When a teenage girl from Kompong Cham province escaped the Shanghai home of the abusive Chinese man she had been sold to, her journey home was only half complete.
After what the 17-year-old says was almost 9 months of rape and violence, she absconded from the man, who called himself her husband, making her way to the Cambodian consulate.
The consulate, however, with no budget to repatriate victims of this recent trend in the trafficking of women to China, could offer little more than a place to stay. After two weeks of waiting, it took a potentially crippling sacrifice to bring her home.
“My mother had no money so she forced herself to pawn our land in order to buy the $300 ticket for me to return,” the girl said in an interview Friday, a day after returning home.
As the effects of China’s lopsided population—about 119 men to every 100 women—are being felt around the region, Cambodia’s diplomatic missions in China are struggling to help dozens of women who find themselves in sexually abusive or exploitative situations.
Lim Mony, deputy head of women’s affairs at rights group Adhoc, which has helped repatriate 19 women sold to Chinese men since 2013, said on Friday that the Cambodian bureaucrats in China are not prepared to deal with the victims of this rising trend.
“In general, the Cambodian Embassy and consulates to China do not have the budget to buy plane tickets,” Ms. Mony said.
In recent months, women returned to Cambodia have complained of being ignored by the consulate in Shanghai after escaping their husbands. One said that Cambodian officials actually sent her back to the broker that had sold her in the first place.
The majority of those who have made it home—as is often the case for Cambodians who escape after being trafficked—have done so with the assistance of NGOs.
“That is why we are appealing to the government to consider granting a budget specifically for spending on ticket fees for victims of trafficking to China,” Ms. Mony said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was unavailable for comment Friday. But Chou Bun Eng, secretary-general of the Interior Ministry’s committee to fight human trafficking and sexual exploitation, said that the problem of repatriating victims is far more complicated than simply paying for a plane ticket.
As the majority of them go to China of their own free will—usually seduced by promises of wealthy husbands and good jobs—and some of those marry voluntarily before the abuse begins, it is difficult to then simply extract them, she said.
Chinese law states that a married woman cannot move away from the country without first getting a divorce.
“Once they get married in China and have the certificate, they must pass through the law in order to leave,” Ms. Bun Eng said. “If they do not, they will have serious problems.”
“All of the cases are different, and none of them are simple,” she said. “There are issues with names being changed, identification and other documentation.”
Ms. Bun Eng said that officials on the Cambodian side “do not clearly know the law” in China and that a memorandum of understating to address the issue was being drawn up by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
“At the moment, we don’t have a solution so we are just working case by case,” she said.
On Wednesday, a 19-year-old woman from Battambang province also escaped from the home of her abusive Chinese husband. It was her third escape attempt, having been returned to her husband by Chinese police twice.
Arriving at the consulate in Shanghai at 8:30 p.m., a guard told her that she would not receive assistance.
So she walked the streets for about half an hour, she said, finding herself at a home where an elderly couple let her use a phone to call the consul.
“Finally, the councilor ordered his men to come and find me and brought me to stay inside the consulate,” she said.
From there, she got in touch with Adhoc. On Friday, she returned home.