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Cambodia Sex Trafficking Essay

Victims from Burma, Cambodia, and China supply a booming sex tourism industry.

Type: Source, Transit, and Destination Country


For traffickers in Southeast Asia, Thailand is a land of opportunity. Trafficking in this tourist hotspot is a roughly $12 billion industry — a bigger cash earner than the country’s drug trade, according to the International Labor Organization. Simple economics drive the boom: In Thailand, per capita income is $6,900; in the surrounding states of Cambodia, Laos, and Burma that figure hovers in the $1,500 to $1,700 range. Inadequately funded law enforcement and relaxed visa regulations have traditionally guaranteed the traffickers’ trade. To keep the supply steady, Thai crime groups also collaborate with mafia syndicates from China, Russia, Japan, Burma, and elsewhere, Human Rights Watch reports. The Japanese yakuzas (mafia groups) in particular have a strong presence in Thailand.


Traffickers find fertile ground in Thailand’s rugged North, where economic change has wreaked havoc. Many of the tribal residents in this highlands region also do not have Thai citizenship — a fact that leaves them particularly vulnerable to trafficking. In one northern Thai region, Mae Sai, 70 percent of the 800 families there had sold a daughter into prostitution, delegates at the 2001 Second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children were told. Age preferences for hill women range from early teens to mid-30s; trafficked children often are taught to sniff “rubber cement” so that they will perform whatever task required without objection.

But with the boom in trafficked women and children from Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China, demand for Thai women and girls is believed to have declined, THE BANGKOK POST recently reported. One fourth of Thailand’s estimated 200,000 commercial sex workers are believed to be Burmese, according to the paper.

But often, defining whether a victim has been forced to take up sex work or other labor or chosen to do so willingly is an impossible task. With limited options for work in Burma, Cambodia and Laos, the chance to go across the border to work on a “fruit farm” or other alleged business is a chance to earn money for a family’s clothes, food, education, and medicine. In Burma, ethnic Shan women are often rape targets for army troops — a claim denied by the ruling junta. “Being forced to work physically is one thing, but these women were forced to work by their situation,” Hseng Noung, of the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), told THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR. “The women didn’t feel like they were rescued because they lost their money,” Noung said of one U.S.-funded anti-trafficking raid. “They felt like they were trapped.”

Counter-Trafficking Efforts

The scope of Thailand’s trafficking problem largely outstrips law enforcement resources, according to the 2003 Trafficking in Persons report. Last year, only half of the 42 people or organizations prosecuted for human trafficking received jail time. A $703,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor was extended in late 2002 to help the Thai government fight the trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of girls in northern Thailand. Though legislation has been enacted to impose stiffer punishments on traffickers and offer greater support to victims, corruption within Thailand and lax efforts to address the problem by neighboring countries have resulted in an impasse.

By Amanda Kloer, Special to CNN

Editor's Note: Amanda Kloer is an editor with Change.org, where she organizes and promotes campaigns to end human trafficking. She has created numerous reports, documentaries and training materials on human trafficking in the United States and around the world.

Human trafficking might not be something we think about on a daily basis, but this crime affects the communities where we live, the products which we buy and the people who we care about. Want to learn more? Here are the five most important things to know about human trafficking:

1. Human trafficking is slavery.
Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. It involves one person controlling another and exploiting him or her for work. Like historical slavery, human trafficking is a business that generates billions of dollars a year. But unlike historical slavery, human trafficking is not legal anywhere in the world. Instead of being held by law, victims are trapped physically, psychologically, financially or emotionally by their traffickers.

2. It's happening where you live.
Stories about human trafficking are often set in far-away places, like cities in Cambodia, small towns in Moldova, or rural parts of Brazil. But human trafficking happens in cities and towns all over the world, including in the United States. Enslaved farmworkers have been found harvesting tomatoes in Florida and picking strawberries in California. Young girls have been forced into prostitution in Toledo, Atlanta, Wichita, Los Angeles, and other cities and towns across America. Women have been enslaved as domestic workers in homes in Maryland and New York. And human trafficking victims have been found working in restaurants, hotels, nail salons, and shops in small towns and booming cities. Wherever you live, chances are some form of human trafficking has taken place there.

3. It's happening to people just like you.
Human trafficking doesn't discriminate on the basis of race, age, gender, or religion. Anyone can be a victim. Most of the human trafficking victims in the world are female and under 18, but men and older adults can be trafficking victims too. While poverty, lack of education, and belonging to a marginalized group are all factors that increase risk of trafficking, victims of modern-day slavery have included children from middle-class families, women with college degrees, and people from dominant religious or ethnic groups.

4. Products you eat, wear, and use every day may have been made by human trafficking victims.
Human trafficking isn't just in your town - it's in your home, since human trafficking victims are forced to make many of the products we use everyday, according to ProductsofSlavery.org. If your kitchen is stocked with rice, chocolate, fresh produce, fish, or coffee, those edibles might have been harvested by trafficking victims. If you're wearing gold jewelry, athletic shoes, or cotton underwear, you might be wearing something made by slaves. And if your home contains a rug, a soccer ball, fresh flowers, a cell phone, or Christmas decorations, then slavery is quite possibly in your house. Human trafficking in the production of consumer goods is so widespread, most people in America have worn, touched, or consumed a product of slavery at some point.

5. We can stop human trafficking in our lifetime.
The good news is not only that we can end human trafficking around the world, we can end it within a generation. But to achieve that goal, everyone needs to work together. Already, activists around the world are launching and winning campaigns to hold governments and companies accountable for human trafficking, create better laws, and prevent trafficking in their communities. You can start a campaign on Change.org to fight trafficking in your community. You can also fight trafficking by buying from companies that have transparent and slave-free supply chains, volunteering for or donating to organizations fighting trafficking, and talking to your friends and family about the issue. Together, we can fight human trafficking … and win.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Amanda Kloer.

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