November 11th, 2011
03:54 PM ET

In Cambodia, anti-slavery reforms questioned

By David Ariosto, CNN

Cambodia, long suspected of being fertile ground for human traffickers, has drawn recent attention after reports of sexual abuse and widespread mistreatment prompted government actions to improve the plight of its young women and girls.

Considered a modern-day form of slavery, human trafficking involves the illegal trade of people and commonly includes sexual exploitation and forced labor.

In Cambodia, CNN uncovered stories of suspected abuse; ranging from girls as young as 4 years old being sold for sex - an industry thought to be bolstered by foreign tourists - to young women trapped in debt-bondage, having being lured to neighboring Malaysia for work.

In an effort to unravel a phenomenon that human rights groups say still plagues southeast Asia and the broader region, the CNN Freedom Project highlighted Cambodia because of both its reputation and a recent pledge to better the situation.

But whether recent reforms have since worked to stem the alleged abuses remains a subject of debate.

Domestic labor in Malaysia
Drawn by the prospect of a better life and the promise of more money, many young Cambodian maids working in Malaysia said they were recruited to go there by labor agencies, now only to find themselves unable to leave.

The women - often subject to poor treatment in prison-like facilities - forfeit their passports and are commonly left in a situation tantamount to indentured servitude, said Manfred Hornung, a legal adviser for the Cambodian Rights Group, Licadho.

On October 15, however, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a measure into law banning the practice of sending domestic workers to Malaysia, perhaps in response to mounting criticism.

The ban was enacted just days after a report by CNN's Dan Rivers examined a recruitment agency in the Cambodian capital.

The story "that aired on CNN has actually awakened the country up the whole country on this human trafficking issue again," said Cambodian parliament member Mu Sochua. "I have to say that his piece is just one little part of the whole problem, which is much worse."

She said the report prompted her to further petition the country's leadership to take action.

But only weeks later, Sochua told CNN that labor recruitment agencies in her country were still sending domestic workers to Malaysia, adding that many government officials either own or have close ties to the companies.

The country's ministries of labor and interior "are not taking any action," she said, noting that "many officials and familial members of some ministers actually own these dubious agencies."

Sochua did not identify the officials, ministers or companies to which she was referring and CNN cannot independently confirm her claim.

But a government spokesman called the practice of sending labor abroad "a learning process."

"We are finding out why it has happened and why it is happening," said Phay Siphan, a spokesperson for the country's Council of Ministers.

Recruitment agencies, meanwhile, forge identification papers in an effort to recruit children, charge "excessive recruitment fees" and mislead workers about potential opportunities, according to recent a Human Rights Watch report.

Up to 50,000 Cambodian women have migrated to Malaysia since 2008, the report said.

And yet just three days after the domestic worker ban was signed into law, 25 Cambodian maids - wearing shirts emblazoned with name of a recruiting agency - checked in for an Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, according to Licadho.

CNN cannot independently confirm that account.

"It is a heartbreaking story," said Sochua. "I constantly meet with many parents who come to tell me that they don't know where their girls are, they simply disappeared and lost contacts with families after girls left to Malaysia."

Sex slavery
Often accused of being both a source of and destination for human sex trafficking, CNN explored allegations of abuse affecting young girls in Cambodia - notably in a village outside the capital of Phnom Penh.

The village, Svay Pak, appears to have a disturbing reputation as a place where little girls are openly sold for sex to foreign tourists.

One of the girls - who CNN is not naming to protect the identity of the victim - says she was forced to work in a brothel before she could read.

"I was about 5 or 6 years old," the girl said. "The first man said to me, 'I want to have sex with you.' At the time I didn't know what to do. No one could help me."

Dozens of girls in her neighborhood told CNN that they've had similar experiences.

Sex workers elsewhere in the country are also subject to other forms of sexual violence, according to Human Rights Watch.

Last year, the group released a report that detailed widespread allegations of 90 female and transgender sex workers that said police "had beaten them with their fists, sticks, and electronic shock batons."

"Several said officers raped them while they were in police detention," the report said. "Every single sex worker we spoke with said the police demanded bribes or stole money from them. Some officers demanded sex."

Two years earlier, the country had passed a law meant to protect sex workers. But rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, say there is "little evidence that this has happened, or that prosecutions for trafficking have been pursued.

Government officials decline to comment on those allegations.

Timeline
As the CNN Freedom Project continues to examine the effects and root causes of human trafficking, the following timeline reflects key aspects of coverage and events around the region.

October 3-5, 2011: CNN airs a three-part series that examines a recruiting agency, with alleged ties to the Cambodian government, suspected of trafficking maids to Malaysia. Just before the series airs, the young woman featured in the story begins receiving compensation, she says, but is still unable to leave the factory – her passport confiscated – until her "debt" is paid off. Read more of the report by CNN correspondent Dan Rivers

October 15, 2011: Cambodia's prime minister signs an order suspending the recruitment, training and sending of Cambodian domestic workers to Malaysia. Weeks later an opposition lawmaker says labor recruitment agencies are still sending domestic workers to Malaysia, adding that many government officials either own or have close ties to the companies. CNN cannot independently confirm that account and government officials say stopping the practice is "a learning process."

October 17, 2011: Malaysian Foreign Minister pledges to apologize to Cambodia if allegations of abuse of Cambodian workers in Malaysia are proved to be true.

October 22-23, 2011: CNN airs a two-part documentary called "Not My Life" that focuses on Cambodian brothels, specifically an area not far from the capital, where young girls are prostituted to visiting tourists.

October 24, 2011: CNN correspondent Sara Sidner reports from Cambodiagoogle. as a follow-up to what was revealed in "Not My Life." She files a story that focuses on a young woman who talks about how she endured repeated rapes from the time she was 5e years old. Shortly after the story airs, Cambodian authorities contact Don Brewster who runs the aid group featured in "Not My Life" to say they would act and make arrests. Brewster says he's been "yelling from the roof tops" for the past two years and it's not until CNN airs the story that suddenly there is action.

October 28, 2011: An article in the Cambodia Daily - an English-language daily newspaper - highlights government ties to recruiting agencies, including the one featured in Rivers' report.

October 31, 2011: Human Rights Watch publishes a report based on interviews with migrant domestic workers, government officials, non-governmental organizations, and recruitment agencies that highlight alleged abuses of women and girls in Cambodia and Malaysia, including allegations of forced confinement, heavy debt burdens and rape.

November 6, 2011: Journalist Nick Kristof accompanies a police raid at a brothel in Cambodia and posts message on the social networking site Twitter about how the army showed up and ordered police to cancel the raid as it was taking place. CNN cannot independently confirm that account, and the government has declined to comment.


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soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. jbay

    Thank you CNN news for not allowing the truth to be heard.

    November 11, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Reply
    • Stories untold

      I blame China.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  2. lanossonal

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sn1RHE4XVrw&w=640&h=390]

    November 11, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Reply
  3. Hilo, HI

    Once again **BIRTH CONTROL**
    There was just a fund-raiser in my neighborhood for a family living in Cambodia **IN A GARBAGE DUMP SITE** with their SEVEN CHILDREN. When the World 'helps' but does not advocate, even mandate BC w/ the "aid", we only Enable the Overbreeding, Perpetuate the suffering.

    Poor, 'surplus' children are the ones being exploited here. The moms need to STOP AT TWO -and be given full support with them, not breed away while the rest of the world either exploits the outcome or gets Nowhere trying to help this never ending cycle.

    November 11, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Reply
    • Ramrod

      For awhile these women have to stop at one child – like the Chinese governement enforces it in China

      November 11, 2011 at 11:01 pm | Reply
      • Kidnapping

        I blame China for the kidnapping and traffcing of cambodians

        November 13, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
      • toxic-t

        i dont think these willingly haveing children. they are being raped. and you people need to grow the hell up this is about the facts not about you personal life or where you grew up at. you are all very immature for being adults. i know 15 year olds more mature. Grow up.

        November 16, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • saint paul, mn

      Way to place blame on the victims. Every child deserves a chance at life and it's sickning that us as Americans just sit around and frown upon the fact that poor people have kids. You have no idea what it is like in Cambodia, I lived in Hawaii for 19 years of my life but I also had the ability to see what it was like around the world. People live in horrible conditions but they are still HUMAN BEINGS, that deserve the right to live and pursue goals. If we could just start placing blame on those that exploit other people and hold people to higher standards of treating others, many people in this world would be able to get out of poverty. Poverty isn't a choice for people in most countries around the world, it's something that is forced upon people. Many people would get out of poverty if culture in general would allow them to and give them the tools to, but that will never happen until we start blaming the exploiters for the harm they have caused and stop blaming the victims for being born. Lets bring this closer to home for you, since slavery isn't as widespread in Hilo, the most exploitative thing that could happen to you would be is for somebody to barge into your house and take all your stuff hold you up at gunpoint and rape your wife. Of course this would be pretty traumatic for you and you would likely go to the police and to the courts. What if the police told you,"O well your mom and your wifes mom should have used birthcontrol and then you wouldn't have been born and therefore you wouldn't have been 'exploited'" ?I am sure you would be pretty upset as this isn't justice whatsoever. People around the world have all there stuff taken from them everyday and are being raped everyday and people like you keep blaming the victims.It's sickning. These are people not cats or dogs!

      November 12, 2011 at 12:07 am | Reply
      • jbay

        Please donot just blame the men, woman where there also. When SP was open, pre 2004, about 2% of the workers where children. Nobody likes it, and it shouldn't happen any place.

        November 12, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • Daniel

      It is extremely difficult for someone in the US, and particularly in the paradise of Hawaii, to even begin to understand the true nature of the problem in Cambodia. I must respectfully inform you that you are way off the mark on this one. If you sincerely would like to understand this issue so you can post more informed comments in the future, I recommend you visit GETSET-GO's web site [getset-go.org] to learn about the real causes of this horror of our time.

      It is most certainly NOT caused by having too many children. In fact, as a result of the genocide under the Khmer Rouge, the country is currently under populated.

      Take a moment and Imagine how you would feel if, back you when you were a child, a gang came in and took over your neighborhood/town and said you can not go to school past the 3rd grade. The police refuse to do anything about it. They rape you repeatedly over the years; and now, as an adult, the only job you can get is essentially slave labor because you have no education and suffer from PTSD.

      And someone comes to you and tells you that your problems are all the result of your mother having too many kids... What colorful names might you call them, I wonder?

      November 12, 2011 at 12:34 am | Reply
    • Samuel L.J.

      G.F.Y.

      November 12, 2011 at 11:02 am | Reply
  4. jez

    What's wrong with men?... Everyone of us comes from a woman's womb.

    November 11, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Reply
  5. Donald Jameson

    What does CNN know about human trafficking in Cambodia? This is a longstanding issue that has been studied by many serious experts, Now CNN wants us to believe that it has just "discovered" the problem. This is about as silly as the French claiming that they had discovered Angkor in the 19th century. It was never "lost" except to those Europeans who did not know what was going on in the rest of the world. The same goes for human trafficking in Cambodia.

    November 11, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Reply
    • gtdocarmo

      I could not agree more, and was thinking the same thing. There is a lot of speculation here, and they only interviewed 2 NGOs, when there are well over 60 working on this issue in Cambodia. I'm sorry, but CNN is NOT the reason there has been recent movement within the government. There are many organizations, agencies and individuals who have worked hard for years on this issue on the ground, and they should be the ones receiving credit – not CNN or journalists who know very little about the real issues.

      November 13, 2011 at 12:51 am | Reply
      • Linda

        I agree, how does CNN come off taking credit for this? As much as I appreciate a well known news source shedding light on a very serious issue, it is wrong to try convincing your readers with your timeline and pat on the back. My good friend was with a group a few years ago helping in Cambodia and I currenlty support two other groups that have been working on human trafficking in Cambodia and even in North America. Their work is dangerous and very time consuming. It takes a long time to investigate and build a case against a suspected human traffic ring and a lot of love and care to help the victims. CNN doesn't just swoop in and solve this problem in 4 weeks.

        November 13, 2011 at 2:20 am |
  6. Rod C. Venger

    Monkey See, Monkey Do.

    November 12, 2011 at 12:21 am | Reply
    • jbay

      Please donot forget the asians men that where also. even asian woman. There all sick!

      November 12, 2011 at 12:27 am | Reply
  7. Mahhn

    CNN how about giving all the evidence to the UN and try to get them to do something usefull for a change.

    November 12, 2011 at 1:47 am | Reply
    • jbay

      Annexian; Lets leave nationally's out of this.Basicly I agree with you. Rice paddy wh- , not so.. Asian women happen to be the best women in the world. Loving, caring, devoted. As far as the western women goes, they are gready, money hungry, domanearing, we could go on. Western women use there children against us, the courts go along with them. The best thing to do is get out of the Great Waste Land (GWL) many of the western men already have, and with good reason. I know Engineers, Doctors, lawyers, labors, truck drivers, military men that have done just that. Come join us.

      November 12, 2011 at 4:10 am | Reply
  8. Annexian

    Oh, STFU CNN.

    The way the JEW World Order is bleeding America dry we'll soon have foreign s-- tourists here to abuse our women. Frankly, all this sh-- will do is make it slightly harder for US males to buy their own cute foreign S-– slaves or go on "Tours".... Won't stop it for a second otherwise.

    You people behind this "End Slavery" sh- don't want to save a single person. You are either Feminazi women worried that with AmeriKKKaz marriage/divorce laws you can't find a worthy man willing to marry you, they'd rather F- a "Rice Paddy Wh-" than touch you. So you are doing what Americans should do for illegal immigration and outsourced jobs, fighting it. Oh, then there's the Preechur men, out to get a lot of donation money then throw around a few chick tracts, likely having "Illicit fun" yourself. You don't want American men taking home any darkie cuties, though. You are racist and social bigots, who don't want your pure white WASP culture polluted with darkies from a different culture. Better the men are trapped in demasculating marriages and spend 10% of dwindling income to you.

    November 12, 2011 at 3:27 am | Reply
    • Psalm 34:14

      I'm confused as to how you can call others "racists and social bigots", and yet your entire diatribe is nothing but hatespeech wrapped up in irrationality and illogical, half-formed ideas. You contradict yourself, and thus invalidate your entire point (which, I think I may have missed in the shuffle). I'm interested in what you have to say, purely because I'm interested in the opinions of others, but I can't follow something like this.

      November 12, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Reply
    • Cyrus

      Easy boy! Time for your meds.

      November 12, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Reply
  9. bezerkur

    just like the war on drugs its a lost cause. as long as there is a demand and a profit to be gained it will always be. a hard truth to swallow but its impossible to stop worldwide. where there is a will there is a way. sorry but its the truth.

    November 12, 2011 at 6:29 am | Reply
  10. bezerkur

    @annexian you can stop with your racist rhetoric. you know nothing of how our society here in america has changed over the past 48 years. it gets any worse and im moving my entire family back to norway where we came from 6 generations ago. living in a m&m pack isnt my idea of fun.

    November 12, 2011 at 6:45 am | Reply
  11. Blurt

    Hey US corporations...if things start reforming in China, here is a good place to find some more cheap slave labor for you. Thank you free market!!!!

    November 12, 2011 at 8:29 am | Reply
  12. Inciteful

    Human trafficking...I can't find the appropriate term to describe just how heinous this is! These young girls and women deserve all the attention and protection that the civilized world can muster! Billions are spent to fight "problems" that pale in comparison to this. The world needs to WAKE UP and take DEFINITIVE action!

    November 12, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Reply
    • Inciteful

      Human trafficking exists in the United States. All resources that are currently being directed toward enforcing marijuana laws should IMMEDIATELY be reallocated to fighting human trafficking.

      November 12, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Reply
  13. Devildog83

    Ii am a refugee living in amerca from Cambodia. This disgusts me, this so called government is corrupted. Cambodia as a government has been corrupted since the Vietnam War. I pray to see justice for these girls and poor families!

    November 13, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Reply
    • jbay

      Devildog83; The reason it is corrupt is USA backed Pol Pot. People like yourself ran away because you knew someone. All that was left, after Vietnam ran Pol Pot up north where stupid people with no money.

      November 13, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Reply
    • jbay

      Devildog83, what don't you come back to your home land and help your people.

      November 13, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Reply
  14. jbay

    CNN, you censor to much.
    You also lie alot to sell your bad stories

    November 13, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Reply
  15. Hugo

    Hard to believe

    November 15, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Reply
  16. wooowooo

    none of u people take anything seriously!!!

    November 17, 2011 at 2:45 am | Reply
  17. jbay

    If only CNN would let the truth come out. Why spend all this money overseas. we have the same problem here in the states. We are broke, stop spending money on other people's problems.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Reply
    • Andre

      maytel Kittens and babies Austin, I told you that's where the money is ..Perhaps there are no eusiosrly good food columnists out there in the broadsheets but holy crap there is a whole lot of academics chasing the foodie dollar I've noticed that the new thing with many academics is to write those single food commodity books which appeal both to an academic audience and to the wider publicI think it may have started with Sidney Mintz's book on Sugar, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History , but since then its exploded just off the top of my head there is- the banana book Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World – the oyster book The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell – the cod book Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World – the sushi book The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy – the coffee book The coffee paradox: Global markets, commodity trade and the elusive promise of development – the rice book Rice and Man – and a forthcoming book on the matsutake mushroomI'm sure there are moreIt sometimes makes me want to yell argghhhh we get it food is symbolic of wider economic, political, social and environmental issues .But then I realise that I am essentially doing the same thing with my thesis albeit with rice seed, organic rice, vegetables and chilli sauce

      March 5, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Reply
  18. sam

    I congratulale to CNN to report on this issue- NO CHILD, MALE OR FEMALE deserved to spend their time suffering, regardless of class.
    The everyday practice of this sickening mode of life makes people become inmmune to it.
    IT is not OK!! childhood should not be lived in fear and pain.

    November 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  19. jbay

    Do not believe everything you read on CNN, they do not tell you the whole truth.

    November 19, 2011 at 5:25 am | Reply
  20. jbay

    You do not hear cnn reporting news about this, to close to home,http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/10-year-old-mexican-girl-birth-baby-boy-31-week-pregnancy-article-1.975740

    November 19, 2011 at 10:24 am | Reply
    • Aiswarya

      I agree with you all that the article is rbiubsh for a host of reasons, but reading the blog and comments have inspired me to think critically about the phenomenon of food journalism' and the fact that, other that, other than Steingarten, I honestly can't think of another single writer who writes about food in a truly interesting, engaging and entertaining way. Am I simply not well read and stand ignorant of the dozens of other talented people out there writing about food, or does this say something about food writing itself?I have a feeling it might be the latter, and that food writing, more than any other genre, seems to give writers the liberty to manhandle the topic while neglecting the way its presented a lot like the article in question. (Could another writer get away with a story about, say, driving several of the world's craziest' cars, or living in the world's biggest houses? Well, yes, probably ). Regardless, when was the last time you read something written specifically about food and thought, That was extremely well written and fun to read'?What are some examples of good' food writing?

      March 4, 2012 at 6:00 am | Reply
  21. jbay

    I believe the leagal age for woman is 12 y/o. Much to young. It use to be this way in the southern states 20 years ago.

    November 19, 2011 at 10:26 am | Reply
  22. guest

    No person should be treated like that!!!!

    December 8, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Reply
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    This paragraph is actually a good one it helps new net people, who are wishing for blogging.

    July 6, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Reply
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  27. jbay

    CNN, let the truth be heard!

    November 12, 2011 at 4:12 am | Reply

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