Throwing the Net around human trafficking

22 August 2014

Jay Vlazlovski reports on the scourge of human trafficking in Cambodia and how it is being combated using online resources and social media.

As one of Southeast Asia's poorest countries, Cambodia remains an epicentre for human trafficking.

With estimates of hundreds of thousands of individuals being sold into prostitution, labour, and other forms of exploitation each year, efforts to combat the problem seem few and far between. While undertaking field research in the country in July, however, I became aware of determined attempts nationwide, to bring an end to this severe violation of human rights.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Sunset.

From Poipet to Phnom Penh, a number of international and local non-governmental organisations, as well as the local community, are engaged in a tireless fight against the problem.

In rural areas, mechanisms for dealing with human trafficking remain largely inter-personal – face- to- face interaction between social workers and trafficked persons is a vital element of rehabilitation and reintegration processes, and often provides the only means of communicating with vulnerable families.

Better resourced organisations, however, are continuously expanding their methodologies to incorporate new technologies and the mass media into their efforts. For example, Friends International, a multinational NGO, provides hotline numbers, Internet safety training, and other innovative measures, through its ChildSafe campaign. Another NGO, Chab Dai ("joining hands" in Khmer), connects the various organisations operating within Cambodia, in order to facilitate more cohesive action against human trafficking. One of its campaigns, the Freedom Collaborative, comprises an online platform for anti-human trafficking agencies to exchange information and obtain library resources in a convenient and timely manner.

Komar Rikreay Association Centre, Battambang - A young Cambodian boy looks out from his shelter as the mid-July rain starts to fall.

A range of other anti-human trafficking organisations have introduced hotlines and websites to their operations.  Some, like the Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility (CARAM) Cambodia – are capitalising on an increasingly globalised media network, by using it to hold actors like the government accountable to the state and the people of Cambodia.

It is no overstatement  that Cambodia continues to be ravaged by corruption and poverty, factors which in countless ways perpetuate the human trafficking problem and prolong Cambodia's dependence on foreign funding and resources. Nevertheless, as new generations engage further with technology and media, including social media like Facebook, opportunities for dealing effectively with the problem are becoming more evident.

Chab Dai, Phnom Penh – Chab Dai aims to complement its physical library collection with online resources as part of the Freedom Collaborative.

As the United Nations marked the first ever World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on 30 July, 2014, these promising aspects of the fight against human trafficking should be kept in consideration.

Of course, it is not a problem that small Southeast Asian states can easily overcome. However, it is one against which new methods and mechanisms must continue to be implemented, so that both current and future generations do not have to suffer the same injustices as those who have already experienced the mercilessness of human trafficking.

Jay Vlazlovski is studying a Bachelor of Asia-Pacific Security at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. Earlier this year he participated in FASSTRACK Asia at the National University of Singapore where he undertook extensive research on human trafficking in Cambodia.

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