Police raided a training center in Kompong Chhnang province run by recruitment agency T&P, rescuing about 45 women—including 22 minors between 13 and 17 years old—who were undertaking pre-departure training before being sent to Malaysia to work as maids, police officials said yesterday.
The police raids on Saturday and Sunday took place after the families of two of the girls involved filed a complaint with police against T&P saying a broker had come to their village in Kratie province and recruited minors to work in Malaysia.
During the raids, police also detained one of the training center’s staff, according to Ket Yong, chief of the provincial anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection bureau.
“We detained a member of the center’s staff, a teacher named Long Sina, for questioning at the provincial police headquarters,” Mr Yong said. “We are seeking the company director as well as brokers involved in forging documents that would allow the underaged girls to travel over the border.”
Provincial prosecutor Penh Vibol said that he was investigating the case but declined to elaborate further.
Ho Vuthy, deputy director general of the labor department at the Ministry of Labor, and Oum Mean, secretary of state at the ministry, said they were unaware of the case.
The domestic worker recruitment industry has been hit by a series of scandals this year, causing some opposition party members and rights groups to call for Cambodia to suspend sending maids to Malaysia and for recruitment agencies who flout the law to be shut down and their owners prosecuted.
T&P is no stranger to controversy. In February, a woman who was trying to escape being sent to Malaysia as a maid broke her leg after she tried to flee by jumping from a window at a T&P center in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district. And last month, two Cambodian labor firms, Cambodian Labor Supply and Philimore, revealed that two Cambodian women were found dead in Kuala Lumpur in August.
Malaysian authorities labeled both deaths as suicides.
And last week, police raided a training center belonging to recruitment agency Century Manpower in Phnom Penh, rescuing 22 girls and women, including five minors, who said they were being held against their will before being sent to work as maids in Malaysia.
Two of Century Manpower’s staff—Sao Sineng and Nget Sopheara—who were detained during last week’s raid, were charged with illegal confinement on Friday, and the broker involved in the case, Chob Vannaren, charged with the intention to engage in cross-border transportation.
The three are currently in Prey Sar Prison, according to Chea Chouk, Phnom Penh anti-human trafficking military police chief.
Yesterday, rights groups repeated calls for the owners of recruitment agencies that trafficked underaged girls to be prosecuted.
“I told the police again and again that they need to catch the big fish,” said Moeun Tola, head of the labor project at the Cambodian Legal Education Center.
“I feel T&P should be shut down…but I know it is difficult for the government because T&P has sent over 3,000 girls to Malaysia, and if it closes, the responsibility for these girls would be turned over to the Ministry of Labor,” he added.
Mr Tola said the government needed to show its commitment to cracking down on the recruitment of minors by going after those in charge of the recruitment agencies rather than lower-level staff members.
Opposition lawmaker and former Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua echoed Mr Tola’s remarks, saying that it was not enough that agency staff members alone be prosecuted. Arrests need to extend to agency owners, Ms Sochua said.
“It should have been done a long time ago,” she said, citing incompetence and corruption as the reason owners had not yet been prosecuted.
“The same names appear quite often…. I am strongly requesting a temporary suspension of Cambodian workers sent to Malaysia,” Ms Sochua said. “This is total human trafficking.”