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January 11, 2005 12:00 AM
By Liz Lynne in European Parliament

While a member of this parliament and when I was a member of the British parliament I have sought to raise the issue of trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children throughout the world. But even for someone like myself the situation in Cambodia is deeply shocking. Trafficking has exploded since the early 1990s. Estimates vary from 18,000 sex workers to 100,000.

Many of these women/girls are trafficked in and out of Cambodia to work in the sex industry but the largest numbers are trafficked within Cambodia itself. The country's location, poverty, weak law enforcement and war torn infrastructure as well as corruption provide an ideal environment for traffickers.

Cambodian women may be driven into the sex trade through poverty, lack of education and the breakdown of security within the family due to domestic violence. As many as one in ten woman working in the sex industry have been sold to criminals by members of their own family

As an illegal trade, prostitution and trafficking are both complex and difficult to combat, with the key facilitators frequently being protected and therefore going unpunished. According to a Cambodia NGO, "Police, military police, army and other state personnel are deeply enmeshed in the trade, actively running or protecting trafficking rings and brothels." In the case of trafficking, perpetrators can also expect to receive assistance from immigration officials in the majoring trafficking towns.

It is estimated that the judiciary fail to convict in 94% of cases. Often it is the poor who are convicted, such as the mother selling her daughter to put food on the table.

The EU must work with governments, local and international NGOs to overcome this culture of impunity and corruption within the sex trade. Co-operation between countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong is imperative to stop the flow of sex workers, and the increased training and education of border police.

Sex workers need to have greater access to affordable legal advice to increase convictions and continued education on HIV/AIDS prevention. Due to the social stigma attached, NGOs require increased funding and assistance to rehabilitate and re-settle victims. Ultimately, the EU must continue targeting development aid to the most poverty-stricken areas of Cambodia in an effort to stop young women from entering the trade through desperation.