This article contains sensitive content.
The woman was a 17-year-old girl when she left her hometown in Kratie province. A broker in Phnom Penh soon promised her a “good job” in China, and she left the country behind. Two and a half years later, on Saturday, she was able to post a message on Facebook.
“They’ve forced me to take husbands here. They said if I don’t take them as husbands, they would sell me to a brothel.”
“No phone calls. Can’t talk. Only writing is possible,” she wrote. “I want freedom, and to meet my family again.”
On Wednesday, the woman’s mother told VOD that she had begged her daughter not to leave.
“I told her, please don’t go, just stay here,” the mother said.
But the daughter replied: “Mother, if I don’t go, we won’t have a house or land. And you are sick. If I work here, I won’t make enough.”
The daughter left in May 2018 with five other women aged 17 to 20 after the trafficker promised them jobs in China, the mother said.
The mother heard from her daughter after a week.
She had to walk for five days to the Chinese border. And there was no job, the daughter said. She would have to marry a Chinese man, but she could send money home.
During the first year, the daughter sent $2,000 to her mother, who bought a small house and plot of land in Kratie.
But the payments stopped, and conditions went from bad to worse. The daughter was sent to a second house, where family members locked her inside and took turns keeping watch over her.
The mother said her daughter was able to sneak calls to her occasionally, and told her she had been raped.
“My daughter called me and told me: I couldn’t run away, mother. I ran twice. But now they are locking me up more.”
Once, a Cambodian woman in the area helped her reach the local police station. But the Chinese family simply took her back from the police, the mother said.
In October last year, as the mother learned of the abuse, she went to Cambodian authorities for help. They asked her to wait, and this year, as Covid-19 took hold, she was asked to wait longer, she said.
“Wait a bit, wait a bit, wait a bit,” the mother said she was told. “[I] have been waiting until my daughter suffered too much. … She couldn’t endure it any longer, and that’s why she took the photos and posted them to seek help.”
The daughter had used the phone of the Chinese man she was forced to live with, posting the message as he sat across from her unaware of what she was doing, the mother said.
“I have been so sad, crying every day,” the mother said.
Nov Ratanak, deputy chief of Kratie provincial police, said authorities had received the case in October last year but did not know the victim’s location and could not communicate with her.
But with the Facebook post, they had been able to locate her, Ratanak said.
The daughter has been brought to a local police station and is waiting for Cambodian embassy officials to prepare legal documents to get her back to Cambodia, she said.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Koy Kuong said the Cambodian Embassy in China was working with Chinese authorities to intervene and save the victim as soon as possible.
But the woman is far from the only victim.
Another mother in Kratie told VOD on Wednesday of a similar case: Her 17-year-old daughter left home in July this year after being promised a job in China.
The trafficker’s name was “Met.” In less than half a year, the daughter was placed in three different houses to be a “wife,” but was never married, the mother said. The daughter stole the phones of the men she was forced to live with in order to communicate.
“I’m OK, mother. They haven’t hurt me, but I can’t live with them. That’s what she said. Mommy! I need to go back home. Help me.”
Before following the trafficker, the girl was a waitress in Ratanakiri’s Banlung city. But the restaurant closed amid Covid-19, and she was forced to look for work elsewhere.
“I’d like anybody who can help me, help my daughter. Don’t let her suffer,” the mother said.
Ratanak, the Kratie police official, said authorities, including foreign affairs, were working to find and bring back the former waitress.
Ratanak said she could not disclose any details of the investigation’s progress, including attempts to locate the traffickers.
“It’s the legal procedure of the authorities. We haven’t finished it yet. So we can’t reveal it to the public. It will negatively impact our investigative work.”
She added that since she took charge in 2016, more than 10 traffickers had been jailed, and nearly 10 human trafficking victims returned from China.
She didn’t know how many other victims were still there.
“There are some struggling over there. We’ve lost their information, unable to communicate with them,” Ratanak said. “But we’re investigating.”
The Facebook post on Saturday, by the woman who was trafficked two years ago, asks anyone reading to share her post so it might reach human rights groups and government authorities.
“Right now the burden is too heavy,” she wrote. “I’ve lost my freedom, and they’re forcing me to give birth for them as soon as possible.”