Cambodia was once viewed by many as “ground zero” for child sex trafficking. In the early 2000s, very young children were often bought and sold for sex right on the streets, simply because there was no one to protect them.
Thankfully, this heartbreaking picture no longer reflects Cambodia today. Starting in the early 2000s, IJM partnered with the Cambodian authorities to rescue victims of trafficking, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors and help strengthen the justice system to better protect the poor long-term. Years of collaboration between the government, police, courts, social services, NGOs and the public have dramatically reduced the crisis of sex trafficking and made a powerful change for Cambodia’s children. The changes in Cambodia have been remarkable.
H.E. Chou Bun Eng
Secretary of State, Ministry of the Interior
Vice Chair, National Committee for Counter Trafficking
Transformation in Cambodia would never have been possible without strong government ownership over counter-trafficking efforts. Her Excellency Chou Bun Eng’s passionate and persistent leadership is helping to unite Cambodian government ministries, rural community leaders and NGOs to tackle this crisis as a unified front.
National Project Coordinator, UN-ACT
Lim Tith and United Nations leaders have tackled the trafficking crisis by spearheading policy change, encouraging government ownership, and leading stakeholder collaboration. Cambodia reformed its main trafficking law in 2008, and now has clearer definitions for the crime and serious sentences for offenders. The Cambodian government has taken ownership over the fight against sex trafficking, and now brings UN agencies and local NGOs into their vision for the fight.
General Pol Phie They
Director of Cambodia’s National Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Police
Reducing a crime like child sex trafficking requires bold moves to hold violent criminals accountable. General Pol Phie They accepted each new challenge as it’s come and is strategically raising the standard of his police units. They’ve successfully shut down abusive brothels, rescued thousands of victims, and stopped hundreds of traffickers and pimps from hurting children.
Founder and International Director, Chab Dai Coalition
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, NGOs in Cambodia were struggling to keep up with the child sex trafficking crisis and the growing pool of survivors in need of help.
Chab Dai Coalition, headed by Helen Sworn, united these stakeholders at just the right time. They’ve helped to rally and equip the NGO community, and partner with government leaders for an effective and sophisticated counter-trafficking response, particularly in prevention and survivor aftercare.
Captain Keo Rattana
Deputy Chief of Section, Phnom Penh Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Police
Years ago, Cambodia’s police were seen uniformly as ineffective, untrained and corrupt. But today, a new generation of anti-trafficking police officers like Captain Keo Rattana has taken hold of their training and made serious strides in combatting trafficking in their country.
They take pride in the law enforcement profession and have a vision for enforcing the law to protect people from trafficking and other violent crimes.
Pastor and Community Educator
Equipped by IJM and other organizations, grassroots leaders like Oeun Sienglai are teaching families about exploitation and child abuse all across the country. As a pastor and community mobilizer, she helps hundreds of parents protect their children—like 8-year-old Dany—from the lies and lures of traffickers and rapists.
Director, Department of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth
In the early 2000s, Cambodia’s social services struggled to identify and help children trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. Today, rescued children meet caring government social workers like You Sopheak and a robust private aftercare system.
These leaders are improving their skills, advocating for more resources to do their job, and working hard to ensure children can grow up safely, heal from their trauma, and thrive in freedom once again.
Vice President, Phnom Penh First Instance Court
Cambodia’s courts once struggled to uphold anti-trafficking law with meaningful trials, leaving criminals to abuse the poor with impunity. But today the country’s courts, judges and prosecutors are more responsive, well-trained and child-friendly than 10 years ago—and traffickers are finally being held accountable.
Director of Legal, IJM Cambodia
Cambodia’s transformation reflects thousands of individual stories of change over the last 20 years. Sek Saroeun once worked as a DJ in Martini Pub, a popular bar where girls were abused and sold for sex. He saw the plight these women faced and knew he needed to take action. Today he’s a leading lawyer with International Justice Mission, helping hundreds of survivors find justice and ensuring traffickers are jailed for their crimes.
Perhaps the greatest testaments to Cambodia’s transformation are the survivors of trafficking themselves. Many of these young women have overcome years of trauma and bravely stood up for justice.
At 12 years old, Lyna* pushed past her fear to bravely testify in court and eventually saw her trafficker sentenced to 11 years in prison.
*A pseudonym has been used to protect the security of this survivor.