Trafficking in Persons Report 2016 - Country Narratives - Cambodia


Cambodia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Cambodian adults and children migrate to other countries within the region and increasingly to the Middle East for work; many are subjected to forced labor on fishing vessels, in agriculture, in construction, in factories, and in domestic servitude—often through debt bondage—or to sex trafficking. Migrants using irregular migration channels, often with the assistance of unlicensed brokers, were at an increased risk of trafficking, but those using licensed recruiting agents also became victims of forced labor or sex trafficking. Children from impoverished families are vulnerable to forced labor, often with the complicity of their families, including in domestic servitude and forced begging or street vending in Thailand and Vietnam. Significant numbers of male Cambodians continued to be recruited in Thailand for work on fishing boats and subjected to forced labor on Thai-owned vessels in international waters. Cambodian victims escaping this form of exploitation have been identified in Malaysia, Indonesia, Mauritius, Fiji, Senegal, South Africa, and Papua New Guinea. Cambodian men reported severe abuses by Thai captains, deceptive recruitment, underpaid wages, and being forced to remain aboard vessels for years. NGOs report significant numbers of women from rural areas are recruited under false pretenses to travel to China to enter into marriages with Chinese men; some are subjected to forced factory labor or forced prostitution.

All of Cambodia’s provinces are sources for human trafficking. Sex trafficking is largely clandestine; Cambodian and ethnic Vietnamese women and girls move from rural areas to cities and tourist destinations, where they are subjected to sex trafficking in brothels and, more frequently, “indirect” sex establishments such as beer gardens, massage parlors, salons, karaoke bars, and non-commercial sites. An NGO report released in 2013 examined the prevalence of children among individuals in commercial sex establishments in three Cambodian cities and found that children comprised 8.2 percent of this population. The study concluded that the 2013 finding represented a significant decline in this form of child sex trafficking compared to earlier reports by different entities published in 1997 and 2000. The same NGO reported that a March 2015 assessment found that the prevalence of children among this population declined further to 2.2 percent; the NGO had not yet formally published these results at the close of the reporting period. Cambodian men form the largest source of demand for children exploited in prostitution; however, men from other Asian countries, the United States, Australia, South Africa, and Europe travel to Cambodia to engage in child sex tourism. Vietnamese women and children, many of whom are victims of debt bondage, travel to Cambodia and are subjected to sex trafficking. NGOs report criminal gangs transport some Vietnamese victims through Cambodia before they are exploited in Thailand and Malaysia. Traffickers in Cambodia are most commonly family or community members or small networks of independent brokers. Trafficking-related corruption remained a significant concern. Corrupt officials in Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia cooperate with labor brokers to facilitate the transport of victims between countries. Local observers report corrupt officials often thwart progress in cases where the perpetrators are believed to have political, criminal, or economic ties to government officials.

The Government of Cambodia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government finalized national guidelines for the identification and referral of victims, and local authorities identified 589 victims, an increase from 326 in the previous year. The government lacked comprehensive data on law enforcement efforts, but information collected from various sources indicates progress on prosecutions and convictions, particularly for labor trafficking offenses. The government began implementing the national action plan launched during the previous reporting period and allocated $500,000 to the interagency committee that leads Cambodia’s anti-trafficking efforts. However, the government failed to investigate, prosecute, or convict any complicit officials. The government did not issue formal guidance allowing the use of undercover investigation techniques in trafficking investigations, and the lack of explicit authority continued to impede officials’ ability to fully hold sex traffickers accountable.


Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish labor and sex traffickers, individuals who purchase commercial sex acts from children, and complicit officials; issue an executive decree (prakas) or other official guidance authorizing the use of undercover investigative techniques in the enforcement of the anti-trafficking law; fully implement the new nationwide protocol for proactive victim identification among vulnerable groups, and train officials on its provisions; increase the availability of services for male victims, especially men exploited in commercial fishing; establish systematic procedures and allocate resources to assist Cambodian victims through diplomatic missions abroad or in countries without Cambodian diplomatic representation; implement a system for monitoring, collecting, and reporting data on anti-trafficking prosecution and victim protection efforts; modify the law to allow restitution upon conviction of the trafficker; facilitate greater NGO access to the policy for formally transferring custody of child victims; increase efforts to make court processes more sensitive to the needs and interests of victims, including through the provision of witness protection and options for compensation; include anti-trafficking content in police training academies; and increase public awareness campaigns aimed at reducing the local demand for commercial sex and child sex tourism.


The government lacked comprehensive data on law enforcement efforts, but information collected from various sources indicates progress in prosecutions and convictions, particularly for labor trafficking offenses. The 2008 Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation explicitly addresses trafficking offenses in 12 of its 30 articles, prohibits all forms of trafficking, and prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape. Some authorities lacked familiarity with the anti-trafficking law and used provisions of the penal code to prosecute trafficking offenses. The government did not provide comprehensive data on anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. However, the information the government did provide, augmented by NGOs, indicates the government prosecuted at least 69 suspects under its anti-trafficking law or comparable provisions in the penal code, including 38 for sex trafficking offenses and 31 for labor trafficking offenses. Reports from the government, media, and NGOs indicate the government convicted at least 19 sex traffickers and 24 labor traffickers, an increase from at least 22 sex traffickers and seven labor traffickers convicted during the previous year. Convicted traffickers received sentences ranging from two to 15 years’ imprisonment. Five Taiwanese nationals convicted in absentia during the previous reporting period for the forced labor of hundreds of Cambodian men in the commercial fishing sector remained at large. The government continued to design and deliver donor-funded training on the implementation of the anti-trafficking law to police, prosecutors, judges, and other government officials. Local organizations and some officials noted an urgent need for more sophisticated evidence collection techniques, including undercover investigations, to decrease the reliance on witness testimony and adapt to the increasingly clandestine nature of sex trafficking in Cambodia. Police continued to investigate cases of sex trafficking that occurred in brothels or cases where victims brought complaints directly, but did not typically pursue more complicated cases. The government did not issue guidance granting explicit approval of undercover evidence collection in human trafficking cases; in its absence, many police self-limited such investigations, and prosecutors denied investigators’ requests for such authority, which effectively forced them to close some investigations. An NGO reported officials faced particular challenges building cases for cross-border trafficking offenses.

Endemic corruption at all levels of the government severely limited the ability of individual officials to make progress in holding traffickers accountable. However, the government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any government employees complicit in trafficking, nor did it take any punitive measures against Phnom Penh’s former anti-trafficking police chief, whose 2011 conviction for human trafficking was overturned in an unannounced, closed-door Supreme Court hearing in 2013.


The government made progress on victim protection. During the year, the government finalized and adopted guidelines for a standardized, nationwide system for the proactive identification and referral of victims among vulnerable groups that had been in development for more than five years. With assistance from an international organization, the government continued to operate a transit center in Poipet, where it screened for trafficking victims among the approximately 60,000 migrants deported from Thailand in 2015. It identified 100 victims among this group and provided them temporary shelter; however, given the extent of trafficking among this population, it likely failed to identify many more victims. The government operated a temporary shelter in Phnom Penh for female trafficking victims and other crimes, and it referred trafficking victims to NGO shelters—most of which cared for victims of several forms of abuse—to receive further assistance. Authorities did not provide complete statistics on the number of victims it assisted or referred, and the total number of victims identified or assisted by the government or NGOs is unknown. However, local police identified and referred 589 trafficking victims to provincial agencies for NGO referrals, an increase from 326 referred in the previous year. Authorities reported the majority of these were victims of labor trafficking. The government continued to rely heavily on civil society to protect trafficking victims; however, it failed to facilitate NGO access to procedures intended to allow for the formal transfer of custody of child victims, leaving organizations that accepted child victims vulnerable to court action. Government officials at times returned children to high-risk environments if family members would not consent to temporary guardianship in a shelter, leaving them extremely vulnerable to re-victimization. Despite a prevalence of male labor trafficking victims, assistance for this population remained limited.

Although the prime minister appealed to Cambodian diplomats to better serve overseas migrant workers, diplomatic missions overseas continued to lack adequate funding or capacity to provide basic assistance or repatriate victims; victims identified in countries without Cambodian diplomatic representation had access to even less support. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation (MOSAVY) received 857 repatriated Cambodian victims from Indonesia, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa. The majority were repatriated with the assistance of an international organization. Hundreds of these victims were subjected to forced labor on commercial fishing vessels, but experts estimate this represents only a small number of total Cambodians subjected to this form of trafficking.

The government required the repatriation of foreign victims and did not provide legal alternatives to their removal should they face hardship or retribution upon return to their countries of origin; five victims were repatriated to Vietnam during the reporting period. There were no reports the government punished individuals identified as victims for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking; however, insufficient victim identification efforts left many victims unidentified and at risk of being punished. Officials often lacked sufficient office space to keep victims and perpetrators separated during interviews. In cooperation with an NGO, the government launched a pilot project in three provinces designating trained social workers to provide case management services to victims with cases moving through the legal process. However, the weak and corrupt legal system and the lack of adequate victim and witness protection, exacerbated by a lengthy trial process and fear of retaliation by traffickers, hindered victims’ willingness to cooperate in many cases. Victims whose families received out-of-court settlements from traffickers often changed their testimonies, hampering the pursuit of successful prosecutions. Victims were theoretically eligible for restitution, although this was limited by a legal requirement that compensation be paid only following the completion of a trafficker’s jail term.


The government increased prevention efforts. The interagency committee and its secretariat coordinated anti-trafficking activities and began implementing the national action plan launched during the previous reporting period. The government dedicated 72 staff members to the committee and, for the first time, allocated an independent budget of $500,000. Local committees coordinated efforts at the provincial level; NGOs report the central government provided modest funds to four of these in 2015, compared to two committees in 2014. An NGO reported receiving 96 complaints from victims seeking legal redress from brokers or recruiting agents complicit in their being subjected to trafficking in Malaysia. The government convicted one labor recruiter for illegal practices that may have contributed to trafficking. With support from foreign and local donors, it produced and disseminated printed materials, radio broadcasts, billboards, and posters on the dangers of human trafficking. The anti-trafficking police independently developed and delivered training for members of the entertainment sector on policies and procedures to prevent and report sex trafficking crimes. The government reported reaching an agreement with the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh to scrutinize more closely visa applications from unmarried Cambodian women to identify potential vulnerabilities to and indicators of trafficking; it is unknown, however, whether this was implemented in such a way to reduce an undue burden for potential migrants. The Ministry of Tourism sustained collaboration with NGOs in producing trainings, billboards, and handouts aimed at reducing the demand for commercial sex acts and child sex tourism, although these efforts were targeted at foreign sex tourists rather than the local population that was the main source of demand for commercial sex with children. Authorities prosecuted six and convicted three child sex tourists, extradited one suspect to the United States, and prosecuted one and convicted five Cambodian citizens for the purchase of commercial sex acts with children. Local experts reported concern over the government’s ongoing failure to impose appropriate punishments on foreign nationals who purchase commercial sex acts with children; during the year, one convicted offender’s prison sentence was reduced from eight to five years. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel and to members of the military prior to their deployment abroad on peacekeeping initiatives.

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