Cambodia has sunk to the lowest ranking on the US’ list of countries with human trafficking problems, signaling that the government’s efforts to stop trafficking are not seen as credible.
The US State Department’s 2002 Trafficking in Persons report, released Wednesday in Washington, places Cambodia in the “Tier 3” group of countries.
These countries’ efforts to combat trafficking “do not fully comply with the [US’] minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance,” the report states.
Last year’s report placed Cambodia in Tier 2, a category for countries who do not meet the standards but are making significant efforts to do so.
The status changed because while Cambodia is making efforts to address the issue, they are not enough, especially with regard to corruption, a US Embassy official said.
“Despite the government’s many efforts, its slow movement to crack down on corrupt police and government officials resulted in the lower ranking,” the official said.
“NGO and press reports have documented police complicity in trafficking in children for sex in brothels.” The official also said more must be done to protect trafficking victims.
Cambodia is one of 19 countries sharing the lowest category this year, including Asean neighbors Burma and Indonesia. Malaysia moved up in 2002 from the bottom to the middle ranking, which also includes Laos, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Trafficking is a pervasive problem in Cambodia, which the State Department calls a “source, destination, and transit country” for trafficking. Internal trafficking within Cambodia also occurs, the report said.
Cambodians may be trafficked abroad, particularly to Thailand, for sexual or labor exploitation. Vietnamese women and girls are frequently trafficked to or through Cambodia for sex. And rural Cambodians are frequently trafficked to urban areas, especially Phnom Penh, for sex and forced labor, the report said.
In giving Cambodia its lowest rating, the State Department notes that “corruption, lack of police training and poor implementation of laws facilitate trafficking of persons and similar crimes, such as baby selling.”
The stealing or selling of babies is not considered trafficking under US law because the victims are not sold into labor or sex.
The report also notes that Cambodia’s anti-trafficking legislation is insufficient. The Ministry of Justice has not yet completed long-awaited revisions to the existing law.
The State Department standards require that a country prohibit and punish acts of trafficking, mete out harsh punishment “commensurate with that for grave crimes,” and “make serious and sustained efforts to eliminate trafficking.”
Countries in the lowest group one year from now could face aid cutoffs, Nancy Ely-Raphael, head of the US’ anti-trafficking office, told reporters in Washington.
Ely-Raphael said the countries in Tier 3 in the 2003 report will face “non-humanitarian and non-trade-related sanctions.” The US would also urge the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and similar institutions not to give loans to those countries.
But these are not a threat to Cambodia. The government currently receives no US aid that is not either humanitarian or trade-related. And since the 1997 factional fighting, US policy has required voting against loans to Cambodia, embassy officials said.
The report cited estimates that 4 million people were trafficked in 2001.