Following a raid on a Phnom Penh recruitment agency, military police yesterday detained two people and rescued 22 girls and women aged 13 to 25 who claimed they were being held against their will ahead of being sent to Malaysia to work as maids.
Municipal military police raided Century (Cambodia) Manpower Co Ltd in Sen Sok district at about 3 pm after the family of a 15-year-old girl, who was being held at the center, filed a complaint against the firm, said Chea Chouk, chief of the municipal anti-human trafficking military police.
During the raid, military police found 26 women, including five girls aged 13 to 17 years, and all but four said they were being held captive, Mr Chouk said.
During the raid, military police also detained two Century Manpower staff for questioning: Sao Sineng, 27, an administrator, and Nget Sopheara, 28, a supervisor. Mr Chouk said that military police would decide today whether the pair would be sent to the court for charging.
“All the laborers were sent to the municipal military police headquarters for questioning concerning their illegal confinement, and then they will be sent home,” he said, adding that the five girls aged 13 to 17 may need to be questioned longer.
“We could not say if we will close the company or not since the authorities are still working on the case,” Mr Chouk said, referring further questions to Phnom Penh Municipal Court Deputy Prosecutor Khiev Phalla.
One of the girls rescued from the center, a 13-year-old from Kompong Cham province, said she had been forced to stay at the center for two months and was told by staff at the agency that she would be sent to Malaysia to work as a maid.
“The company did not give me enough food and did not allow me to go out except with a chaperon,” she said, adding that her parents sent her to Century Manpower after being convinced to do so by a broker for the agency.
“I wanted to go back home since I was mistreated here,” she said.
Khoem Vando, an information officer for anti-human trafficking NGO Action Pour Les Enfants, said that his organization informed police after receiving a complaint from the family of a 15-year-old girl who was being held there against her will.
“We found the 15-year-old girl today,” he said.
Huy Pichsovann, a program officer with the Community Legal Education Center, said he was pleased with the raid, but said that police need to do more to stop such labor agencies from operating.
“We have investigated about ten companies since 2010 and found that many are searching for under age labor,” he said, adding that companies work with village chiefs to produce fake identification documents for the recruited children.
“This selection system is illegal and it is abusing children. They are criminals,” he said.
An Bunhak, president of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies and founder of the Top Manpower Co Ltd recruitment agency, which is not related to Century Manpower, declined to comment on the case.
According to its website, Century Manpower opened for business on Feb 1 and is licensed in Cambodia to train maids to work in Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Korea and Kuwait.
Labor Minister Vong Sauth declined to comment on the case.
Yesterday’s rescue is only the latest in a long string of cases involving irregularities and criminal activities within the Malaysia maid recruitment sector this year.
In February, a 31-year-old mother broke her leg while jumping to freedom from a window at the T&P Co Ltd, a recruitment agency in Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey district, where she was training to become a maid in Malaysia.
Last month, two Cambodian labor firms-Cambodian Labor Supply and Philimore-revealed that two Cambodian women in Kuala Lumpur were found dead in August, one at an office belonging to Cambodian Labor Supply and the other at her employer’s house. Malaysian authorities labeled the two deaths as suicides.
Tenaganita, a Malaysian human rights NGO, said in August that it had rescued 54 Cambodian women in Malaysia so far this year. All of the victims “showed clinical signs of anxiety and depression” after suffering from physical and sexual abuse and exhaustion.
Last month, a report by the Asia Foundation stated that job recruitment agencies that send Cambodian workers overseas often deceive young women through misleading job advertisements, and by using brokers that have “a position of authority” within the community. The report also found that recruitment agencies inflate migration costs that recruits have to pay back, pushing workers deep into debt bondage.