Cambodia takes a stand against slavery

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2012, 12:00am


The Issue

Human trafficking is a crime that affects 2.5 million people worldwide. Out of that number, more than half are living in or are from Asia and the Pacific. Cambodia is a common destination for and origin of trafficked victims, who are forced to beg or work in the sex industry.

The victims are often youngsters who are under the illusion that they will be able to earn big money to help out their impoverished families.

Criminals can earn an estimated US$10 billion every year by buying and selling humans.

The causes

One of the main reasons why this modern form of slavery thrives in Cambodia is poverty. Although the country is rapidly developing, a great of deal of its people still live below the poverty line. Its per capita income is low compared with most of its neighbouring countries.

Most families, especially in the rural areas, depend on agriculture to survive, but often it's not enough. Human traffickers prey on this and trick victims with the promise of high-paying jobs. They offer victims jobs, transportation and a place to live in the big city. Parents desperate to feed their families might sell one of their children into labour, believing the child will be able to send money home for its siblings.

But once the victims are in the clutches of traffickers, they find the jobs they've been promised don't exist and are faced with the reality of the situation: they are helpless. If they don't do as they are told, they are held captive, beaten, starved and, in some cases, even killed.

Another reason that human trafficking is a problem in Cambodia is that there's a demand for slave labour. Tourism is a big part of the country's economy. While some people visit the Cambodia for its sights and culture, some tourists have other plans in mind. There are brothels aplenty in Cambodia, offering visitors a range of workers of all ages. In many wealthy countries, child sex is a crime, but in Cambodia it seems people can get away with it. A Unicef survey found that 35 per cent of Cambodia's 15,000 prostitutes are under the age of 16.

Hard labour

It is easy to imagine that the only people trafficked are those that would suit the sex industry. However not all victims of human trafficking become prostitutes. A large percentage of men are tricked into forced labour in agriculture, fishing and other manual industries.

Men eager to find a way to support their families are taken to the city to work, only to find they owe the traffickers for transport, board and other costs; they never manage to work off the debt. There have been stories of young men tricked to work on ships for months at a time. Since they came from rural communities and were unfamiliar with the sea, they had no way of escaping.

What has the government done

In 1996, a law made debt bondage, slavery and forced child labour a crime in Cambodia. However it was not enforced, as the police system is reportedly plagued with bribery and corruption.

The government has stepped up its policies against the crime and passed a law specifically against human trafficking and sexual exploitation. It has also raised public awareness with media campaigns.

The News

In December, 40,000 music fans in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, were treated to a free concert from American band The Click Five and Korean group After School as part of the MTV Exit campaign.

MTV Exit, which stands for MTV End Exploitation and Trafficking, is a global organisation that uses music and film to raise awareness of human trafficking and what can be done to prevent it. MTV Exit was launched in Europe in 2004 and expanded into Asia in 2007. Since then it has held 28 concerts in Asia, including Thailand, Laos, Philippines and Nepal, and reached millions of teens, telling them how vital it is to stop human trafficking.

Their cause has been supported by government agencies, such as USaid (United States Agency for International Development), Ausaid (Australian Government Aid Program) and Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

As well as the concert, MTV Exit also held the first-ever National Anti-Trafficking Youth Forum. The four-day event brought together young leaders aged 18 to 25 from all over Cambodia for a series of workshops to strengthen their creative and communications skills so that they can effectively speak out against human trafficking when they go back to their own communities.

Voices: What people are saying

'The risk of being trafficked is all too real for many Cambodians ? Individuals, families, businesses and governments all have a role to play in stopping this trade in human life and ensuring justice for its victims. Human trafficking calls for a global response.'

Penny Richards, Australian Ambassador to Cambodia

'[To increase the effectiveness of stopping human trafficking], there has to be an increase in the number of prosecutions and jail terms, and these prosecutions and jail terms have to be publicised across the region and not just in the region where they occur. It's also true that an education programme is critical.'

David L. Carden, US Ambassador to Asean

'MTV Exit campaign gives audiences a real and rare glimpse into human trafficking and exploitation issues. We are proud to launch the inaugural national anti-trafficking youth forum ... empowering and equipping Cambodian youths across the country with knowledge and skills to take action.'

Simon Goff, executive director of MTV Exit

'We've talked about the idea that we're going to have our own youth forum that we organise with other universities because we all came from different ones in Phnom Penh and then we just spread the information and knowledge through activities we learn from the [National Anti-Trafficking Youth] Forum.'

Rosaline Dareth, a second-year student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, on her plans after attending the forum

'I think the main thing that we've learned just from being here is that music is a universal language. A lot of places that we're playing in, English is not the first language and yet we can still connect and spread the message of trying to stop human trafficking to those people.'

Kyle Patrick, lead singer of The Click Five