A Cambodian court found 10 Vietnamese girls, ages 12 to 18, guilty of illegal immigration to Cambodia, despite the fact that human rights activists and the women themselves claim the girls were smuggled into the country and forced into prostitution. The girls were sentenced to jail terms of two to three months followed by deportation back to Vietnam. The girls have already spent over a month in jail awaiting their trial – they were released and deported without serving their jail sentence. Four other girls were acquitted.
The arrests and subsequent jail sentences of these young women have been denounced by the United Nations (UN) as well as by several human rights groups, including the Asian Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Watch. These groups also are incensed that the Cambodian government is not pursuing the person or persons involved in the forced prostitution of these girls, according to OneWorld.net. The United States Department of State estimates that of the 80,000 to 100,000 sex workers in Cambodia, a sizeable proportion are victims of the sex trade. The International Labour Organization said in 1999 that more than 15 percent of sex workers in Cambodia were girls between the ages of nine and 15, and that 78 percent of these girls were Vietnamese.
“The verdict is worrying in that it reflects an attitude that criminalizes the victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation instead of protecting them,” UN spokesperson Francesca Maratta told the Chicago Tribune.
The sentencing of these girls follows a report released by the Special Trafficking Operations Project (STOP) of the UN, which has conducted 600 raids in Bosnia-Herzegovina alone, freeing 182 women forced to work as prostitutes. However, of the 56 people convicted and sentenced for sex trafficking, only 10 are actually serving prison sentences.