Cambodian schoolchildren will be taught laws, prevention and the different types of human trafficking including enforced prostitution and labor. (Photo: YouTube)
Human trafficking has been added to the school syllabus in Cambodia as students return to classes for a new year after extended breaks in 2020 were enforced due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Both primary and secondary pupils will be taught laws, prevention and the different types of human trafficking that range from debt bondage to enforced prostitution and labor.
Cambodia has a notorious reputation for human trafficking and the United States has threatened sanctions if Phnom Penh fails to improve its record this year.
“The government of Cambodia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so,” the US State Department said in its 2020 annual report, designating Cambodia a Tier 2 Watch List country.
However, it also said corruption was impeding law enforcement operations, criminal proceedings and victim service provisions, adding that efforts in 2020 were not an improvement on the previous year.
"Education is part of prevention," Chou Bun Eng, vice-chairwoman of the National Committee for Anti-Human Trafficking, told local media.
“If people still hesitate ... to protect vulnerable people, then there is no way to stop the damage.”
According to the Walk Free Foundation, more than 260,000 Cambodians out of a population of 16 million people are forced to exist in modern-day slavery conditions.
Children whose parents fall into debt are forced to work by the thousands in brick kilns. Young women are forced into unwanted marriages in China or brothels around the region, while thousands more are trafficked into the farming, fishing or garment industries.
Chou Bun Eng has urged Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand, mainly women, to exercise caution when dealing with brokers who organize employment abroad.
“Cambodian migrant workers, whether here or there, should be careful not to be conned by these men who promise to take them legally or illegally across the Cambodian-Thai border and promise them jobs,” she said.
Human trafficking has increased dramatically amid the pandemic and border closures. More than 130,000 Cambodian workers have recently returned to Cambodia and undergone a two-week quarantine as lockdowns bite in Thailand.
Chou Bun Eng said brokers were making money out of Covid-19 with promises of getting people across borders legally or illegally or getting them jobs that also threatened to undermine efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19.
“We want these workers to listen to the authorities here and in Thailand. If the Thai authorities issued a directive not to move around in areas where there has been spread, then don’t,” she said.
New lessons for Cambodian schools, she added, would help students understand the role of schools and communities in prevention, with sex trafficking a specific focus in lessons about drug offenses among other crimes.