Monday, August 5, 2002

Cambodia to deport alleged victims of human traffic

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A group of young Vietnamese women who social workers claim were trafficked into Cambodia and forced to become prostitutes were convicted Monday of illegal entry, and will be deported.

The Phnom Penh Court found 14 ethnic Vietnamese women and girls guilty of illegal immigration, ruling that they be expelled to Vietnam after serving jail terms of two to three months.

Judge Nop Sophon found four others innocent of the charges, ruling that they were citizens because they could prove their long-term residency in Cambodia.

Cambodian authorities have taken no action against the alleged traffickers, saying an ongoing probe has turned up no evidence.

Human rights workers, who have been perplexed for weeks by the judicial system's treatment of the sex workers as criminals rather than victims, said they were appalled by the court's ruling.

They said the ruling boded ill for young Cambodian and Vietnamese women who are regularly sold into the sex trade by poverty-stricken families.

Soeung Kamaryan, a counselor for the French-funded rights organization that rescued the girls, described them as "victims."

"They have faced double misfortune," said Soeung Kamaryan of the group Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances, known by its French acronym AFESIP. "First, they were trafficked from one country to another, and second, they became victims again under the charge of illegal crossing."

Fourteen of the defendants, aged 12-20 years, were rescued in May from a brothel on the outskirts of the capital by children's rights activists targeting a human trafficking ring. Police later arrested the women at an abused women's shelter, accusing them of being illegal immigrants.

Social workers say the ruling does nothing to combat networks procuring women for the sex industry, which is growing in Cambodia and nearby countries.

Most of the 14 convicted women have been in jail for more than a month and have only a few weeks left to serve before being deported.

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in this news report may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of the Associated Press.

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Created: September 28, 2002
Last modified: September 28, 2002
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