This morning the Ministry for Women’s Affairs will launch a three-month effort to teach Cambodian women and children to protect themselves from being sold into slavery.
Dramatic as that sounds, that’s what “trafficking” really amounts to—forcing vulnerable people into jobs as sex workers, beggars, or illegal laborers, jobs from which they can rarely escape.
This campaign, part of a three-year anti-trafficking project by the Ministry and the International Organization for Migration, is just the latest in a series of efforts to halt trafficking in Cambodia.
Trafficking persists because it is hugely profitable, experts say. And in a poor region like Southeast Asia, where the status of women and children is low, some families too readily conclude that girls can be sacrificed to the family’s economic interest.
Mu Sochua, minister for Women’s Affairs, inaugurated the “Women As Precious Gems” campaign to tackle the roots of the problem, the social perception that women are worth less than men.
“All of society needs to understand that women are precious,” she said. “It starts there. When a child is born, it should make no difference what gender it is.”
In time, the ministry hopes those concepts will take root, and a young generation of Cambodian females will be able to stay in school longer, gain more skills, earn more and have more say over their own lives.
“Gender issues are being taken more and more seriously,” Mu Sochua said. No government can afford to write off more than half its population, Cambodia least of all, she said.
But until the government can complete plans to improve educational and economic opportunities for women, campaigns like the anti-trafficking effort that starts today will be necessary.
“This is like a battlefield. We have very little ammunition, so we have to use strategy and concentrate on the target,” Mu Sochua said. “This campaign will provide fundamental information to women and children in a way that will leave them empowered and able to make good choices over their futures.”
The mobile information campaign will involve a traveling stage show that will tour the provinces, warning audiences they shouldn’t believe everything they hear about “easy” money in Thailand.
The show will use actors and video to communicate more easily with rural people, many of whom do not read well. The basic message will be that people can make good and bad choices and that you can resist those who urge you to break the law.
The campaign will also provide training activities for village groups to help them resist traffickers, and information on the ministry’s anti-trafficking hotline, so that criminals can be reported.