Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior’s Anti-Trafficking Unit arrested 14 Vietnamese girls they had earlier rescued during a sex trafficking raid in the nation’s capital of Phnom Penh. Following their rescue, the girls, who are between the ages of 12 and 18, stayed at a nongovernmental organization (NGO)shelter. However, last week, they were incarcerated under charges of violating Cambodian immigration laws.
A Cambodian judge refused to drop the charges earlier this week, although he did release three of the girls on bail. “They should be provided with medical and legal services, counseling, secure shelter, and given the opportunity to cooperate in the investigation into the traffickers,” said Sara Colm, senior researcher with Human Rights Watch. “While these young women are in prison, their suspected traffickers and the brothel owner are free, protected by a criminal justice system that blames the victim.”
Grim economic conditions in Cambodia and Vietnam have driven many families to sell young women into the sex trade in exchange for the equivalent of one year’s income for rural farmers. Nhaly Pilorage of Licadho, a Cambodian civil rights group, and shelter manager Pierre Legros, told the Associated Press many of the 14 girls had been sold by their relatives. The State Department reports that each year at least 700,000 people, mostly women and children, are trafficked worldwide. In the Trafficking in Persons Report released earlier this month by the US State Department, Cambodia fell to the lowest category, where it is blacklisted among 19 countries for making no significant effort to combat sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is the third most lucrative criminal activity in the world, according to officials at the Second World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children held in December 2001.