remain aboard vessels for years.

Children from impoverished families are highly vulnerable to forced labor, including domestic servitude and forced begging in Thailand and Vietnam. Parents are often complicit in this practice. The Svay Pak area outside Phnom Penh, where many young children have been exploited in the sex trade, operated as a transit point for child sex trafficking victims from Vietnam who were subsequently exploited in hotels and other establishments in Phnom Penh. Within the country, Cambodian and ethnic Vietnamese women and girls move 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. 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.

Vietnamese women and children, many of whom are victims of debt bondage, travel to Cambodia and are forced into commercial sex. NGOs report that some Vietnamese victims were transported through Cambodia by criminal gangs before being exploited in Thailand and Malaysia. Corrupt officials in Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia cooperate with labor brokers to 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.

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 developed draft guidelines for a standardized, nationwide system for the proactive identification of victims among vulnerable groups, and it implemented a pilot program to test them in two provinces. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate evidence of overall increasing efforts to address human trafficking over the previous year. Therefore, Cambodia is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. It failed to make progress in holding trafficking offenders accountable. Although numerous forms of human trafficking continued to occur in Cambodia, the government prosecuted and convicted fewer trafficking offenders and identified fewer victims than it did in the previous year. The Supreme Court’s acquittal of a former police chief convicted in 2011 of trafficking, as well as an overall failure to address trafficking-related complicity, contributed to a climate of impunity for trafficking offenders and a denial of justice to victims. Despite increased attention from the government and NGOs to the prevalence of male victims, the availability of services for this population remained limited. The government reported posting labor attachés to three of its embassies in countries with large numbers of Cambodian workers and providing general anti-trafficking training to all diplomats before being posted overseas, but it lacked systematic procedures for its diplomatic missions abroad to assist trafficking victims. The government did not explicitly grant police the authority to conduct undercover anti-trafficking operations, although the Ministry of Justice encouraged officials to utilize procedures for approval of undercover investigations allowed within the current legal framework during a donor-funded workshop in December.

Recommendations for Cambodia:

Increase efforts to vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish both labor and sex traffickers; issue an executive decree (prakas) or other official guidance authorizing the use of undercover investigative techniques in the enforcement of the anti-trafficking law; make efforts to hold officials accountable for complicity in human trafficking; sensitize law enforcement authorities and policymakers to the prevalence of trafficking of adult men, especially in commercial fishing, and make more services available to male victims; streamline procedures for reporting and responding to trafficking cases in which victims are identified in countries without Cambodian diplomatic representation; 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, and train diplomats on identifying and assisting trafficking victims before their departures for overseas posts; finalize and implement a nationwide protocol for the proactive identification of victims among vulnerable groups; enforce criminal penalties for labor recruitment companies engaging in illegal acts that may contribute to trafficking; update the national committee’s national action plan to combat trafficking; augment governmental referrals of trafficking victims to NGOs with increased support and services, including legal aid, psycho-social support, and reintegration programs; improve interagency cooperation and coordination between police, court officials, and other government personnel on trafficking cases and victim referral processes; ensure bilateral memoranda of understanding (MOUs) on the deployment of Cambodian workers to foreign countries include strong protection provisions to decrease workers’ vulnerability to trafficking; increase efforts to make court processes more efficient and sensitive to the needs and interests of trafficking victims, including through the provision of witness protection; and expand and continue to promulgate public awareness campaigns aimed at reducing the demand for commercial sex and child sex tourism, with an increased focus on addressing the local demand for commercial sex with children.

Prosecution

The Government of Cambodia’s efforts to hold traffickers accountable significantly declined. 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 reporting period, the government reported investigating 35 suspected cases of trafficking. It convicted 10 sex trafficking offenders and eight labor trafficking offenders, a decrease from 44 offenders convicted in the previous year. One of the 35 cases involved labor trafficking in the commercial fishing sector; in May 2013, Cambodian authorities arrested a Taiwan national for the alleged trafficking of hundreds of Cambodian men on Thai fishing vessels in international waters. At the close of the reporting period, the suspect remained in pre-trial custody.

The government continued to design and deliver donor-funded training on the implementation of the anti-trafficking law, reaching approximately 1,200 law enforcement and judicial officials, but 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 competence 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. Although the government maintained agreements calling for joint investigations of trafficking cases with the governments of Thailand and Vietnam, no international cooperation with these governments was reported during the year. Local organizations and some officials recognized an urgent need for more sophisticated evidence collection techniques, including undercover investigations, to decrease the reliance on witness testimony and to adapt to the changing nature of sex trafficking—which has become increasingly clandestine and difficult to prove in court—in Cambodia. Though undercover evidence collection operations in human trafficking cases are not explicitly prohibited by Cambodian law, in recent years Cambodian judges have deemed them illegal. While the government has specifically approved undercover investigation authority for other types of crimes, such as counter-narcotics, similar approval has not been clearly extended to the investigation of suspected offenses under the 2008 human trafficking law.

Endemic corruption at all levels of the Cambodian government continues to severely limit the ability of individual officials to make progress in holding traffickers accountable. Local observers report corrupt officials regularly thwart progress in cases believed to have political, criminal, or economic ties to government officials, and the government failed to hold officials accountable for such practices. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking. In November 2013, the Supreme Court held an unannounced, closed-door hearing and acquitted on all charges the former head of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department, convicted in absentia for human trafficking and related offenses in 2011.

Protection

The government continued to employ procedures to identify victims and refer them to NGOs, but the number of victims identified declined compared to the previous reporting period. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation (MOSAVY) reported receiving and referring 310 trafficking victims to NGO shelters, a decrease from the 570 victims referred during the previous reporting period. Local police referred 151 victims of sex trafficking to provincial agencies for NGO referrals, a decrease from the 388 victims referred in the previous year. The government did not finalize guidelines for a standardized, nationwide system for the proactive identification of victims among vulnerable groups, but it did develop draft guidelines and implement a pilot program to test them in two provinces. 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. With assistance from an international organization, MOSAVY continued to operate a transit center in Poipet, where it received 159 victims identified by Thai authorities. Victim identification procedures on both sides of the border were inadequate, and the number of actual trafficking victims among the 55,000 Cambodians deported from Thailand was likely much higher. The government received 170 victims repatriated from Vietnam with the assistance of an international organization. International and local NGOs unofficially repatriated an unknown number of victims on Thai fishing vessels. One organization reported repatriating 114 Cambodian male victims from Mauritius, Indonesia, Senegal, Malaysia, and South Africa in 2013—more than twice as many as it assisted in 2012. The government did not have adequate procedures in place to facilitate the rescue and repatriation of victims of forced labor on fishing boats identified overseas. A lack of diplomatic representation or other bilateral agreements in some countries where victims were identified left victims with little support. During the reporting period, the government maintained its prohibition on the migration of 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. The government reported posting labor attachés to its embassies in South Korea, Thailand, and Malaysia. The Cambodian embassy in Kuala Lumpur provided temporary shelter to some Cambodian domestic workers who faced abuse in Malaysia and assisted NGOs in the repatriation of 30 Cambodian migrant workers, but it lacked systematic procedures to assist trafficking victims through its diplomatic mission in Malaysia or other countries.

The majority of medical, legal, shelter, and vocational services for victims of both domestic and international trafficking were provided by NGOs, most of which cared for victims of a number of forms of abuse. During the year, MOSAVY finalized guidelines for standards of care in residential facilities for victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation in Cambodia. Nonetheless, there were allegations that some NGO shelters subjected victims to abuse or inadequate care and that inadequate government oversight allowed these practices to occur with impunity. 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. Lack of available long-term care, including mental health services, made victims, particularly child sex trafficking victims, highly vulnerable to re-trafficking. Despite the prevalence of male victims, assistance for this population, if any, was limited to ad hoc sheltering in facilities that lacked experience caring for trafficking victims; trafficking-specific shelters refused to accept men, and the government did not provide facilities or services other than referrals to male victims. 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.

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; however, many victims of trafficking were not formally identified, and unidentified victims were at risk of being 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. Cambodia’s weak and corrupt judicial and law enforcement systems, however, and lack of adequate victim protection hindered victims’ willingness to cooperate in cases and their access to legal redress. Although the government required service providers and front-line officials to interview victims in a safe place, the government typically lacked the necessary equipment and office space to do so; 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 moderate efforts to prevent trafficking. The National Committee on the Suppression of Human Trafficking, Smuggling, and Labor and Sexual Exploitation (National Committee) and its secretariat continued to lead the country’s anti-trafficking efforts and implement the committee’s anti-trafficking action plan, but it reported difficulty in obtaining adequate funding to effectively implement the plan. The government continued to negotiate a bilateral memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Government of Malaysia on the migration of Cambodians to Malaysia for domestic work, but it was not finalized during the year. The government’s efforts to punish fraudulent labor recruiters declined; after convicting four staff members from one licensed recruiting agency for labor trafficking in the previous reporting period, the government made only one arrest and issued no punishments for illegal recruitment practices this year. 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 recruitment practices that contribute to trafficking.

With support from foreign and local donors, the government continued to produce and disseminate printed materials, radio broadcasts, and billboards and posters addressing the dangers of various forms of human trafficking. At times, the government may have impeded the work of civil society organizations by requiring government approval of NGO-produced materials prior to public dissemination. The Ministry of Tourism sustained collaboration with NGOs in producing trainings, billboards, 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 reported arresting nine foreign nationals and convicting three for child sex tourism offenses. Nonetheless, local observers reported ongoing concern over the government’s failure to properly investigate or impose punishments on foreign nationals who purchase commercial sex acts with children. Authorities reported that four Cambodian citizens were convicted for purchasing commercial sex acts with children. The government reported that its training program for diplomats, prior to their departure for overseas posts, included instruction on Cambodia’s anti-trafficking policy. The National Committee provided members of military forces with training on human trafficking prior to their deployment abroad on peacekeeping initiatives.