After eight months of confinement and rape—and two forced abortions—Ratha, then 17, says she escaped from the home of the Chinese man she had been sold to and found her way to the Cambodian Consulate in Guangzhou.
“A Cambodian official there told me to go back to my abusive husband’s home to retrieve my passport, but I was afraid of being abused again so I refused to go back,” said Ratha, now 18, on the sidelines of a press conference Wednesday where local rights group Adhoc released a six-month report on Cambodian women being abused in China.
“Then, that official took the phone number of the broker [who sold me] and I was soon back in confinement at the broker’s home.”
Figures released by Adhoc on Wednesday show that in the first six months of 2014 at least 29 Cambodian women went to China—promised good jobs or wealthy husbands —and ended up in abusive marriages or sold into prostitution. The local rights group received only 8 such reports in the whole of 2013.
Most alarming, said Chhan Sokunthea, head of Adhoc’s program for women and children, was that Cambodian diplomats in China have reportedly declined to help their citizens.
“The officials at the Cambodian consulates and Embassy do not pay attention to solve [reported problems], instead leaving victims standing in front of the embassy in the cold weather, being bitten by mosquitoes and with no money to buy food,” Ms. Sokunthea said.
The trafficked and abused women, she added, often remained in the vicinity of a consulate or embassy for fear of being arrested while not in possession of a passport. Also, most speak little or no Chinese, leaving them unable to communicate with others.
Lim Mony, Ms. Sokunthea’s deputy, said that Cambodian officials in China were potentially profiting from brokers, who are legally required to have a marital status document for each potential bride translated into Chinese.
“It seems the officials at the consulates and embassy have good communication with brokers…the officials help translate [documents] for brokers in order to use them to register for marriage,” she said.
Contacted Wednesday, Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said that while “we do not allow our people to suffer without our help,” some trafficked Cambodians who did not report to the appropriate consulate may have been turned away.
“If she [a trafficked woman] goes to the wrong province, sometimes she will be sent to the embassy [in Beijing] or transferred to the consular general of her province because it can be a problem for administration,” Mr. Kuong said.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman also said he had requested that the Chinese Foreign Ministry instruct its embassies in Laos, Vietnam and Thailand—which act as a conduit for trafficked brides—to cease granting visas to single Cambodian women.
At the press conference Wednesday, Samphors, 33, another repatriated woman who went to China with the promise of a high-paying job in a garment factory, said she was sold to a man against her will.
She managed to flee her captor, she said, and took refuge in a forest before contacting Adhoc. But even after returning home she is not free of worry.
“What I am concerned about most is that my younger sister who is just 18 years old remains in China where is reportedly being raped by her husband,” she said.