Human trafficking cases in Cambodia almost doubled in 2021 compared to 2020 because the government was preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic, a report issued Wednesday by the country’s National Committee for Counter Trafficking said.
The report, which was released during a ceremony at the Ministry of Interior, the committee’s parent ministry, documented trafficking of laborers, organs, babies and surrogates, and sex workers.
Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said human trafficking was on the rise amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He urged authorities not to let their guard down.
“Criminals are choosing human trafficking as a career. They won’t let it go. They are taking advantage of us when we are facing a crisis,” he said.
The committee’s vice chairperson, Chou Bun Eng, said during an interview with a local radio station that traffickers used to move through Cambodia, but now the country has become a popular trafficking destination. She highlighted a particular case earlier this year to illustrate the point.
“The trafficking suspects brought in victims to Cambodia. The suspects lured the victims to work in Cambodia due to the country’s development and political stability,” she said.
“There was huge increase compared to 2020, we found 359 cases in 2021 whereas in 2020, there were only 155 cases,” said Chou Bun Eng.
Trafficking of surrogates is a rising problem. In the past it was common for Cambodian surrogate mothers to give birth inside Cambodia but now they are moved to other countries, she said.
The surrogates are in danger of being trafficked even after they have given birth because traffickers can confiscate their passports and IDs. Chou Bun Eng said one surrogate mother was arrested by authorities in Vietnam. She said the traffickers are able to lure victims through sophisticated means, using online communication to evade police detection.
Since 2020, about 200,000 Cambodians have illegally crossed the border to work overseas but were not paid what they were promised, she said.
“They don’t make any money. What are the benefits of the risk after spending years working and finally ending up receiving social welfare back home?” Chou Bun Eng said.
Many of the Cambodians trafficked into the sex industry are underage, Am Sam Ath of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights told RFA’s Khmer Service. He said the authorities didn’t pay attention to the problem even before the pandemic.
“Violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking against minors continues to occur. We urge the government to increase measures to prevent human trafficking, especially of minors,” he said.
In its 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, the U.S. State Department placed Cambodia on its Tier 2 Watchlist for the third consecutive year, meaning it does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.
“Endemic corruption and lack of political will continued to severely limit progress in holding traffickers accountable; corruption continued to impede law enforcement operations, criminal proceedings and victim service provision,” the State Department said.
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