New Trends and Observations in Cambodian Trafficking Cases


Human trafficking is a constantly changing and evolving organized criminal activity. It is therefore extremely difficult for practitioners and government agencies to stay updated on new methods and networks from traffickers. This often leaves us steps behind. It is imperative that those working in the anti-trafficking field not only track these trends and changes, but also share our knowledge, observations, and case developments with relevant stakeholders. It is through this pro-active collaboration that we can alleviate this crime and protect more victims from being trafficked.

Chab Dai’s Case Management Support Project (CMSP) works directly with victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. In 2016, CMSP worked on a total of 162 cases. We collect data and information about all of our clients to be analyzed later for the purpose of identifying new trafficking trends. Staying informed and vigilant about emerging and changing trends allows us to create better prevention techniques and strategies. The CMSP works mainly with victims of human trafficking who have been trafficked and tricked to other countries, such as Malaysia, China and Thailand for the purpose of uncompromising exploitation. In the last few years alone, we have experienced a change in the profiles of traffickers. In the past, it would be recruitment agencies that lured vulnerable Khmers to leave Cambodia with the promise of a rewarding job overseas. Now, we have realized that there are more private traffickers tricking Khmers into exploitive situations abroad. There are different push and pull factors for this new trend, which we will cover here, along with the subsequent challenges.

Forced marriage in China

Out of the 162 cases, there were 53 women who were all trafficked into forced marriage in China, where all recruitment happened through private traffickers primarily based in Cambodia. This is because the Chinese and Cambodian governments do not have a MoU on recruitment, which means, that they do not have an agreement for Khmers migrating to China. In 2016, we came across a case with a Chinese man, who owned a factory in Cambodia with many Khmer employees. It was through his access at the factory that he recruited young women among the staff. He promised them a higher salary, and in some situations, marriage with a rich Chinese man. What is worth noting is that there is a strong desire and pressure to get married within Khmer culture, as it is seen as a means of achieving financial stability and overall security. However, the reality for many Khmer women seeking marriage in China is dangerous. Unaware that they were being trafficked for forced marriage, the women were picked up by men from a guesthouse, where they would stay with other women as well. The process was simple – the women would line up for the men to choose, pay and then leave with their new property. The prettier they are, the more expensive they are! A Chinese man would easily have to pay 10.000 USD to the private trafficker for his future wife, this money the private trafficker would share with the few involved. 

The process of recruitment agencies

Khmer have always migrated to other countries for job opportunities, with Malaysia being a key destination. The governments of Cambodia and Malaysia have signed a MoU on recruitment after many Khmers started to migrate in 2009 for the purpose of better opportunities in Malaysia. The agencies, in comparison to private traffickers, frequently use the media to advertise and promote the need for Cambodian labor in Malaysia, this makes the agencies more visible compared to the private traffickers. Most agencies in Cambodia have a main office in Phnom Penh and smaller offices in the different provinces. This is how they reach out to vulnerable and willing migrant workers. It is then at the main office that they are provided with job training and travel documents so they can go to Malaysia. What they will soon realize, is that they have been tricked and trafficked into an exploitative situation, where they are forced to work under inhumane conditions and are left with little or no payment. Recruiters at recruitment agencies are paid around 20 USD per migrant worker.

Why the new trend of private traffickers?

Many Khmer need money and are desperate for work. This feeds the demand for cheap or free labor in Malaysia and other destination countries. Because of abuse and violence against domestic workers the Cambodian government banned the MoU from 2011 to 2015. Khmers were now unable to migrate to Malaysia as domestic workers. However, they were still allowed to migrate for other positions, such as cleaning and factory jobs. Regardless of the MoU ban, recruitment agencies would still send Khmers to Malaysia to secretly work as domestic workers, even if they were registered as a cleaner. All this led to the increase in private traffickers facilitating this process for Khmer migrant laborers. They would use new methods to get around immigration restrictions, such as using ground vehicles to transport laborers, as it was easier to pay off the immigration police by the Thai-Malaysian border. Another reason for the increase in cases involving private traffickers occurred when Khmer domestic workers wanted to return to Malaysia (after coming back to Cambodia from violent and abusive situations). Because of the previous case where they were repatriated back to Cambodia, the immigration laws in Malaysia prevents them from re-entering the country. Therefore, their only solution is to use a private trafficker to arrange their travel from Cambodia into Malaysia. Finally, private traffickers manage to transport more people at one time, and in that way the coast would also be cheaper for the migrant.

Why is it important to identify this change?

The increase in the number of private traffickers in comparison to recruitment agencies opens the door to new consequences and threats for victims. When private traffickers are involved, it is extremely difficult to investigate cases, as they are less likely to function within any formalized recruitment or business process or register the Khmers they are working with. Even with illegitimate recruitment agencies, there is often more training and preparation offered to Khmers, whereas private brokers provide no such support. Chab Dai’s CMSP team has noticed that investigation is easier when victims are connected to recruitment agencies, which often have clear records of the victim that can be shared with Chab Dai and the police. Compared to recruitment agencies, private traffickers provide the migrant with no rights, whereas the agency will sign a contract listing different rights and options for the migrant, so if the migrant ends up in trouble he or she actually does have some rights, and it is easier to hold the agency accountable for their actions and therefore get compensation to the client. Also connected to the missing contract, using private traffickers is a high risk solution for migrants as they will end up being illegal migrants with no or limited rights.

What can we do?

One of the main challenges regarding fighting human trafficking is the lack of justice. Many victims of trafficking around the world do not want to prosecute the trafficker based on different reasons, such as the need to move on and forget, the fear for the traffickers and the time-consuming and expensive process can take several months or years. This means traffickers face no accountability for their actions. NGO’s should consider new trends and changes to find better prevention methods and strategies, and to develop a close collaboration with both law enforcement and legal agencies. Together we can ensure justice for victims of trafficking and consequences to the traffickers. In CMSP we work with good lawyers to support our clients in the legal pro bono process. We also try to prepare the client through counseling, which includes legal advice, so that they understand the legal process. We all know that prosecuting traffickers can in many situations, take a very long time. We aim to shorten this period of time, so victims of human trafficking can move forward, get a new job and a new beginning in life.

Nadia Jung
Technical Advisor

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Nadia Jung has been working with anti-human trafficking for several years in Copenhagen, Denmark working in social work and awareness.  She has also worked with modern slavery under Professor Kevin Bales in the UK for the Global Slavery Index. With her great experience, Nadia is now working in Cambodia as the Technical Advisor for Chab Dai. Nadia's goal in life is to reduce human trafficking and modern slavery - globally.