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Lawmaker Calls for More Protection of Migrant Workers

Cambodian parliamentarian and human rights leader Mu Sochua meets with US Secretary of Sate Hillary Clinton during a Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards event in Washington, DC on April 12, 2011.

More jobs at home and better skills training could keep Cambodia’s poor from being exploited as migrant workers, a leading opposition lawmaker says.

An increasing number of workers are seeking jobs abroad, but the work can be rife with danger, including slave labor on fishing vessels, sex trafficking and others.

Women are especially at risk, with the problem of migrant labor underscored last month when Cambodia banned workers from traveling to work as maids in Malaysia, pending an investigation into abuses there and the practice of the hiring of underage girls by recruitment firms.

“The poorest people are the most vulnerable ones to this type of human trafficking,” Mu Sochua, a lawmaker for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, told “Hello VOA” Monday.

Most of the women seeking work in Malaysia are illiterate women from rural areas, she said.

Human Rights Watch said in a recent report as many as 50,000 women and girls have migrated for work in Malaysia, where they risk physical and sexual abuse at the hands of employers.

They are immediately indebted to recruitment firms, which sometimes pay families up front and procure passports, visas and other necessary documents, as well as training.

“Some will have to take up to three years to pay off the debt,” Mu Sochua said, adding that those who are abused in Malaysia come back traumatized.

Instead, she said, Cambodia should focus on job creation and skills training at home. In the meantime, the government needs to negotiate with Malaysia to forge acceptable agreements that ensure the rights of workers there.

Recruitment firms in Cambodia need to “clean up their businesses,” as well, she said, and make sure they are not brining in women under the age of 21. Local authorities, too, need to stop the illegal practice of forging identity documents for underage girls.

“Please stop the suffering of our children who have already suffered from hunger,” she said.

Eliminating companies that undertake dubious practices will be hard, she said, because many are supported by relatives of powerful public officials.

“They have strong backing,” she said.