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Anti-Trafficking NGO ‘Disappointed,’ as Cambodia Remains on US Watch List

Cambodian child vendors sell newspapers to a car driver at a retail gas station in Phnom Penh, file photo.
Cambodian child vendors sell newspapers to a car driver at a retail gas station in Phnom Penh, file photo.

An international anti-trafficking NGO says Cambodia deserves credit for a “sea change” in its approach to combat underage sex trafficking.

Cambodia remains on a US watch list for what the State Department says is insufficient efforts to combat trafficking.

But the International Justice Mission says the rating does not credit some of the efforts police have made in recent years to crack down on sex trafficking. “That is disappointing,” Blair Burns, International Justice Mission’s vice president of regional operations in Southeast Asia, said in a statement.

IJM has found a sharp decline in the number of minors trafficked to Cambodian brothels.

Holly Burkhalter, IJM’s vice president for advocacy in Washington, thinks Cambodia’s efforts could inspire other countries in the region to combat trafficking.

“It really is a success story, and I think it’s inspiring both for the Cambodian leadership that was involved in this success, but also for other countries that are looking for a model,” she said.

In its 2015 Trafficking in Persons report, which includes sex and labor trafficking, US officials say Cambodia “does not fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” and “did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period.”

The Cambodian government fails to protect men who are trafficked for labor abroad, while the prosecution of the traffickers remains minimal, the report says.

Burkhalter said Cambodian officials could follow the anit-sex trafficking model to curb labor trafficking, where it has “a distance to go.”

Christa Sharpe, IJM’s director in Phnom Penh, praised Cambodia’s model for counter-trafficking. “Cambodia has a good model here,” she said, despite its social and political issues.

Cambodia’s progress should be recognized, even if image problems remain, she said. “The bad image of Cambodia in the past is so strong that it’s hard to change their perceptions and for them to accept good positive progress,” she said.