CAMBODIA: Tier 2
The Government of Cambodia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Cambodia remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by convicting a significantly higher number of traffickers, allocating more funds to the national anti-trafficking committee and its subsidiary provincial committees, and establishing new action plans to curb child debt bondage and other forms of labor exploitation. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Despite endemic corruption that contributes to trafficking in many sectors and among several vulnerable demographics, the government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any complicit officials. Courts continued to conclude sex trafficking cases with monetary settlements in lieu of prison sentences. The government did not issue formal guidance allowing the use of undercover investigative techniques in anti-trafficking operations—a factor that continued to impede officials’ ability to fully hold sex traffickers accountable—nor did it take steps to improve anti-trafficking data collection or information sharing necessary for effective interagency coordination. The government maintained limited victim identification and protection efforts, at times returning child victims to high-risk environments, and provided minimal assistance to male labor trafficking victims despite their prevalence.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CAMBODIA
Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and stringently sentence labor and sex traffickers including complicit officials; authorize the use of undercover investigative techniques in the enforcement of the anti-trafficking law; strengthen efforts to fully implement the nationwide protocol for proactive victim identification among vulnerable groups and train officials on its provisions; increase the availability of services for male victims, especially men exploited in commercial fishing; establish systematic procedures and allocate resources to assist Cambodian victims abroad through diplomatic missions abroad or in countries without Cambodian diplomatic representation; increase public awareness on proper travel document application procedures to facilitate safe, legal migration; strengthen efforts to inspect private labor recruitment agencies and their sub-licensed brokers for fraudulent recruitment or other trafficking indicators; modify the law to allow restitution upon conviction of the trafficker; implement a system for monitoring, collecting, and reporting data on anti-trafficking prosecution and victim protection efforts, and disseminate data among the relevant government agencies in a manner that protects victims’ identities and privacy; strengthen efforts to incorporate NGO input into the policy for formally transferring custody of child victims; strengthen efforts to implement policies guiding victim-centered court processes, including through the provision of witness protection and options for compensation; allocate increased resources to anti-human trafficking police to better facilitate the monitoring of defendants released under judicial supervision pending trial; and increase public awareness campaigns aimed at reducing domestic demand for commercial sex and child sex tourism.
The government increased law enforcement efforts, particularly in obtaining convictions. The 2008 Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation explicitly addresses trafficking offenses in 12 of its 30 articles, prohibits all forms of trafficking, and prescribes seven to 15 years in prison—and up to 20 years for aggravating circumstances—for both sex and labor trafficking; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape. The government did not collect comprehensive data on anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, particularly among provincial courts; however, the information authorities provided, augmented by media and NGO reports, indicated the government prosecuted 53 individuals under its anti-trafficking law or comparable provisions in the penal code in 2016, compared to 69 prosecutions in 2015. The National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT) reported courts convicted at least 100 traffickers—including some whose trials began in the previous reporting period—up from 43 in 2015 and 29 in 2014. Unlike in prior years, the government did not provide data on sentencing, nor did it disaggregate information on investigations, prosecutions, or convictions based on the type of trafficking offense. Authorities noted that labor officials’ failure to sufficiently inspect private recruitment agencies, and the ability of these agencies to sub-license their names to other independent brokers, likely perpetuated labor exploitation during the reporting period.
Local experts reported cases involving foreign suspects were more likely to result in trafficking convictions than cases involving Cambodian suspects, for whom charges were often reduced to less serious offenses. NGOs reported courts continued to conclude sex trafficking cases with monetary settlements in lieu of prison sentences, and victims whose families received out-of-court settlements from traffickers often changed their testimony, further complicating prosecutions. Judicial police lacked the resources to monitor defendants released pending trial, allowing many to flee prior to their trial dates.
The government continued to design and deliver donor-funded training on the implementation of anti-trafficking laws to police, prosecutors, judges, and other government officials. During the reporting period, the NCCT reported more than 7,680 commune and provincial officials, law enforcement officers, judicial staff, and NGO workers received training or attended workshops on anti-trafficking laws, investigative techniques, and evidence collection. Local organizations and some officials noted an urgent need for more sophisticated evidence collection techniques, including undercover investigation, to decrease reliance on witness testimony and adapt to the increasingly clandestine nature of sex trafficking. However, the government did not grant undercover investigative authority to anti-trafficking police units, and NGOs continued to report this significantly constrained law enforcement officers’ ability to pursue sex traffickers, particularly for cases involving establishments discreetly engaged in prostitution, such as beer gardens, massage parlors, salons, karaoke bars, and retail spaces.
Endemic corruption at all levels of the government severely limited the ability of individual officials to make progress in holding traffickers accountable. The Cambodian national police maintained a mechanism for NGO workers to report incidents of anti-trafficking police corruption, but did not field any complaints during the reporting period. The government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any government employees complicit in trafficking, nor did it take any punitive measures against Phnom Penh’s former anti-trafficking police chief, whose 2011 trafficking conviction was overturned in an unannounced, closed-door Supreme Court hearing in 2013.
The government maintained limited victim identification and protection efforts. In 2016, the NCCT launched new victim identification guidelines developed by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation (MOSAVY) with the intention of unifying disparate victim identification, referral, and repatriation efforts across government and law enforcement agencies. With assistance from an international organization, the government continued to operate a transit center in the border city of Poipet, where it screened for trafficking victims among the approximately 55,000 migrants deported from Thailand in 2016. However, it did not report how many victims it identified and, given the extent of trafficking among this population, it likely failed to identify many victims. Authorities did not provide complete statistics on the number of victims they assisted or referred, and the total number of victims identified or assisted by NGOs was unknown. Police identified and referred 326 sex and labor trafficking victims to provincial agencies or NGOs, a decrease from 589 victims in 2015. Authorities indicated most of these were labor trafficking victims. The government operated a temporary shelter in Phnom Penh for female victims of trafficking and other crimes, and it referred trafficking victims to NGO shelters—most of which cared for victims of several forms of abuse—to receive further assistance. The government continued to rely heavily on civil society organizations to protect trafficking victims; however, it did not facilitate formal transfer of custody of child victims, leaving organizations that accepted child victims vulnerable to court action. Provisions allowing for financial settlements in lieu of harsher sentencing further discouraged some families from consenting to temporary guardianship at shelters; absent family consent, government officials at times returned children to high-risk environments, leaving them extremely vulnerable to re-victimization. Despite the prominence of male labor trafficking victims, assistance for this population remained limited.
Cambodian diplomatic missions overseas continued to lack adequate funding or capacity to provide basic assistance or repatriate victims, despite government action in prior years to train diplomats on migrant worker protections. Victims identified in countries without Cambodian diplomatic representation had access to even less support. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), which bore the primary responsibility of aiding Cambodian trafficking victims identified in countries not bordering Cambodia, reported rescuing and repatriating 815 Cambodian trafficking victims from 11 countries (857 in 2015); this included 272 victims from Malaysia, 231 from Vietnam, 139 from Thailand, 78 from Indonesia, 64 from China, 16 from Japan, six from Singapore, four from Somalia, two from Laos, two from Russia, and one each from Australia and Saudi Arabia. The majority were repatriated with the assistance of an international organization. The MFA did not promulgate or implement standard operating procedures for the identification and referral of Cambodian victims abroad, nor did it take increased measures to publicize information on how to apply for passports, leaving many Cambodians without the documentation necessary to migrate legally and safely. MOSAVY reported repatriating 195 Cambodian labor trafficking victims from Vietnam, and reported receiving and referring 38 Cambodian internal trafficking victims and 24 sex and labor trafficking victims from Thailand to NGO services. An NGO recorded accepting 218 potential Cambodian trafficking victims deported from Vietnam alone, including 152 children. However, it was unclear if this figure was captured in the statistics provided by the MFA, or to what extent the MFA data included cases received by MOSAVY.
The government required the repatriation of foreign victims, except in rare cases, and did not provide legal alternatives to their removal regardless of whether they may face hardship or retribution upon return to their countries of origin. MOSAVY repatriated 13 trafficking victims to Vietnam after they received care in NGO-run shelters (five in 2015). There were no reports of the government punishing identified victims for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking; however, insufficient victim identification efforts left many potential victims at risk of law enforcement action. Law enforcement officials often lacked the facilities necessary to keep victims and perpetrators separated during interviews. The government continued to work with an NGO on a pilot program to train social workers on providing psycho-social support and other services to trafficking victims whose cases are under court proceedings. The Ministry of Justice instructed provincial courts to implement a child-friendly judicial program aiming to facilitate child testimony, including barring direct cross-examination of victims in front of the accused and relying instead on video-conferencing technology. In practice, however, the weak and corrupt legal system and the lack of adequate victim and witness protection, exacerbated by a lengthy trial process and fear of retaliation by traffickers, hindered victims’ willingness to cooperate in many cases. Victims were theoretically eligible for restitution, although this was limited by a legal requirement that compensation be paid only following the completion of the trafficker’s jail term; NGOs noted victims rarely received the amount promised.
The government increased prevention efforts. An interagency committee and its secretariat coordinated anti-trafficking activities and continued to implement the 2014-2018 national action plan. The government dedicated an increased number of staff members to the committee and allocated a budget of more than 4 billion riels ($974,896) as compared to 3.6 billion riels ($877,407) in 2015. Local committees coordinated efforts at the provincial level; NGOs reported the central government provided modest funds to provincial committees in 2016. For example, one NGO survey noted five out of nine provincial committees received some funding, compared to four committees in 2014. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training released a separate action plan aimed at reducing child labor and debt bondage in the service, agricultural, mining, and energy sectors by 2025 through awareness raising, increased legal action, and collaboration with civil society, funded in part through the national budget. An NGO reported receiving 96 complaints from victims seeking legal redress from brokers or recruiting agents involved in their being subjected to trafficking in Malaysia. The government reported continuing to investigate and prosecute labor recruiters for illegal practices that may have contributed to trafficking but did not provide relevant statistics. The anti-trafficking police independently developed its own awareness campaign on policies and procedures to prevent and report sex trafficking crimes in the entertainment sector, and conducted the related training 2,926 times during the reporting period.
The government continued to implement consular screening measures to reduce the sex and labor trafficking of Cambodian women following forced marriages, including by assessing applicants against trafficking victim profiles jointly developed with China in the prior reporting period. MFA officials claimed the number of visas granted to Cambodian applicants matching the trafficking victim profile dropped significantly during the reporting period due to this consular screening; it was unclear if the MFA had a process for referring these potential victims to law enforcement or protective services. The government entered into two labor recruitment agreements with Saudi Arabia intended to improve migrant worker protections, but it was unclear if these were implemented during the reporting period.
With support from foreign and local donors, the Ministry of Tourism produced and disseminated printed materials, radio broadcasts, billboards, and posters on the dangers of human trafficking—with a particular focus on child sex tourism—although these efforts were targeted at foreign sex tourists rather than the local population that was the main source of demand for commercial sex with children. Authorities reported arresting 12 foreign individuals suspected of engaging in child sex tourism but did not report whether they initiated prosecutions or obtained convictions in any of these cases. Local experts reported concern over the government’s ongoing failure to impose appropriate punishments on foreign nationals who purchase commercial sex acts with children. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel and to members of the military prior to their deployment abroad on peacekeeping initiatives.
As reported over the past five years, 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 other countries within the region and increasingly to the Middle East for work; many are subjected to forced labor on fishing vessels, in agriculture, in construction, in factories and in domestic servitude—often through debt bondage—or to sex trafficking. Migrants using irregular migration channels, predominantly with the assistance of unlicensed brokers, were at an increased risk of trafficking, but those using licensed recruiting agents also became victims of forced labor or sex trafficking. Children from impoverished families were vulnerable to forced labor, often with the complicity of their families, including in domestic servitude and forced begging or street vending in Thailand and Vietnam. Significant numbers of male Cambodians continued to be recruited in Thailand to work on fishing boats and subjected to forced labor on Thai-owned vessels in international waters. Cambodian victims escaping from this form of exploitation have been identified in Malaysia, Indonesia, Mauritius, Fiji, Senegal, South Africa, and Papua New Guinea. Cambodian men reported severe abuses by Thai captains, deceptive recruitment, underpaid wages, and being forced to remain aboard vessels for years. The UN reported a significant number of women from rural areas were recruited under false pretenses to travel to China to enter into marriages with Chinese men, who often incur as much as $20,000 in debt to brokers facilitating the transaction; some Cambodian women in forced marriages faced forced factory labor or forced prostitution as a result of this debt.