National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun called a high-level meeting in Phnom Penh on Monday to instruct relevant police units to increase their surveillance of establishments known to deal in human trafficking.
General Savoeun ordered police to focus on massage parlors, coffee shops, hair salons, karaoke parlors and other entertainment venues that are common destinations for trafficked people, according to a statement posted to the National Police website.
Pol Phiethey, director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department, said the meeting also addressed the trafficking of minors, a practice he said had decreased significantly since around the time his unit was established in 2002.
“In most of those places, we are focused on crimes involving children,” Lieutenant General Phiethey said, referring to the target establishments.
“[Human trafficking] cases involving children have decreased from 30 percent [of all trafficking cases] in 2000 to 2.2 percent in 2015,” he said.
According to the National Police website, officers took action in 54 cases of sex trafficking in the first six months of the year—up from 52 in 2014—sending 70 suspects to court and freeing 132 victims. The statement said labor trafficking cases increased to 28 during that period, though it failed to provide a comparative figure.
The statement also said that 280,000 migrant workers had left the country illegally this year. Rights groups say that these undocumented workers are some of the most vulnerable to being trafficked.
Keo Thea, Phnom Penh’s anti-human trafficking police chief, said his unit was keeping a close eye on entertainment establishments, massage parlors and coffee shops—the most likely destinations for trafficking victims.
He also said that trafficking within the country’s borders had decreased. As for Cambodians being trafficked abroad, Mr. Thea said he was paying particular attention to the recent trend of poor, uneducated women lured to China with the promise of high-paying jobs only to be sold as sex slaves or laborers.
At a sex trafficking conference in June, NGO staff and police, including Lt. Gen. Phiethey, said that clamping down on the crime was difficult because the law does not allow officers investigating sex trafficking cases to collect evidence while undercover—unlike their counterparts working on drug and corruption cases.
Officials from the Justice Ministry, which is ostensibly working toward granting that power in trafficking cases, encouraged officers to find ways to skirt the law.
Asked yesterday whether progress had been made to that end, Lt. Gen. Phiethey referred the question to the Justice Ministry officials, who could not be reached.
(Additional reporting By Sek Odom)