As you know, Love Without Boundaries has recently begun working to help vulnerable children in rural Cambodia. Human trafficking, abuse, and child exploitation are issues of grave concern in this area of the world, and so we want to share some thoughts on this issue from our new board member, Dr. Robert Spires.
In Southeast Asia, it is important to clarify who the traffickers really are in this region. That really depends on location and varies greatly. For instance, in Thailand, we see everyone from the Thai and Russian mafia to opportunistic and unscrupulous individuals involved in trafficking.
It’s also not uncommon for someone who was trafficked themselves to then turn to trafficking others in order to make money, particularly because they know how trafficking works from the insider perspective.
In rural Cambodia, it also varies. In some cases, traffickers travel around for the sole purpose of finding children to exploit. In other cases, local labor brokers visit rural villages recruiting for a variety of both legitimate and illegitimate enterprises. They may be acting as the middle-man for a factory in Siem Reap, a bar in Thailand, a brothel in Phnom Penh, and a Malaysian prostitution ring simultaneously.
When we talk about sex trafficking in Southeast Asia, we need to remember that it typically occurs in very informal, underground ways, which are often driven by the internet. Because Southeast Asia has so much poverty, it is very common for traffickers to prey on the youth in impoverished villages by promising high-paying jobs to families if they will allow their young daughters to work in a distant city.
The jobs are often described as being in restaurants or hotels, and the promise these traffickers make to the family is that the girls will be able to send large amounts of money back home to support the family. It is important to remember that child labor is extremely common in many rural regions of Cambodia, and it is often expected that even young children will contribute financially to the family.
One example comes from the region where Love Without Boundaries is now working. One day, a labor recruiter came to the village and told several village families that he had a restaurant in Phnom Penh that needed girls to be waitresses. The girls would be paid well and could live together in a dorm-style shared residence to save money on living expenses.
The family agreed to let their daughter go for the job after assurances that it was safe and lucrative. The labor broker said that the restaurant would provide free transportation. The van showed up a few days later with a male driver as well as a female “representative of the restaurant,” which put the family at ease. A few other young girls were already in the van, going for work as well.
On the drive to Phnom Penh, the woman gave bottles of water to all of the girls. The girl from the village felt drowsy after drinking the water and fell asleep.
When she woke up, she was in a small, bare room with a bed, bars on the windows, and a locked door. It soon became apparent that she was in a secret brothel in a nondescript building. When she resisted the owner, he raped and beat her and made it clear it would happen again until she complied, which she finally did. After several months, a customer took a liking to her and felt sorry for her when she told him her story. According to her, this customer helped her escape and go to the police.
This example illustrates how human trafficking is deeply interwoven with poverty in Cambodia. Local economic conditions make people more vulnerable to trafficking because they take risks to get work in places with which they are unfamiliar, leaving them open to exploitation. It is that economic and social vulnerability that makes them more likely to be trafficked.
Tomorrow we will touch on some of the groups working in trafficking and why we believe the work that LWB is doing in the rural villages along the border of Cambodia and Thailand is so essential.
~Dr. Bob Spires serves on Love Without Boundaries’ Board of Directors.
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