The government hit back over the weekend against criticism that it is failing to provide basic protection to Cambodian women in China, who have increasingly found themselves trapped in violent situations after being lured to the country with promises of a wealthy husband or lucrative job.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday rebuffed reports from rights group Adhoc that consulates in China were doing little to help Cambodian women who have escaped serious domestic abuse after entering into marriages with or being sold to Chinese men. The organization says that since 2013, it has helped 19 women return to Cambodia after they fled violent or sexually abusive relationships in China.
On Friday, Adhoc said NGOs were shouldering the responsibility for repatriating victims because Cambodian consulates lacked the budget to provide anything more than rudimentary shelter.
In response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a three-point “clarification,” saying the Cambodian Embassy in Beijing, as well as consulates throughout China, worked diligently to rescue victims of human trafficking and had successfully repatriated 28 women from China since January.
“All Cambodian consular representatives in China work hard to cooperate with Chinese authorities to rescue Cambodian women, especially those forced to China against their will,” the statement says. Countering Adhoc’s claim that consulates offer women little more than a temporary roof over their heads, the statement says that food and water is also available, while legal assistance is provided “in some cases.”
The statement goes on to say that the Cambodian Embassy in Beijing will set up a 24-hour emergency hotline to make it easier for family members of trafficked women to report a threatening situation.
Finally, it explains that consular officials can only assist victims if they are willing to submit to Chinese law, which requires that married women get a divorce before leaving the country.
Adhoc president Thun Saray said Sunday that although his organization had a good working relationship with the government in assisting trafficked women, numerous victims had complained that consulates were sluggish in dealing with their cases and provided limited assistance.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not worked well or with enough speed to help,” Mr. Saray said.
“We know that the embassy and consulates in China do not have proper shelters or accommodation, and sometimes turn away victims when they come for help.”
Cheng Hong Bo, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh, said his country was also working to address shortcomings in the repatriation process.
“This issue is very concerning and both China and Cambodia are taking measures to address the matter,” Mr. Cheng said.
“I don’t know specific details about the new procedures that will deal with trafficked women, but Chinese authorities are paying great attention to address this.”
Due to China’s one-child policy and a cultural preference for males, there are now about 119 boys born to every 100 girls. This population imbalance has led many would-be husbands to search for wives outside the country’s borders. While Vietnam was the first country in the region to see women leaving in significant numbers to marry Chinese men, the trend is spreading quickly.
The Cambodian and Chinese governments say they are currently drafting a memorandum of understanding to protect Cambodian women who enter into marriages with Chinese men.