Trafficking in Persons Report 2015 - Country Narratives - Cambodia

CAMBODIA: Tier 2 Watch List

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, the Middle East for work; many are subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor on fishing vessels, in agriculture, construction, factories, or domestic servitude. Children from impoverished families are highly vulnerable to forced labor, often with the complicity of their families, including in domestic servitude and forced begging in Thailand and Vietnam. Male Cambodians are increasingly recruited in Thailand for work on fishing boats and subsequently 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, and South Africa. Cambodian men report severe abuses by Thai captains, deceptive recruitment, underpaid wages, and being forced to remain aboard vessels for years. NGOs report women from rural areas are recruited under false pretenses to travel to China to enter into marriages with Chinese men; some are subsequently subjected to forced factory labor or forced prostitution.

All of Cambodia’s provinces are a source 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, 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 the sex trade in commercial sex establishments in three cities and found that children comprised 8.2 percent of this population. The study concludes this represents a significant decline in this form of child sex trafficking since earlier reports by different entities published in 1997 and 2000. The same NGO reported that a March 2015 assessment found the prevalence of children among this population declined to 2.2 percent; these results had not yet been published at the close of the reporting period. Cambodian men form the largest source of demand for child 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. The Svay Pak area outside Phnom Penh, once known as an epicenter of Cambodia’s child sex trade, is now sometimes a transit point for sex trafficking victims from Vietnam who are exploited in hotels and other establishments in Phnom Penh. NGOs report some Vietnamese victims are transported through Cambodia by criminal gangs before being exploited in Thailand and Malaysia. Traffickers are most commonly family or community members or small networks of independent brokers. Corrupt officials in Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia cooperate with labor brokers to facilitate the transport of victims across the border. 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 comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Cambodia is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a third consecutive year. Cambodia was granted a waiver from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan. The government continued to prosecute and convict traffickers, including one case involving the forced labor of Cambodian men on commercial fishing vessels. The government did not prosecute or convict any complicit officials and did not take disciplinary action against a former anti-trafficking police chief, whose 2011 conviction for human trafficking was overturned in an unannounced, closed-door Supreme Court hearing during the previous reporting period. Local authorities identified and referred 326 domestic sex trafficking victims to NGOs. Despite an increased prevalence of male victims and Cambodian victims exploited abroad, the government did not make progress in providing protection to these groups. The government adopted a new national action plan for combating trafficking. However, it neither finalized draft guidelines for victim identification nor issued formal guidance allowing the use of undercover investigation techniques in trafficking investigations—both of which have been pending initiatives for several years.


Finalize and implement a nationwide protocol for the proactive identification of victims among vulnerable groups; increase the availability of services for male victims, especially men exploited in commercial fishing; increase efforts to 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; 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 law enforcement and victim protection efforts; allocate sufficient funding for the implementation of the national action plan to combat trafficking; develop a policy for formally transferring custody of child victims to NGOs; 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; and continue public awareness campaigns aimed at reducing the demand for commercial sex and child sex tourism, with an increased focus on addressing the local demand.


The government lacked comprehensive data on law enforcement efforts, but information collected from various sources suggests modest progress in prosecutions and convictions. The 2008 Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation explicitly addresses trafficking offenses in 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. Authorities often lacked familiarity with the anti-trafficking law and used provisions of Cambodia’s penal code to prosecute trafficking offenses. The government did not provide comprehensive data on anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Authorities reported prosecuting 21 suspected traffickers, but independent sources reported the government prosecuted at least 53 suspects under its anti-trafficking law or comparable provisions in the penal code including 41 for sex trafficking and 12 for labor trafficking. Reports from the government, media, and NGOs indicate the government convicted at least 22 sex traffickers and 7 labor traffickers, an increase from 18 traffickers convicted during the previous year. Convicted traffickers received sentences ranging from two to 15 years’ imprisonment. In April 2014, the government convicted six Taiwanese nationals for the forced labor of hundreds of Cambodian men in the commercial fishing sector; one trafficker is serving her sentence and the others remain at large.

The government continued to design and deliver donor-funded training on the implementation of the anti-trafficking law, reaching more than 2,500 law enforcement and judicial officials. Local organizations and some officials recognized 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. The government did not issue guidance granting explicit approval of undercover evidence collection in human trafficking cases; in the absence of such guidance, prosecutors denied investigators’ requests, which effectively forced them to close some investigations. An NGO reported that officials rarely pursued prosecutions in cases of cross-border trafficking, despite many victims’ willingness to cooperate with officials.

Endemic corruption at all levels of the Cambodian government severely limited the ability of individual officials to make progress in holding traffickers accountable. Local experts reported one successful case in which authorities prosecuted and convicted six sex traffickers known to have previously received protection from arrest by military police leaders. The government investigated allegations of corruption against one police officer and dismissed him from his position; it did not 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 during the previous reporting period.


The government continued to identify victims and refer them to NGOs, but overall victim protection remained inadequate. The government did not finalize guidelines for a standardized, nationwide system for the proactive identification of victims among vulnerable groups; it expanded a pilot program to test draft guidelines in five provinces, but despite more than five years of development, the guidelines were not completed. 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 50,000 migrants deported from Thailand in 2014; it identified 336 victims and provided them temporary shelter. The government operated a temporary shelter in Phnom Penh for female victims of trafficking and other crimes, and it referred trafficking victims to NGO shelters—most of which cared for victims of several forms of abuse—but did not provide further assistance. Unlike in previous years, 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. Local police referred 326 sex trafficking victims to provincial agencies for NGO referrals, an increase from 151 referred in the previous year. Two NGOs provided shelter and services to 222 victims without government support. The government did not develop a policy to transfer custody of child victims to NGOs, leaving organizations that accepted child victims vulnerable to court action against them. Government officials at times returned children to high-risk environments if family members would not consent to temporary guardianship in a shelter. Despite a prevalence of male victims, assistance for this population was limited to ad hoc sheltering in facilities that lacked experience caring for victims. The Cambodian government required foreign victims to be repatriated to their home countries and did not provide legal alternatives to their removal should they face hardship or retribution upon return to their countries of origin; 21 victims were repatriated to Vietnam during the reporting period.

The government did not have adequate procedures in place for assisting victims identified abroad. Diplomatic missions overseas lacked 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. International and local NGOs assisted in the repatriation of labor trafficking victims from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China, including at least 93 subjected to forced labor on commercial fishing vessels. Cambodian authorities received 436 victims identified and repatriated by the Thai and Vietnamese governments. There were no reports that individuals identified as victims were punished for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking; however, a lack of formal procedures for victim identification left many victims unidentified and at risk of being punished. Officials often lacked sufficient office space to keep victims and perpetrators separated during interviews. Cambodia’s 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 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, though this was limited by a legal requirement that compensation be paid only following the completion of a trafficker’s jail term.


The government continued moderate prevention efforts. The interagency committee and its secretariat coordinated anti-trafficking efforts, and in February 2015 it launched a new national action plan. The committee continued to face difficulty obtaining funding sufficient to effectively implement activities, though its budget was projected to increase in 2015. Local committees coordinated efforts at the provincial level and, for the first time, the central government provided modest funds to two of five committees that requested them. The government did not punish any labor recruiters 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 addressing the dangers of various forms of human trafficking. 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, though 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 reported the arrest of 12 foreign child sex tourists and the conviction of two foreign tourists and seven Cambodian citizens for the purchase of commercial sex acts with children; this is an increase from seven such convictions in the previous year. Local experts reported concern over the government’s ongoing failure to properly investigate or impose punishments on foreign nationals who purchase commercial sex acts with children. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel and to members of the military prior to their deployment abroad on peacekeeping initiatives.