When Van Sina was 13, she did not even know what a sex worker was when she made the trip from Vietnam to Cambodia only to end up working in a Phnom Penh brothel.
Years later, a police raid on the Tuol Kok district brothel where she was working finally freed Ms Sina from that life.
Now 25, she advocates both reform and stronger enforcement of Cambodia’s anti-human trafficking laws as part of the Somaly Mam Foundation’s Voices for Change program. Later this year, she and a handful of other former sex workers in the program will get to deliver their message straight to the government.
In partnership with the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking and the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking, Ms Sina and other former sex workers will be training police officers and government officials about Cambodia’s thriving sex trade and the laws meant to stop it.
“It is very important that the victims of human trafficking explain this issue to the police since only the real victims can tell them what they face and to make them understand,” Ms Sina said yesterday.
Often times, said Karen Smith, education director for the Somaly Mam Foundation, “the people we are expecting to uphold the law aren’t familiar with those laws.”
As graduates of the Foundation’s Voices for Change program, she added, these women have received legal training and learned to advocate reform. And as former sex workers, they bring with them an unmatched degree of authority.
Lim Tith, national program director for the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking, said the partners hope to reach some 45 police officers, government officials and non-government representatives in each of three, maybe four, provinces: Battambang, Pailin, Ratanakkiri and possibly Kampong Cham.
Data on whether the number of sex workers is rising or falling in Cambodia varies, Ms Smith said. Either way, she added, “the reality is there are women that are still enslaved…. They’re still out there. For them it doesn’t matter if the problem is getting one percent better a year or one percent worse a year.”