The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday charged six Vietnamese nationals with procuring prostitution following a raid Thursday night on two brothels in central Phnom Penh that police and a child-protection NGO say had been trafficking minors.
“We charged five men and one woman with procuring prostitution,” said deputy municipal court prosecutor Chea Meth.
Nguyen Dinga, 26; Le Chantha, 31; Nguyen Yandong, 32; Heng Chhay, 26; Yoeun Vikhen, 48; and Nguyen Thi Yong, 39, the woman, were allegedly running the brothels when they were arrested.
At about 9 p.m. Thursday, anti-human trafficking police simultaneously raided two massage parlors—located on Street 63 in Daun Penh district’s Chaktomuk commune and on Sothearos Boulevard in Chamkar Mon district’s Tonle Basac commune—on suspicion that they were operating as brothels offering underage prostitutes. Seven Vietnamese nationals were arrested and several clients present at the time were detained and questioned, but later released.
General Pol Phiethey, director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department, who led the double raid, said a police investigation since then had revealed that at least five of the 20 women extricated during the operation were minors.
“There were five or six people under the age of 18, according to what they [the victims] told us,” Gen. Phiethey said Tuesday.
“We are cooperating with the Ministry of Social Affairs to investigate further, because some of the Vietnamese [sex workers] did not provide their true identities,” he added.
Lisa Slavovsky, director of aftercare at the International Justice Mission, which assisted in the raid and preceding investigation, said she was confident that minors had been working in the brothels, but that there was still too little information to say how many—or how old they were.
“As far as the minors, age verification [by the police] is still underway,” Ms. Slavovsky said, adding that in the months leading up to the raid, IJM had used “visual age estimations,” as well as reports from individuals who knew the victims, to determine their age.
“We’ve worked with our investigators in a very researched way in order to be able to assess their skills to do visual age estimation,” she said.