Diario de la Provincia
The horror scene is, sadly, reality: A 25-day-old Cambodian baby is
sold to a human trafficker for a pittance. Police manage to break up
the sale at the border, but that, sadly, is the exception in a country
where children have long been a major export product. Most wind up as
forced workers or sex slaves.
Diario de la Provincia
The horror scene is, sadly, reality: A 25-day-old Cambodian baby is sold to a
human trafficker for a pittance. Police manage to break up the sale at the
border, but that, sadly, is the exception in a country where children have
long been a major export product. Most wind up as forced workers or sex
Earlier this week, police in Cambodia arrested 39-year-old Pech Tho as she tried to
cross the border into Thailand with a one-month old baby boy. The problem? The boy
wasn't hers. She had bought it from the baby's parents promising to pay $50 as soon
as she sold the baby in Thailand. The transaction was already set up. She was to
hand over the living merchandise to 34-year-old Danh Dara who would then smuggle
the baby onward into Malaysia.
The baby's parents have also since been charged. They said they couldn't afford to
keep their child and hoped that by selling him he would be given a better life
somewhere else. "The court had to charge the parents too, otherwise other poor
parents will have the same excuse, which we cannot accept," Meng Say, Phnom
Penh's anti-human trafficking police chief, told the news agency Reuters.
The parents' horrifying decision to sell their one-month old is one that many couples
in Cambodia reach. Most regret doing so as soon as they realize the consequences
but in a landscape of abject poverty like this Southeast Asian country, many feel that
selling their own flesh and blood is the only way to make ends meet. After decades
of civil war and mass killings by the Khmer Rouge during the 1970s, Cambodia today
is one of the poorest countries in Asia. Per capita income is less than $300 per year.
Now Cambodia is trying to crack down on the problem and the effort is shedding rare
light on child trafficking -- a massive tragedy with global dimensions. According to
the United Nations, 50 percent of the world's child trafficking takes place in
Southeast Asia and Cambodia is on the US State Department's watch list of countries
with major human trafficking problems. The children are often sold to Thailand and
Malaysia where they become slaves facing a life of forced labor or, even worse, sex
slaves forced to sell their bodies for the profit of their owners. Others are sold in
Thailand and Vietnam as street beggars.
Globally, about 300,000 children are kidnapped by or sold to traffickers each year
with girls being highly sought after. Seventy percent of the victims are female.
Charity organizations estimate that trafficking in children in Thailand, which is
considered the main transit country and destination for many children, is increasing
by 20 percent annually.
Christian Schneider, spokesman for the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) in
Cologne, Germany, has experienced first hand the adversity faced by children in the
Cambodian border city Poipet. It's a place so impoverished that the shantytown
neighborhoods are literally sinking in the mud. Human smugglers flock to the area
and children have become little more than moving targets.
"Many families have been completely destroyed by the war," Schneider explained.
"There's an unbelievable number of orphans and street kids who live in an extremely
unstable social environment. That's why they're such easy prey." Comparably
wealthy Thailand lies just on the other side of the border and thousands of people
cross over everyday to hawk goods and to take odd jobs. It's a trip also made
frequently by the child smugglers and they usually collect their money for the
children as soon as they make the border crossing. "The children are beaten or given
electrical shocks -- even though many of them have already been crippled by land
mines" in the war-torn country said Schneider.
In most cases, the parents force themselves to believe that their children will have
better lives in their new environments or that their children will be offered lucrative
jobs. "It's often people they know who make the offer," Schneider said, explaining
why families would trust the child smugglers. Many subconsciously know the grim
truth of what's actually happening, but in this atmosphere of extreme poverty
repressing reality has become an art form.
A corrupt legal system aids criminals
On Monday of this week, police discovered yet another case and arrested three men
who had tried to smuggle four women, including two Vietnamese, over the border to
Thailand and on to Malaysia. All three denied they were involved in human
trafficking. If convicted by Cambodia's notoriously inefficient and corrupt court
system -- which doesn't happen very often -- the men could face prison sentences of
15 to 20 years.
Governments and human rights organizations around the world have recently
increased pressure on Phnom Penh to crack down on human traffickers. Cambodia
doesn't have an anti-trafficking law on the books, but still, the country has been
addressing the problem in recent years. The State Department estimates that in
2003 Cambodian police investigated 400 different cases. The Cambodian Interior
Ministry says it prosecuted 142 traffickers that year, and 11 are still awaiting trial.
Help for traumatized victims
The work of international organizations like UNICEF with local authorities in these
countries could become a light at the end of the tunnel for these children. In Poipet,
two social workers work together with two police officers seeking to help children
who have returned from Thailand -- including some who have escaped from their
captors -- and are in danger of once again falling into the hands of smugglers. The
helpers take the children to UNICEF protection centers where they are given access
to housing, an education and psychological counselling.
"The girls often come back extremely traumatized," Schneider said. He said the safe
havens the organization provides are extremely important -- sometimes the child
traffickers even come to the center and demand the return of their "goods."
Sometimes these "property" owners are even relatives. They claim they know what
is best for the child.