A squadron of cyclos fanned out across Phnom Penh Monday, the vanguard in the Ministry for Women’s latest war on trafficking.
In royal blue T-shirts and white caps, the cyclo drivers looked a bit like soldiers. But it was the messages they carried—on their backs and on their bikes—that represent the weapons in this war.
“Stop trafficking!” read the shirts, which bore the logos of the Ministry for Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs and of the International Organization for Migration.
The cyclos carried copies of three new posters, designed to convince Cambodian women and villagers that they can and must fight back against trafficking. All posters include the Ministry of Interior’s 24-hour anti-trafficking hotline number: 023-720-555.
The full-color posters depict traffickers as crocodiles and tigers, dressed in slick suits and toting cellphones. The traffickers promise village girls lucrative jobs, jewels and fine clothes.
The smart girls, however, realize the promises are lies, and the crocodiles are luring them into bondage, crime and potential death from HIV/AIDS.
The posters use Cambodian proverbs to get people thinking. “Build the fence before the buffalo is stolen” shows villagers building a fence too late to protect themselves, while evil crocodile-people lead girls away.
“What’s fun now can hurt later” is a particularly vivid image aimed at traffickers. It shows a crocodile-man in a suit and tie, sitting on an upholstered couch on which he has been quaffing cognac.
The girl he has been hoping to traffic stands over him in fury, a book labeled “Constitution” raised menacingly over her head. She has already pounded his crocodile nose into a bloody pulp and looks ready to give him another whack.
Mu Sochua, minister of women’s affairs, said that while reliable numbers are hard to come by, she is convinced trafficking is increasing, based on the number of new karaoke and massage establishments she sees across Cambodia.
And while some choose to blame the industry’s growth on shadowy foreigners, it’s not true, she said.
“Most traffickers are Cambodian. They understand how to lure the women and children. There are some foreigners involved, but only a few. It is Cambodians who are doing this.”
The ministry’s three-month information campaign will cost about $38,000. It is part of a three-year effort by the ministry and the IOM to fight trafficking.
The campaign will also include a traveling road show, which will head off to the provinces after a two-hour premiere Saturday starting at 8:30 am at Wat Phnom.
Ministry officials thanked the government of Finland, the city of Phnom Penh and the ministries of Interior and Justice for cooperating in the anti-trafficking campaign. “We consider this very important and we are getting results,” Mu Sochua said.
“All Cambodian people must work together to eliminate this illegal activity. The trafficking of women and children hurts our society and violates the basic human right to live in dignity.”
Traffickers must understand, she said, that trafficking has been a crime in Cambodia since 1996, “and no one can avoid prosecution.”
Col Ten Borany, deputy director of the criminal department for the Ministry of Interior’s National Police, said police are being trained to combat traffickers, and more traffickers are being arrested.
He said he knows some brothels are run or protected by police or military officers, and said those officers are being told to stop committing crimes. “It is wrong to protect those places and they will be charged,” he said.
Ten Borany said it is also true that some prostitutes are not tricked into the business, but choose it voluntarily. In those cases, he said, police try to convince the women to take up safer lines of work and refer them to non-governmental organizations for skills training.
In the first six months of this year, he said, the ministry’s anti-trafficking unit investigated 116 cases, arrested 112 criminals, and obtained 85 convictions. The unit investigated 69 cases of rape, arresting 93 rapists (some cases were gang-rapes).
He said there were 12 cases of child debauchery, six of which involved foreigners. Most recently Pierre Guynot, a French national, was arrested May 31 in Sihanoukville, where he operated a go-cart track.
Sihanoukville Police Chief Daung Saroeun said Monday Guynot is back in jail in Sihanoukville after receiving medical treatment in Phnom Penh.
A source at the French Embassy said diplomats have worked with Cambodian authorities to see that Guynot receives needed medical treatment, but have no plans to intervene in the court case.
Both Mu Sochua and Ten Borany said they are continuing to pay close attention to the Guynot case, as they do to all trafficking cases.
“We cannot release this case. I will continue to pressure the Ministry of Justice to bring this case to trial,“ Mu Sochua said, “because the Ministry of the Interior has enough evidence to prosecute.”
She said it is important that prosecutors take such cases to court, rather than dropping charges after the alleged perpetrators pay fines or pay compensation to the victims.
“We have too many cases that disappear after someone pays a fine of $200,” she said. “Even if the victim decides to drop the charges, these cases should still go to court.”
Most accused rapists end up paying off their victims, she said, although the law doesn’t say charges can be dropped in return for compensation.
“The ministry [of justice] must protect the principle of law,” Mu Sochua said. Otherwise it appears that the law exists only for the rich.
“No matter what a person’s social class is, he or she is still entitled to justice,” the minister said.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Vachon)