The global financial crisis has led to signs of an increase in Cambodian women entering the sex trade, says a new United Nations report, which recommends strengthening social safety nets and improving job training and placement to help women avoid such dangerous and exploitative work.
The report, prepared by the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP), is based on research conducted in April and May involving 357 women and girls aged between 15 and 49 currently working in the entertainment sector of the capital, Phnom Penh, including in brothels, karaoke bars and massage parlours.
“The objective of this research was to measure increases in human trafficking and exploitation in Cambodia as a result of the financial crisis, specifically, the trafficking of women and girls into the entertainment sector,” UNIAP says in a news release issued yesterday.
The report shows that during the crisis, women have entered the sex trade coming from situations where there have been declining working conditions, such as in the garment sector, where they experienced long working hours and low pay.
The most common reason given by the women and girls for entering the sex trade was “difficult family circumstances,” followed by “easily earn a lot of money, in good working conditions.”
Most massage parlour workers, 57 per cent, found their jobs independently, while 46 per cent of karaoke workers found theirs through friends. Nearly 80 per cent of direct sex workers also found their jobs on their own.
The report also found that 58 per cent of women who entered the entertainment sector before the crisis were in debt, while the same was true of 42 per cent who entered after the crisis.
“It could be assumed that the shift in women turning from money lenders to sex establishment bosses for loans may lead to more women being vulnerable to the control tactics and violence that are often thought to be associated with debt bondage,” states UNIAP.
However, it was debts to money lenders, and not debt bondage, that was found to be significantly associated with the worst violence and worst restrictions on freedoms among those surveyed.
The report recommends strengthening social safety nets, designed to meet the needs of families with women who are vulnerable to exploitation and degrading working conditions, as well as linking women who want jobs featuring better working conditions with alternative livelihood training and job placement assistance.
Also recommended is the use of targeted awareness raising and outreach to provide specific, clear information to people who may be vulnerable, for example on how to access social services and training that will lead to jobs, the risks of using moneylenders, and how to qualify for and access safer sources of loans and credit.