Human trafficking and sexual and labor exploitation are likely to become more prevalent in Cambodia as the economic crisis continues, senior officials and UN observers say.
The economic slowdown is limiting job prospects, forcing some workers to look abroad, where they could be in danger of exploitation, while others could fall into dangerous entertainment sectors.
“Because of the world’s economy has changed, it will cause trafficking more severely,” Oeng Kantha Phavy, Minister of Women’s Affairs, told a recent conference. “Whenever people can’t find a job in their home country, they will decide to go abroad with high risk and insecurity. That will lead to exploitation.”
Cambodia typically legally sends between 7,000 and 8,000 workers abroad each year, mostly to Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea. An estimated 20,000 Cambodians work in Thailand illegally, in construction, tourism and domestic services. Remittances for these workers add up to $300 million per year.
But with the increase in joblessness this year, those numbers are climbing, by as much as 30 percent from January to April, officials say.
The financial crisis has also caused a small bump in the number of workers in the entertainment industry, around 3 percent, according to the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region, or UNIAP.
UNIAP recently surveyed 357 women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49.
“This is an unprecedented situation,” UNIAP’s regional manager, Matthew Friedman, said. “The job losses will probably lead to more exploitative, trafficking in the future.”
The agency is concerned the lower employment numbers will lead to less security and more exploitation over time, he said.
Cambodia remains a source and destination for international and internal human trafficking. Women and children are trafficked to Thailand and Malaysia for labor and sexual exploitation—or they are moved around the country, feeding demand in cities like
Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Preah Sihanouk province.