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Addressing Human Trafficking: Cambodia's Decade-long Endeavor

On 27 March 2024, the Cambodian Ministry of Interior organized the official presentation of the Cambodia Human Trafficking Report 2023. In 2023, the National Committee to Counter Human Trafficking celebrated the 10th anniversary, highlighting the Royal Government's sustained efforts to combat this pervasive crime.

Despite substantial endeavors, criminal elements have adapted over time, demanding a renewed focus. As Cambodia prepares to unveil its five-year strategy plan for 2024 to 2028, collaboration among ministries is crucial for endorsing comprehensive measures to address the evolving challenges of human trafficking. The 2023 report, a collaborative effort involving 22 line ministries, underscores the urgency of the situation. Rising migration trends intensify issues of exploitation and cybercrime, necessitating proactive intervention.

A key aspect of the strategy is the strengthening of legal frameworks, with the Ministry of Justice drafting treaties to provide legal assistance to victims of cybercrime. Simultaneously, ministries are finalizing various documents, including draft laws and memoranda of understanding. Notable among these is the National Policy on Migration Health, jointly developed by the Ministry of Health and its Thai counterpart, aimed at offering free health check-ups to trafficking survivors. The Ministry of Rural Development is piloting incentives to encourage farmers in border regions to pursue local entrepreneurship instead of seeking opportunities abroad. The Ministry of Tourism intensifies awareness campaigns among business owners, advocating for the adoption of a Code of Conduct and increasing inspections in hospitality sector.

On the international front, Cambodia is actively engaging in bilateral, multilateral, national, and regional agreements to strengthen its borders against trafficking. This includes personnel training of relevant personnel and the establishment of digital databases. Additionally, initiatives are underway to facilitate employment opportunities for returning migrants. Public awareness remains crucial, with extensive outreach campaigns through television, radio, and social media platforms. While most Cambodian migrant workers seek opportunities in destinations like Thailand, Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia (based on the report approx. 1, 4 mil. workers), efforts are underway to curb illegal immigration from neighboring countries such as Laos and Myanmar. Child labor inspection remains a priority, particularly in garment and brick factories, with 2094 cases reported in 451 locations in 2023. In 2023, 307 individuals found themselves facing criminal charges for human trafficking, with penalties ranging from 2 to 15 years of imprisonment, alongside substantial fines amounting to up to 7,750 USD; additionally, two individuals were prosecuted for engaging in unlawful intercourse with minors under the age of 15.

The Deputy Ministry of Interior stresses the importance of annual reporting and collaboration with foreign embassies, NGOs, and development partners. In 2023, authorities arrested 142 individuals suspected of forced labor. Around 20% of reported cases necessitated intervention, the rest of cases often involved disputes or individuals opting to return to their home countries without signs of detention against their will. To address this complex issue, the government employs a communication strategy, disseminating information through media channels, hotline and provide support to potential victims. He emphasises, that it is crucial to differentiate between human trafficking, scams, and gambling to tailor appropriate responses. Strengthening the vertical coordination of the national committee and implementing monitoring and evaluation framework are vital for effective intervention and prevention measures.