Teenager pursues career dream after being freed from trafficking

A young teenage girl who was trafficked from Cambodia to Malaysia for the purpose of forced marriage is pursuing her dream to open a beauty salon.

Bopha* was aged just 14 when her parents were deceived by traffickers, who recruited their daughter from their rural village in Cambodia, pledging to give her work in the capital, Phnom Penh.

But the reality was far from what they had promised.

A member of global anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice’s team in Cambodia said: “Brokers convinced Bopha’s parents that they had a training opportunity and job for this young girl.

“For a poor farming family with no opportunities, and a daughter who had no education, this this was an opportunity they couldn’t turn down.”

The traffickers convinced the family to hand over Bopha’s birth certificate so that they could register her at a school. But instead, they used her documentation to apply for a passport, and transported her to Malaysia.

On arrival, she was forced to marry an older man from another faith group.

Hope for Justice first became aware of Bopha’s plight when they were contacted by Cambodia’s Department of Social Affairs for Veterans and Youths (DoSAVY) and asked to receive the girl at the airport alongside the DoSAVY when she was flown back to her home country.

She was enrolled at one of the charity’s Lighthouses, which provide a safe haven for children who have been exploited, or who were vulnerable to exploitation.

Bopha, now aged 16, received shelter, physical and emotional support, food, medical care, counselling and therapy, and some catch-up education.

A member of the charity’s team said: “Bopha had never been to school before because her family were too poor. When she arrived at the Lighthouse, she began taking literacy classes which in turn helped her to learn simple mathematics, how to read, and how to sign her name.

“Given her age, the prospect of starting education was a huge hurdle, so Bopha decided she would learn a skill and move into employment and independent living.”

Bopha is currently six months into her 12-month training to work in a beauty salon.

Her case manager said: “Bopha has made a lot of progress. She was very withdrawn and angry when she first came to us but she is gradually settling down and overcoming the trauma of her situation.

“She is growing in confidence and now has a dream that in the future she will one day run her own salon.”

With support from case managers, Bopha has met with her parents and is gradually rebuilding her relationship with them.

Hope for Justice has also supported Bopha through a court case, during which she was able to give a credible witness statement, with additional support from a lawyer. Two traffickers have been convicted and they were sentenced to six years, and 17 years, in prison. The judge also ruled that Bopha should be awarded financial compensation.

*Name changed to protect identity of victim