Experts Studying How to Track Traffickers

Most people trafficked into forced or exploitative labor are not kidnapped at gun point. Instead, they are guided into the jobs through neighbors, some of whom may have been trafficked themselves, a regional trafficking expert said at a conference on labor in Phnom Penh Monday.

“It’s often a relatively voluntary process. Unfortunately, they still end up in an exploitative situation,” said Hans van de Glind of the International Labor Organ­ization’s Mekong Project to fight women and children trafficking.

Thirty researchers from across Southeast Asia are meeting this week to discuss better ways to collect what van de Glind called “sensitive and underground information” on child labor and trafficking.

Opening the workshop, Mini­ster of Social Affairs Ith Sam Heng estimated that about 16 percent of Cambodian children over 5 were working; about 42 per­cent of children over 14 had a job. More than half of working children do not attend school, he said.

It is difficult to count these children accurately because many work in homes or in informal or illegal businesses, he said.

The government and the ILO, a UN organization, identified three businesses where child labor was common: Fishing in Sihanoukville, salt production in Kampot province and rubber plantations in Kompong Cham province. A $1 million, 30-month pilot program funded by the ILO and the US government focuses on 3,500 families in those areas, said Mar Sophea of the ILO.

In July, trainers will begin educating families on the dangers of child labor, he said. They will also offer assistance, such as business credit, to families who keep their children in school.

About three-quarters of Phnom Penh residents are migrants from the provinces, some of whom were trafficked, said van de Glind. The ILO is funding a pro­gram throughout Southeast Asia aimed at stopping trafficking at the source, he said.

In Cambodia, the government and the ILO have identified four provinces in which trafficking is especially common: Sihanouk­ville, Prey Veng, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey.

Since late 2000, the ILO has sponsored programs to educate villagers on how they might be deceived or forced into exploitative work. Local NGOs educate networks of youth volunteers or respected local leaders, van der Glind said.

Sometimes people who are trafficked come back to their home villages with flashy new clothes or cell phones, but are reluctant to tell their neighbors that they were exploited, van der Glind said.

“Keeping face is important,” he said.

In line with recent trends, child labor researchers discussed ways to incorporate children’s ideas and voices in their work. They also stressed the importance of including bosses and authorities in the research so they are more willing to support recommended programs.

“Research doesn’t just mean collecting information,” Mar Sophea said. “We must build a social alliance, involving the employer, the parent and the working children.”

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