Trafficking of Women Up Amid Covid-19 Despite Closed Borders: Official

3 min read
A sex trafficking victim in China uploaded a photo of the house she was forced to live in, in a Facebook post on November 28, 2020.

Authorities in Vietnam have reported more trafficking victims crossing from Cambodia, the Interior Ministry’s counter-trafficking chief said, as the global economic slowdown creates a desperation for jobs while closed borders due to Covid-19 elevate the dangers of migration.

Last week, two mothers told VOD of daughters trafficked to China for sex. One of the victims was a waitress in Ratanakiri province until the collapse of tourism put her out of work. She crossed illegally into Vietnam in July as a 17-year-old after being promised a job, and had to walk for days en route to China. After arriving, she was placed in three different houses to be a “wife,” she told her mother by stealing a phone from one of the men. She remains in China.

Chou Bun Eng, permanent vice chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, said she did not know what more authorities could do to try to warn young women against illegally crossing into Vietnam.

Counter-trafficking officials have used TV, social media and in-person workshops to try to get the message across — especially to not cross borders during the pandemic.

“But they don’t listen to us, [to] what we’ve been advising, calling and begging for, explaining in every way to keep them safe.”

Instead, Vietnamese authorities have found and sent back more trafficked Cambodian women than previous years, she said. She would not give a figure, but noted that some were underage.

“Now I don’t know how to educate them,” she said. “Maybe they listen to brokers more than our education.”

Bun Eng said traffickers claim to be job brokers when approaching the women. They work in networks in order to cross borders through forests and deceive local officers, she said. They need to circumvent Cambodian, Vietnamese and Chinese authorities, and need documents for several jurisdictions.

Recently rescued victims are being asked about the trafficking network — who helped them, how they traveled.

But “they don’t know the ways. They don’t know the people,” Bun Eng said. “It’s a network. That’s why it’s called a cross-border crime, which means having an organization, a network or a system.”

The Foreign Affairs Ministry and Cambodian Embassy in China investigate and try to rescue the women, but they need precise locations or there is little they can do, she said.

Moeun Tola, executive director at labor rights group Central, said the trafficking of Cambodian women has been going on for a long time, but traffickers were always changing their techniques.

They target poverty, Tola said, especially people without education who need money.

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit several of Cambodia’s economic sectors. Tourism has been devastated, while 150,000 jobs have been lost or suspended in the garments industry amid a decline in international clothing orders, the manufacturers association said earlier this year. Migrants in Thailand have returned to the country in large numbers, are unable to go back, and struggle to find local jobs.

“When [they] arrive, the traffickers take away their passport and force them to take a husband,” Tola said. “If they don’t agree to get married, they won’t have any other choice because they can’t get a job without a passport.”

The so-called “marriage” was only genuine in rare cases, he said.

“Some lucky women meet only one man and live with him permanently,” he said. For others, “the traffickers bring them from one man to another.”

“They don’t bring them to be their wife. Most of the victims we have interviewed, they are treated like a slave for the whole family — a sexual slave and producing a baby for them too. Some women are not allowed to touch their children [once they give birth].”

“That’s why we call on our citizens to be very careful,” Tola said.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Koy Kuong said the ministry was investigating the latest cases, but did not have any figures.

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