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US Downgrades Cambodian Trafficking Efforts

The US State Department has put Cambodia back on a watch list of countries not doing enough to curb human trafficking, claiming in an annual report, “the government did not show evidence of progress in convicting and punishing human trafficking offenders.”

“The Government of Cambodia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” according to the 2009 “Trafficking in Persons” report, released Tuesday. “However, it is making significant efforts to do so.”

Despite these efforts, the report said, the government failed to show progress in punishing offenders, “including public officials,” and did not protect trafficking victims.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak said the government did not deny findings in the report, but said Cambodia had made progress in 2008.

The designation of Tier 2 Watchlist is a slip from Cambodia’s 2008 status, Tier 2, but a return to its former designation for 2006 and 2007. The country was rated Tier 3, the worst, in 2005.

“Women and girls are trafficked to Thailand and Malaysia for exploitative labor as domestic workers and forced prostitution,” the 2009 report said. “Cambodian children are trafficked to Thailand and Vietnam to beg, sell candy or flowers, or shine shoes.”

“Parents sometimes sell their children into involuntary servitude to serve as beggars, into brothels for commercial sexual exploitation, or into domestic servitude,” the report said. “Within Cambodia, children are trafficked for forced begging, waste scavenging, salt production, brick making, and quarrying.”

“Some Cambodia men migrate willingly to Thailand and Malaysia for work and are subsequently subjected to conditions of forced labor in the fishing, construction, and agricultural industries,” the report said. “Cambodian men and women repatriated from Malaysia report experiencing conditions of forced labor after migrating there for work with the assistance of Cambodia labor recruitment companies.”

Khieu Sopheak said Cambodia was working to convict more offenders of human trafficking.

Arrests “are more in number than previous years,” he said. “But we must push the cases for the hearings more and more.”

“Our commitment and efforts are still strong and moving forward in fighting against human trafficking,” he said.

The government was working to pass more laws and train its enforcement officers, he said. “Time will display the results.”

The State Department report recommended Cambodia improve prosecutions and convictions of traffickers and “substantially improve efforts to prosecute, convict and criminally punish public officials complicit in trafficking.”