Cambodia is an impoverished nation that has just recovered from its unstable past. In the last 40 years, the country has been in to civil war and undergone invasions by South Vietnam, the United States, and later by a reunited Vietnam. The Khmer Rouge government destroyed almost of the country's infrastructure – educational system, political, financial and cultural by leaving the country in a state of disorder. However, in the late 1980's, Cambodia entered a time of relative peace and reconstruction.

Poverty is still widespread throughout the country with many living on less than $1 per day and over 14% of the population living below the national poverty line in 2014 (ADB). Crops failures, weather conditions, environmental degradation, health problems, and landlessness result in extreme vulnerability among families. The poor economic situation can often result in migration, child labor and exploitation as families try to make ends meet. The parents were also lured to work abroad and young girls are often trafficked or lured into brothels by the promise of high paying jobs or lucrative economic opportunities. The cycle of poverty is perpetuated through the loss of education and training and human trafficking still become a hot issue for Government and NGOs shaking hand to end it.


 Since the stabilisation of the South East Asian region from the early 1990’s, economic migration has been common especially from poor to wealthier countries. A main migration route in the region is from Cambodia to Thailand, where the number of people migrating is increasing substantially (IOM). The amount of money being sent home by Cambodian migrants in general also in increasing substantially, from $0.4 billion in 2010 to $0.9 in 2015 (World Bank). Unfortunately the vast majority of those migrating do so illegally and through informal channels. Using Thailand as an illustration, between July to October 2014, 693,630 Cambodian migrant workers and 42,395 dependents without legal documents registered at One-Stop Service Centres for temporary amnesty from deportation (ILO).

An IOM Report which investigated the phenomenon of returnee migrants from Cambodia using a sample of 667 from a population of over 250,000 found almost 1 in 5 experienced some form of abuse, and 83% were undocumented.Debt, low pay or having no job, were the main reason for migration.Children were directly impacted by migration with 7% of males and 16% of women being accompanied by children.

In cases where children who did not join their parents and are separated, negative developmental implications are likely. This negative effect of separation was highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights who noted as women migrate internally to work in garment factories and their children are with family members in their home province and returning only during holidays, with adverse implications for the rights of the child, as well as for the woman herself (OHCHR). These implications are likely to be more severe when children are separated for longer periods from parents.

As people seek to escape poverty/inequality or seek better opportunities, migration is sometimes regarded as the only route to a better standard of life. Thailand is only one destination country Cambodians migrate to, with large number also migrating to Malaysia, Korea, Japan and Middle East among other countries. Those who choose migration are often relatively unskilled, have little accurate information of migrating requirement and lack the necessary travel documents (IOM).

When people migrate without documentation or through informal channels, their potential to exploited or be trafficking can increase. The reasons that cause this to occur are complex but some factors relate to a lack of knowledge risks, deception or coercion by perpetrators, illegal employment or illegal status, desperation and acceptance of exploitative conditions, unsafe and risk-taking behaviour.

Accurately assesses the total number of people being trafficking in, out or within Cambodia each year is impossible. The number of repatriated officially identified victims of trafficking in 2014 was 154 men (Thailand 108, Malaysia 23, Indonesia 23, Saudi Arabia 7, China 1) and 29 women (Malaysia 15, China 13, Saudi Arabia 1) with the vast majority suffering some form of labour exploitation. Number of repatriated victims of trafficking in persons, by countries of return and gender

Migration does not only happen across borders with Cambodian’s migrating within the country from rural to urban areas, particularly to the capital Phnom Penh. The prevalence of migration and associated risks are likely to increase in coming due to Cambodia’s young population with roughly 300,000 Cambodians are entering the workforce every year (UN report, 2016-2018). These statistics have massive implication for the prospects of children and young people in Cambodia today.

June 2014 over 250,000 mainly undocumented returned to Cambodia, prompted by fear of arrest and uncertainty about the tumultuous political situation in Thailand. Majority from border provinces. Sample of 667, few were tricked/coerced into travelling but almost 1 in 5 experienced some form of abuse, and 83% were undocumented. wages we nearly 5 times higher. Male migrants had higher level of income. Debt, low pay and no job main reason for migration.

Inequality in relation to level of education, opportunities and access to health, before, during and after migration.

The possession of legal documents played a dominant role in determining safe migration, the main barrier being the cost of a passport.

Children often also migrated, with 7% of males and 16% of women being accompanied. Labour Migration Policy for Cambodia 2015-2018

Governance, international standards reviewed, multilateral cooperation, consult with social partners and civil society, new legislation where gaps are identified. Protection and empowerment of male and female workers, harnessing labour migration for development. Regarding remittances, productive return and reintegration.

Estimated that much higher numbers of migrant workers move irregularly than regularly, but because of porous borders and seasonal migration flows, it is difficult to obtain accurate figures

In 2016, one international survey put the number of Cambodian’s living under slavery conditions it was estimated that the vast majority (78%) of Cambodians living in modern slavery conditions were victims of labor trafficking.

Human Trafficking in Cambodia

Cambodia is a transit and destination country for men, women, and children who are forced to work and sex trafficking according to US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP, 2016). Cambodian adults and children migrate to work at neighbor countries in region and Middle East. Many are forced to work on fishing boats, in agriculture, construction, factories and housework, often through debt or sexual trafficking.

Migrants usingirregularmigration networks assisted by unlicensed brokers were increased risk of trafficking, but those using licensed employment agencies also become victims of forced labor or sexual trafficking. Children from poor and non-educated families were often vulnerable to forced labor, abuse, including domestic violent and forcing beggars or vending on the streets in Thailand and Vietnam.

The number of Cambodian men continued to be recruited in Thailand to work on fishing boats and were forced to work on Thai-owned vessels in join waters border. Cambodian victims who fled of exploitation were found in Malaysia, Indonesia, Mauritius, Fiji, Senegal, South Africa and Papua New Guinea.

Cambodian men reported got serious abuses by Thai captain, deceptive recruitment, underpaid wages, and forced to remain in vessels for years. NGOs report that a large number of women from rural areas are lured by broker to illegally travel toget marriedwith Chinese men inChina, some were forced to work in factory or in prostitution.

Cambodian Government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, however, it is making significant efforts to do so, and it still be cited in the Tier 2 Watch List as hot issue of Human trafficking in Cambodia today.

Situation of Women and Children

As it stands today, at least 1 in every 150 Cambodian people are commercial sex workers, 45% of these are HIV positive and at least 30,000 are children (including cases of 6 year old girls being sold for $70). This illegal sex trade in Cambodia generates traffickers and corrupt officials approximately $500 million a year. Exploitation through sexual slavery, trafficking and prostitution in Cambodia is enormous in scale but it doesn’t stop there; domestic violence is an even more frequent concern because of the ‘normalcy’ of it. Even worse, according to Cambodia Women's Crisis Center (CWCC), rape victims 10 years old and below account for 18% of the total number of cases reported.

Most rural regions of Cambodia suffer from extreme poverty due to the low value of agricultural production and the long-term effects of decades of civil war. Most provinces experienced years of turbulent Khmer Rouge activities, and the effects of living for decades in dire poverty in regions engulfed by violence have created a volatile, precarious environment in which serious human rights violations continue to prevail. 

These poor rural communities have proved to be a fertile environment in which unscrupulous individuals prey on vulnerable young people. Child prostitution rings and sex abusers commonly draw their victims from the poorest families in the communities. Some families have been misled into believing that they are sending their child away to earn good money to send back to the family, while others have been tricked by people they trust such as friends, other family members, or people posing as respectable business men or women.

With the “agreement” of the family, the child is then sold to brothels and locked into sexual slavery. If the child ever gets the opportunity to return to their community they are often confronted by reactions of contempt from the local population and sometimes even their own families, as they struggle with the stigma of their new identity. Social norms attach high value to women’s chastity and stipulate that women remain virgin’s until marriage. Deviation from these norms, even though rape may result in the victim being shunned by society and deemed unfit for marriage. 

The idea that females are disposable commodities still exists in Cambodian society, aggravated by the disproportionate value placed on virginity and other prevailing social and cultural norms that perpetuate a widespread lack of respect for women. This leads to high levels of sex trafficking, domestic violence, rape and abuse. Poverty, illiteracy, family issues, gender discrimination, inadequate protection under the law increased together with uncontrolled tourism and high unemployment all provide fertile breeding grounds for vulnerabilities resulting in 1 in 40 Khmer children being sold into sex slavery.

In 2016, one international survey put the number of Cambodian’s living under slavery conditions it was estimated that the vast majority (78%) of Cambodians living in modern slavery conditions were victims of labor trafficking (Global Slavery Index).

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