Cambodia and China are drafting a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to stamp out the exploitative trade of Cambodian women to China, where there have been increasing reports of women being abused by their Chinese husbands and sold into the sex trade.
The diplomatic push comes in the wake of a spate of arrests at airports in both countries of suspected human traffickers, according to Major General Pol Phiethey, director of the Ministry of Interior’s department of anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection.
“Since there has been an increase of arrests at airports, it has recently been quieter for cases of sending women to China,” Maj. Gen. Phiethey said.
“But it is a big concern for us, which is why we are drafting an MoU to sign with the Chinese government to curb and crack down on this kind of human trafficking to marry Chinese men,” he said.
A 2013 annual report from the Ministry of Interior said it handled 12 cases of the illegal sale of women as brides to China, arresting 20 people and rescuing 36 victims at airports before they were able to board planes.
Maj. Gen. Phiethey said he did not have updated figures for this year.
In February, officials at the Phnom Penh International Airport arrested five people, including two Chinese nationals, for trying to transport Cambodian women to China, where arrangements had allegedly been made to have them work in brothels.
In March, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged three people with obtaining fake passports for Cambodian women so they could be sent to China to marry Chinese men. When stopped at the airport, two of the victims were found to be under 18.
Later that month, the families of four women from Ratanakkiri and Takeo provinces filed separate complaints seeking the repatriation of their female relatives who had been sent to China, claiming the women were being treated like slaves by their Chinese husbands.
Women who have returned from China have said men there pay up to $15,000 to brokers to arrange the marriages and deliver Cambodian wives to them.
Local rights group Licadho on Tuesday welcomed the coming MoU, but said authorities should remain vigilant in their pursuit of perpetrators, who are often well-connected traffickers.
“Trafficking Cambodian women to China is an organized crime, so we hope that the MoU between the two countries will be strictly implemented when it is in place,” said Am Sam Ath, Licadho’s technical supervisor.
Between August 2013 and June of this year, Licadho said it received 26 complaints—involving a total of 37 women—who had been mistreated or sold into the sex trade after being sent to China as brides.
Of those, six were repatriated last year and three more returned home to their families this year, Mr. Sam Ath said.