The government made no progress last year in its efforts to stop human trafficking or protect trafficking victims, a new US government report says. The US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report, released Monday, said the number of trafficking convictions fell, while Cambodia’s growing number of migrant workers suffered abuse without effective protection from police or the Labor Ministry.
Officials reacting to the report denied, however, that anti-trafficking efforts were stalling.
The report stated that in 2010-2011 Cambodia “did not demonstrate progress in law enforcement efforts against trafficking crimes,” adding that neither prevention of trafficking or protection of victims had improved.
However, Cambodia maintained its rank of “tier 2”—out of three tiers—which means it falls short of minimum standards of US trafficking laws, but is making significant attempts to meet them.
Major forms of human trafficking in Cambodia include the smuggling of tens of thousands of men into Thailand for work on fishing boats, farms or in factories, while trafficking of women and children from villages to cities for sexual exploitation remains common, the report said. Many of the thousands of workers and maids sent overseas are trafficked by job recruitment agencies, it said.
The report said officials prosecuted 72 trafficking cases and convicted 20 offenders, 16 fewer convictions than the same period before. In 2008, there were 11 convictions.
“Corruption at all levels continued to impede progress in combating trafficking,” the report said, noting that officials did little to protect the fast-growing number of migrant workers.
“The government never convicted any labor recruiters…involved in trafficking or fraudulent recruitment,” it said, adding that the Labor Ministry was aware of abuse cases, but did “not adequately address the issue.”
The US Embassy yesterday did not immediately respond to questions about the alleged connections.
Chiv Phally, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Human Trafficking Department, disputed the report’s findings, saying that a lower number of trafficking convictions “does not mean we did not work hard.”
Asked about convictions of any job agencies, Mr Phally said “many” had already been brought to court. He did not elaborate further.
Hou Vuthy, deputy director-general at the Ministry of Labor, denied that the agencies went unregulated. “We are trying our best to take measures against all illegal action by agencies,” he said.
Samleang Seila, director of child protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfants, said the government “deserved” to maintain its ranking as a tier-2 country. He said, however, that “in most cases,” corruption still hampered prosecution of “offenders and traffickers with money and power,” adding that government efforts to help victims during and after trial were often insufficient.
Moeun Tola, head of the Community Legal Education Center’s labor program, said he agreed with the report’s findings and warned that trafficking of migrant workers and men smuggled to Thailand was increasing, while government anti-trafficking efforts were falling behind.
Mr Tola pointed to a string of incidents in recent months in which several trainees died or were injured while trying to escape illegal detention by migrant worker agencies. “The government only ordered one center closed. This does nothing.”