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Two sexual health projects in Cambodia

Chab Dai is a project that instead of being just a single project, works as a coalition. A coalition of over 50 projects all working with the issue of Human Trafficking

We walked back from the Chab Dai
offices under a glorious (hot) blue sky
The issue of human trafficking is not limited to one country or continent but is a global issue, yet in each country it will have its own specific styles and issues. In Cambodia poverty is a huge driving factor in people ending up being trafficked. 

The sensationalised media accounts of trafficking usually shows people being snatched and dragged away in chains. This is far from the common way people end up in the trade. Helen Sworn (the coalitions International director, who we got to meet and talk with) estimated that less then 2% of trafficked people have that sort of experience. Most trafficked individuals are trapped by much more subtle approaches. 

For example, a recruitment agency may be set up in Cambodia that will send out recruiters into the countryside, to poor rural villages. When at these villages they will talk to families about all the good money their children (usually but not exclusively female) could make by working as home help in Malaysia. The recruiter will promise to get the girl trained, organise VISAs, transport and set them up with a paid position in Malaysia. Only after they have finished their long recruitment enticement will they mention that the girl must be 21. This then leaves the parents to choose if they wish to fake their daughters age on paper work or by using an aunts I.D. If they agree the girl should be recruited the parents will be given a $50 payment, which is a substantial amount of money for rural areas. The girl will be taken to a "training centre" in Phonm Penh were they will be given a few basic training sessions with hundreds of other girls. They girls are locked in the compound where hundreds of individual's are now unable to leave. There are a growing number of reports of the terrible conditions in these holding centres, wide spread accounts of physical abuse, neglect and even sexual abuse. If the parents try to get their child back, maybe if they heard that the training may be something else then they were promised, something dangerous, they can come to Phonm Penh. But they can only get their daughter back if they pay $800 to cover imaginary training costs, transport and administration, no one has this much money! The girl is now trapped. 

After the victims paperwork has been sorted out transport is arranged to get them into Malaysia. The victim on arrival will have their passport taken away by the agency for "safe keeping" and sent to work in a house. She now has no I.D. in a country she doesn't know and a language she probably cant speak. The conditions for these trafficked girls vary depending on where they end up. Some will be neglected and abused. Some physically abused, some sexually abused. The exact work they will do depends on many factors but can include sexual exploitation. All are trapped, unable to come home with no rights, working hard for tiny amounts of money. If they try to escape they may be picked up by gangs who will sell them. Either selling them back to the original agency or possibly to brothels and into the commercial sex trade. 

This example is just one way people may end up in the human trafficking trade. It is a good example of how people may be tricked into it. With the level of restriction increasing at each step and with options of escape being cut off. All this for the sake of profit! 

The Chab Dai coalition aims to

"address human trafficking and exploitation through coalition building, advocacy and research. "

They do an enormous amount of good by helping dozens of agencies working in Cambodia. Helping with training, aid with writing policies, encouraging coalition and more. They do a vast amount of monitoring and evaluation and are currently undertaking a 10 year research study into the risk factors that lead people into trafficking and sexual abuse. It has been great to meet such a well structured and forward planning project. I think that many UK organizations both christian and secular could learn a lot from the way Chab Dai looks at long term strategic development.  

For more information please take a look at their website 

Today we also visited a pregnancy crisis centre called Mothers Heart, which is a part of the Chab Dai coalition we visited this morning. The project has three broad aims. 
  • Providing crisis pregnancy counselling in Cambodia
  • Empowering women with choices
  • Supporting every woman facing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy

When visiting the project we learnt how that in Cambodia having an abortion is often seen as a form of contraception, due to people being told that contraceptive pill is 'bad for the womb' and condoms are just not used by men. Also there are economical factors here for example In Cambodia the poorest and most disadvantaged make a decision of having an abortion as a decision about if they can afford to feed themselves and the baby or not, it is seen as a choice between an abortion or starvation. 

The women who this crisis centre specialise in working with are the women who have been outcasts by their family. Especially if they have been raped or as part of the commercial sex trade have got pregnant. The women's pregnancy is perceived to have brought shame on her and the family. So the family may not be there to help. 

It is important to note her that the women using this service want to keep their babies but do not see it as a choice that they have open to them. The Mothers Heart pregnancy crisis centre offers another option, they run a scheme that gives desperate women the chance to keep the baby and get the practical support they need. A principle aim for the women who join the project is that by the time they leave the project they will be able to independently financially support themselves. The projects helps this happen by providing training and work schemes. For the first year they also provide free day care and even provide bicycles for the women to get to places of work. After they have had their first year with the project the organisation works hard to make sure they are in a secure place to move forward. For example linking the mother and child with other projects that can continue to provide free/cheap day care. 

The projects work is not limited to this approach. Sometimes the project will work with a women to facilitate a family reunification. The project also provides free training on in-depth child care for these women. Once women have completed their first year directly with the project they continue to get the offer of these free training sessions. For all women who they work with it is a clear aim to provide them with the necessary training and information to raise a healthy child. For example teaching why and how you should sterilise a babies bottle. Cambodian child raising has significant gaps in knowledge. Partly this is a result of the civil war. Large sections of a whole generation are either orphans or have lost contact with their family. They have not had the chance to learn from anyone how to be a good parent. Also with everyone they work with they provide the opportunity for counselling. 

Pregnancy crisis, abortion and single mothers is a sensitive subject in Cambodia and we feel this project does a good job at meeting some of these complex needs for very vulnerable young women. 

For more info please visit their website:

P.S. If you want to read more about my travels around south east Asia please visit


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