The new image of Cambodia’s anti-human trafficking efforts—which have significantly increased in recent months—is a “positive” one, officials said at the launch of a nationalistic campaign Wednesday.
The campaign, which focuses on harnessing family values and “what it means to be Khmer,” according to Women’s Affairs Ministry Secretary of State You Ay, who heads the National Task Force Against Trafficking, will feature discussions in different provinces aimed at opening channels of communication and strengthening communities.
An upbeat karaoke song entitled “Family, Community and Unity”—from which the word “trafficking” is conspicuously absent—will play at these forums, the first of which will take place in Svay Rieng province Monday.
“This is a positive and new strategy…built on the strong foundation of Cambodian values,” You Ay said, adding that it is necessary to localize discussions because trafficking crimes vary depending on location.
Measures that effectively curb the trafficking of child beggars in Svay Rieng will not necessarily apply to women being sexually exploited in Siem Reap, she said.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng, to whom the task force now directly answers, called trafficking “a direct stab at our Khmer values,” but said it’s an issue that the international community is closely observing.
“We are being watched,” he said, making reference to the US government’s annual global trafficking report, which upgraded Cambodia from tier three to a tier two watch list last year.
“I can say we are at level 2.5,” Sar Kheng said, adding he was confident they would be fully upgraded to tier two in the coming year.
Recent efforts against trafficking include the nullification of two South Korean companies aimed at finding Cambodian brides for their countrymen, Sar Kheng said.
“We can no longer allow this kind of company to operate,” he said.
Anti-trafficking efforts, which have floundered in the past and are inherently difficult to coordinate given their trans-boundary nature, have significantly increased in recent months—a development that Bith Kimhong, the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department director, credited to effective leadership and cooperation.
Bith Kimhong said by telephone Wednesday afternoon that police have taken action on 71 cases relating to sexual exploitation and arrested 98 suspects since July—around the time Sar Kheng took charge.
He said police dealt with less than half that number of cases in the first half of 2007, having processed only 32 cases of sexual exploitation in that time frame.
Bith Kimhong said he did not have figures on prosecutions of those arrested, which is an area US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli said is in need of particular attention in order to deter potential offenders.
“Especially judicial officials who accept bribes…need to be punished and removed,” he said at Wednesday’s launch, adding that Cambodia should be praised for having “bravely acknowledged that it does have a problem” and making great strides in combating trafficking.