President Obama discusses human trafficking with leaders in Cambodia

President Obama made his fifth trip to the Asia Pacific last week, where he visited Bangkok, Thailand; Rangoon, Burma and Phnom Phen, Cambodia – the first visit in world history to Burma and Cambodia by a U.S. president.  The President made it top-priority to discuss efforts to combat human trafficking in the region with foreign leaders.

The President established a joint plan with the Government of Burma to assist in eliminating forced labor in the country.  Among highlights of the joint plan, the 2012 Wards and Village Tracts Administration Act was enacted, criminalizing all forms of forced labor; the 1907 Towns and Villages Act was repealed, which had legally allowed the use of forced labor by government officials; two additional border liaison offices were opened on the Thai border to prevent trafficking through border crossing; a child soldiers action plan was signed with the United Nations, calling for the release of child soldiers from the Myanmar Armed Forces; and mandatory detention time in government shelters for human trafficking victims was eradicated.

On the trip with the President, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William Todd, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs Samantha Power met with survivors of labor and sex trafficking, said Jarrett and Power on their White House Blog post.  They also met with partners like MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) campaign, who are also working to combat the world’s second largest, fastest growing organized crime industry – human trafficking, known today as modern-day slavery.

“After surviving the unimaginable, these brave men and women described their efforts to speak out about their experiences, to try to ensure the perpetrators are held accountable, and to teach others how to protect themselves, all the while helping reduce the stigma surrounding this crime,” said Jarrett and Power of the survivors they met with, who receive U.S.-funded legal and rehabilitation assistance.  “It was moving to be in the presence of their remarkable courage, as well as to witness the indefatigable work of the shelters and legal aid organizations that assist them.”

Jarrett and Power emphasize that to prevent human trafficking, to protect survivors and to prosecute traffickers, and to ultimately abolish modern-day slavery in Cambodia – a top U.S. priority – a strong anti-human trafficking infrastructure in Cambodia must be established, along with an organized worldwide collaboration.

Todd, Jarrett and Power met with young Cambodians who are part of MTV EXIT, an anti-human trafficking campaign that provides Cambodian youth with mentors and training through the use of technology and the arts.

“We watched these imaginative youth perform a short skit in which a child resisted the manipulations of a recruiter, and we viewed their painting depicting the ways in which trafficking networks strike,” said Jarrett and Power.  “We were told that these vivid painting would soon be hanging in villages in which Cambodians are known to be recruited and exploited.”

They also met with anti-human trafficking NGO leaders primarily to discuss the low number of prosecutions of human traffickers in the country.

“The conversations we had with trafficking survivors and advocates on the front lines of this fight left us feeling inspired by their courage, and encouraged by some of the progress made to date,” said Jarrett and Power, “but also concerned about the ongoing vulnerability of Cambodians to human trafficking.”

About the Author

Melissa Grace HoonMelissa Grace Hoon is the Managing Editor for the Abolish Slavery Coalition. She is a victim advocate and a human rights journalist with a Master’s degree in American studies where she focused on slavery, gendered violence and victimization. She is a freelance reporter for the Orange County Register and volunteers with the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.

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