18th June 2012
Slavery and human trafficking are a huge problems in this part of the world. Up to a decade ago, much of this trafficking was of girls and young women to meet the insatiable demands of the region’s sex industry.
However, huge resources were focused on this scourge and fortunately this part of human trafficking has been successfully addressed to a large extent. Not eliminated, but much less of a problem than it was in the past.
Instead, most of those who are trafficked these days are victims of employment scams. And this does seem on the increase. Recently there were reports that young Lao women were now being trafficked into Vietnam, where they have their travel documents confiscated and are forced to work essentially for nothing in all sorts of medial jobs.
Here in Cambodia, it is the trafficking of domestic workers to Malaysia or young men press-ganged onto Thai fishing trawlers that regularly made the headlines.
However, this is not the picture you get if you listen to many in the equally large “humanitarian” industry here that feeds off this sordid trade. Clearly the story of people being ruthlessly exploited in their workplaces doesn’t resonate nearly as powerfully as a narrative about young women – or better, children – being sold into the sex trade.
This is significant because most of these “humanitarian” organisations are hungry. There are a seemingly endless number and they have many mouths to feed, especially the expat staff that invariably manage most if not almost all of them. Sex sells, and graphic tales of sexual horror helps to raise donations like no other.
A cynic might even think the two are symbiotic.
The latest to exploit this tactic is Kate Kennedy, chief executive for Hagar Australia that purportedly “restores the lives of abused women and children in our region through rescue, medical and legal support, education and finance,” in an interview with Australia’s Fairfax press.
Now I happen to think Hagar actually does good work, especially in vocational training for young women in preparation for the type of jobs for which there is a demand here in Cambodia: low-skilled but honest work in the garment or hospitality industries. Their work with victims of domestic violence, which is rife in the Kingdom, is also exemplary.
However, the narrative she regales us with is the same tired formula used by nearly all of these organisations involved in the anti-trafficking industry.
“Our clients have often been raped, have been relocated to different countries, so have no community, or are severely traumatised due to severe exploitation. They may have been trafficked when they are very young, so there is often no chance of reintegration back into a community because they don’t know where they are from; they have no economic or community backdrop that will support them for their future. And pretty consistently there is a really deep level of trauma that comes from the combination of human rights abuses,” she says.
She follows this with specific harrowing cases – unfortunately giving the impression that this sort of thing continues to happen here on an almost daily basis – such as mentioning the case of the Russian paedophile recently arrested here and about to (finally) be deported from Cambodia, but making it sound as if his crimes had happened yesterday.
Any pervert stupid enough to think they can come here to indulge their proclivities with impunity, is asking to be run to ground by these organisations and prosecuted. Such lurid tales are good for business.
One thing that most of these anti-trafficking organisations have in common is that they are faith-based (invariably Christian). Hagar, for example was spun out of World Vision. These see themselves not only doing good works but almost inevitably, being on a “civilising mission.”
You might think honesty would be a value.
While I doubt they would admit that they believe that the locals, with their Buddhism overlaying their deeper shamanistic beliefs, are really in league with the Devil, the frequent dysfunction in many poor rural communities here in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia probably confirms such chauvinism.
However, it is the blatant dishonesty, the manipulation of the ill-informed and the grasping avariciousness of these groups with their legions of Western consultants making a handsome living from this ‘industry’ that makes it hard to stomach.
Then there is the impact on tourism, an important revenue source and significant employer in this very poor country. Why risk going to Cambodia if there is any chance that someone could whisper that you might just be a paedophile?
Given how important tourism is to Cambodia, Hagar are certainly not doing the country any favours by perpetuating this nonsense.