SISHA focuses the core of its work on combating human trafficking in Cambodia. However, as human trafficking is a global issue that often crosses international borders, SISHA also regularly coordinates its work with non-governmental organizations, embassies, and law enforcement in Malaysia and Thailand.
Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in the world and its social indicators are among the worst in the South East Asian region. Following decades of mass genocide, civil war, and widespread corruption, extreme poverty, human trafficking, and sexual exploitation persist as key threats to fundamental human rights and personal security. Cambodia was recently up-graded in the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 to a Tier Two country, evidence of the ongoing severity and prevalence of human trafficking to, from, and within Cambodia.
According the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2010, Cambodia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour.
Women and girls are trafficked to Thailand and Malaysia for exploitative labour as domestic workers and forced prostitution. Some Cambodian men migrate willingly to Thailand and Malaysia for work and are subsequently subjected to conditions of forced labour in the fishing, construction, and agricultural industries. Cambodian men and women repatriated from Malaysia report experiencing conditions of forced labour after migrating there for work with the assistance of Cambodian labour recruitment companies. Cambodian children are trafficked to Thailand and Vietnam to beg, sell candy or flowers, or shine shoes. Parents sometimes sell their children into involuntary servitude to serve as beggars, into brothels for commercial sexual exploitation, or into domestic servitude. Within Cambodia, children are trafficked for forced begging, waste scavenging, salt production, brick making, and quarrying.
Human trafficking has many faces. Many individuals are trafficked by their families, neighbors, or other people that they know and trust. Often, they initially consent to travel, believing that they have a legitimate job waiting in the country or city to which they are traveling. However, upon arrival they find themselves forced into prostitution and other forms of exploitative labour.
Rape and sexual assaults occur at alarming rates in Cambodia, with child rape and forced child prostitution being of particular concern. It is expected that gang rapes and other acts of sexual violence against women will continue to exacerbate the incidence of trafficking and sexual exploitation because of prevailing societal attitudes that deem rape survivors as “srey khoic” or “fallen women.” It is widely recognised that sexual violence and rape often lead to trafficking of Khmer girls because girls who have been raped are stigmatised and believe they have no chance of a normal life, leaving them vulnerable to traffickers.
Corruption permeates local law enforcement and the judicial process in many South East Asian countries. As a result, local police investigations into human trafficking and sexual exploitation cases are extremely low in number, and offenders, both local and international, are rarely apprehended or prosecuted. In March 2009, Forbes magazine identified Cambodia as one of the 10 most corrupt countries in the world.
Similarly, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions 2008 ranked Cambodia 166th out of 180 countries with a score of 1.8 on a corruption scale ranging from 10 (minimal corruption) to 0 (highly corrupt). With this score, Cambodia was deemed more corrupt than several countries with notoriously bad human rights records such as Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone.