Trafficking in Persons Report 2012 - Cambodia


Cambodia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Cambodian men, women, and children migrate to countries within the region – primarily Thailand and Malaysia – for work, and many are subsequently subjected to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, debt bondage, or forced labor within the fishing, construction, and agricultural industries. Vietnamese women and children, many of whom are victims of debt bondage, are transported to Cambodia and forced into commercial sex. The United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking reported that 149 Cambodian victims of human trafficking were repatriated from Thailand in 2011, and the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation (MOSAVY) reported receiving 106 victims of trafficking from Thailand. During the year, more than 100 male Cambodian victims of forced labor on Thai-flagged fishing boats were repatriated after escaping from their traffickers, or being rescued during Indonesian raids. The men reported being deceived by Thai fishing boat owners about the expected length of service and the amount of their payment. Some Cambodian men also reported severe abuses by Thai captains and being forced to remain aboard the vessels for up to two years.

The inability to understand obligations, read contracts, or pay processing fees rendered some Cambodian migrant workers vulnerable to forced labor and debt bondage, especially in Malaysia. Such workers have reported employers in destination countries withholding copies of employment contracts and confiscating passports. Recruitment agencies have reportedly engaged in the falsification of legal identification and age verification documents to allow for the illegal recruitment of children. Within Cambodia, parents sometimes sell their children into conditions of forced labor, including domestic servitude, and send them to beg on the streets in Thailand. Cambodian children are also transported to Vietnam for the purpose of forced labor. The Svay Pak brothel area outside Phnom Penh, where children are exploited in the sex trade, continues to operate despite numerous attempts by police to close it down. According to the ILO, children are involved in other manifestations of the worst forms of child labor including work in agriculture, brick-making, street vending, and begging; these children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking.

Within the country, Cambodian and ethnic Vietnamese women and girls are trafficked from rural areas to Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Poipet, Koh Kong, and Sihanoukville for commercial sexual exploitation. The sale of virgin girls continues to be a serious problem in Cambodia. Cambodian men form the largest source of demand for child prostitution, though a significant number of men from the United States and Europe, as well as other Asian countries, travel to Cambodia to engage in child sex tourism.

The Government of Cambodia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government continued its efforts to prosecute sex trafficking cases, convicting 62 trafficking offenders during the year – an increase from 20 offenders convicted during the previous reporting period. The government made significant progress in confronting the transnational labor trafficking of Cambodians as it obtained convictions involving licensed labor recruitment agencies engaged in fraudulent recruitment and trafficking. In October 2011, the Government of Cambodia enacted a ban on recruiting, training, and sending domestic workers to Malaysia. During the reporting year, the government also initiated the negotiation of a memorandum of understanding with the Malaysian government to protect the rights of Cambodian migrant workers in Malaysia. In addition, the government issued a decree to regulate the recruitment and treatment of migrant workers. However, the decree contains fundamental weaknesses – such as a lack of unequivocally defined migrant workers’ rights or regulation of recruitment fees that domestic agencies may charge potential migrant workers – leaving Cambodian migrant workers vulnerable to debt bondage and forced labor. The decree also fails to establish minimum standards for the guidelines for government’s monitoring of labor recruiters and brokers and enforcement of punishments for illegal recruitment activities.

Recommendations for Cambodia: Sustain efforts to investigate and prosecute offenders of both labor and sex trafficking; improve efforts to investigate and prosecute government officials complicit in human trafficking; initiate more stringent monitoring and enforcement measures to better regulate the recruitment, placement, and protection of migrant workers going abroad; enforce criminal penalties for labor recruitment companies engaging in illegal acts committed during the recruitment process, such as debt bondage, detention of workers during pre-departure training, and recruitment of workers younger than 18; sensitize law enforcement authorities and policy makers to the prevalence of trafficking of adult men, especially in fishing, and make more services available to male victims within NGO shelters; revise the newly-enacted migrant worker sub-decree number 190 to include more comprehensive, transparent, and unequivocal stipulations for the protection of migrant laborers; increase efforts to make court processes more efficient and sensitive to the needs and interests of trafficking victims; establish witness protection provisions specifically for trafficking victims; expand efforts to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as children and migrant laborers; institute a nationwide victim identification protocol; augment governmental referrals of trafficking victims to NGOs with increased support and services, inclusive legal aid, psychosocial support, and reintegration programs; increase engagement with governments of destination countries on the protection and safe repatriation of migrant workers; adhere to and implement the terms of the National Plan of Action (2011-2013); improve interagency cooperation and coordination between police, court officials, and other government personnel on trafficking cases and victim referral processes; and continue to promulgate public awareness campaigns aimed at reducing the demand for commercial sex and child sex tourism by locals and foreign nationals.


The Government of Cambodia demonstrated mixed progress in its law enforcement efforts against trafficking crimes. The 2008 Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation explicitly addresses trafficking offenses through 12 of its 30 articles. The law prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape. During the current year, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) reported 102 prosecutions resulting in 62 convictions, compared with 20 convictions during the previous year. Of the 102 cases, 49 traffickers were prosecuted under the human trafficking law and 32 under the penal code and Law on Aggravated Circumstances. During the reporting period the Cambodian government convicted eight owners, staff members, and managers from three licensed recruiting agencies for crimes related to trafficking for labor exploitation. Those convicted received sentences ranging from one to eight years’ imprisonment. Various Cambodian workers sent to Thailand by a recruiting firm in Phnom Penh have testified that the recruiters allegedly sent them to exploitative factories where their passports were confiscated, medical needs denied, and salaries drastically reduced, before being threatened for informing the press of their plight. During the year, three convicted foreign pedophiles – one of whom is also a sex trafficking offender and one of whom was convicted in the largest child sex offender case in Cambodian history – were pardoned and released early from prison.

Endemic corruption at all levels continued to impede anti-trafficking endeavors and local observers believe it to be the cause of impunity afforded to firms engaging in illegal recruitment practices that contribute to trafficking. In December 2011, the former head of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department was convicted in absentia and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment on complicity charges, including accepting payments from brothels in exchange for protection and information on future raids. However, corruption allegations were never addressed by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court or the Anti-Corruption Unit and the convicted offender fled prior to being apprehended and remains at large.


The government sustained efforts to identify trafficking victims and ensured they received access to services during the reporting period. Although several ministries contributed statistics to the trafficking database, the information was inaccurate and incomplete. Cambodian authorities continued to employ systematic procedures to identify victims and refer them to NGO shelters. The government also operated a temporary shelter in Phnom Penh for women and girls, though the authorities did not offer further assistance. Notwithstanding the prevalence of male trafficking victims, there continued to be a lack of shelter facilities to accommodate this population, as NGOs are not required by the Cambodian government to accept male victims. MOSAVY reported receiving and referring 884 trafficking victims to shelters and the local police referred 247 victims of sex trafficking to province-level Departments of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation. MOSAVY continued to operate, with assistance from UNICEF, a transit center in Poipet where it reported the identification of 106 victims of trafficking among Cambodian migrants deported from Thailand during the year.

Authorities encouraged victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions of traffickers and provided the right for victims to seek legal action. However, Cambodia’s weak and corrupt judicial and law enforcement systems, lengthy legal processes, credible fears of retaliation, and the lack of witness protection and access to resources continued to hinder victims’ willingness to cooperate in cases and impede their access to legal redress. The government has not published data on exploitative child labor since 2001. In addition, government officials do not allocate funding specifically for investigating forced child labor, and they did not carry out any inspections of such during the reporting period.


The Government of Cambodia expanded its limited efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period. The government implemented an airport fingerprint scanner system that the Ministry of Labor hoped to employ in its trafficking prevention efforts, but it had not done so by the end of the reporting period. In October 2011, at the request of anti-trafficking activists and in response to reports of Cambodians being exploited in domestic service in Malaysia, the government restricted the travel rights of citizens by imposing a comprehensive ban on the emigration of Cambodian women to Malaysia for work in domestic service; this restriction could have the effect of increasing the risk of trafficking for those intent on emigration for the purpose of work. Separately, in August 2011, the government finalized sub-decree number 190 governing the activities of companies in the country that recruit Cambodians to work abroad, though this measure failed to address recruiters’ charging of excessive pre-departure fees, which contribute directly to debt bondage. Overall, Cambodia’s laws and regulations governing recruitment, placement, and protection of migrant laborers abroad remained weak; they lacked clear delineation of responsibilities of recruitment agencies and government authorities during the recruitment process, and they did not detail suitable controls or monitoring of agencies to avoid abuses, prevent corruption, and enforce criminal penalties. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Labor reported that it began providing pre-departure training for potential migrant workers on their rights. However, issues such as passport confiscation and debt bondage were not explained to the workers or adequately addressed by the newly-enacted sub-decree. The National Plan of Action (2011-2013), which is the government’s policy framework for combating trafficking, was approved by the National Committee in December 2011.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs coordinated and executed an anti- trafficking awareness day in December 2011, through which approximately 40,000 participants and three million TV viewers heard testimonies from sex trafficking victims and commitments from senior government officials to intensify the fight against human trafficking. The government, with NGO support, conducted anti-trafficking campaigns in Banteay Meanchey and Siem Reap provinces. The Ministry of Tourism continued efforts with NGOs to produce billboards, magazine advertisements, and handouts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and child sex tourism, though these efforts were targeted at foreign sex tourists rather than the local population. Authorities convicted six foreign child sex tourists during the year, and three cases are ongoing. The pardon and early release of three convicted pedophiles undermined the credibility of Cambodian efforts to combat child sex tourism. The Cambodia Royal Gendarmerie officers organized, with the assistance and support of NGOs, and participated in a law enforcement capacity-building training during the year. Cambodian military forces participating in peacekeeping initiatives abroad received training on trafficking in persons prior to deployment.

Associated documents

  • Document ID 1035429 Related / Associated
  • Methodology associated with Report on human trafficking (covering March 2011 to February 2012)

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