When you think of Cambodia and human trafficking, perhaps images of very young girls locked up to be raped night after night come to mind. You may think of the work of International Justice Mission and how they were highlighted by mainstream media in their rescue of trafficked girls. Seedy red-light districts crawling with pedophiles may stream into your imagination.
While these images may be true, they are far from telling the whole story of human trafficking in Cambodia. All forms of trafficking in persons exist in Cambodia with victims trafficked to, through, and from its borders involving both labor as well as sex trafficking. Issues such as child and domestic abuse, statelessness, child labor, and of course Pol Pot also have a role in the big picture of human trafficking there. Vietnamese women are trafficked to Cambodia to work as domestic slaves; Cambodian men are trapped on international fishing vessels for years; and boys are abused in a variety of ways from factories to massage parlors.
I spent the week before Christmas in Phnom Penh catching up on some work I’m doing with Chab Dai (“joining hands” in Kmer), a coalition organization of Christians working together against sexual abuse and trafficking. Chab Dai has a country-wide presence and is involved in prevention, research, and capacity building of counter-trafficking organizations. It also has a good relationship with the government to develop protocols and policies and even the development cross-border collaborative work.
Health care for the average Cambodian is abysmal. Add on the complex physical and mental health problems of abused and trafficked people, discrimination against the woman victim, lack of understanding of basic forensic medicine, and lack of basic health and sanitation knowledge of the average Cambodian, there is a great need for development of holistic health care there. I commend the medical teams already working on this issue in Cambodia and I am coming alongside Chab Dai to serve in the gaps of health and the specific needs of trafficked people.
Cambodia has a long way to go in its efforts to squelch human trafficking but in some respects, it may be ahead of many developed countries. For example, no coalition like Chab Dai exists in the United States or any other country. The power and synergy lies in its ethos of sharing knowledge, building up of local work, attention to research, and village-based integrated grassroots development. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from the people at Chab Dai and honored to be a small part of their work.