Breaking the cycle of poverty and modern slavery in Cambodia
By Maggie Crewes, Cambodia Country Director, Hope for Justice
It may be difficult to comprehend how a family could be desperate enough to send their child away to work, equipped with only vague information about the child’s future safety, employment and living conditions.
But tragically, some parents are forced to sell their child or see their entire family starve. Here in Cambodia, some families are even forced to sell more than one child to traffickers, or traffic the same child more than once.
These families are trapped in a never-ending cycle of poverty; one which has become even more common, and extreme, due to Covid-19.
A crucial part of Hope for Justice’s work is enabling families to break that cycle, and build a self-sufficient, safe future.
Shortly after we take in a child who has been rescued from modern slavery, our team contacts the family. Our goal is to empower them with the information, skills and the means necessary to provide for themselves. Wherever possible, we work to return the child to the family and empower them to build a strong unit where the child, and any siblings, are not at risk of future exploitation.
The first step is to identify the root cause of the trafficking. We often discover a combination of extreme financial pressure, and a debt burden with crippling interest rates.
We work closely with the family to identify ways of becoming self-sufficient; perhaps they have skills or resources that they could build on. They may have some land, a market stall, or some chicken coops. We offer the training and support they need to manage their own finances, and re-start or create a business. Crucially, we offer ongoing support, to ensure that they can pay off debt as well as make their business a success. At the same time, we ensure that they fully understand the risks of child trafficking and exploitation.
We are currently working with an extended family of over 20 people, living in a makeshift house made of plastic and cardboard on the side of the road. The whole family, including their daughters aged 5, 7 and 8, were begging in order to survive. The girls had never been to school.
Two women then persuaded the family to sell the three girls, promising them a better future. But they were taken to another district and forced to beg all day under even worse conditions, given no money, and barely any food.
One day the police asked the two women for evidence that the girls were their family members. When they were unable to provide this, we took the girls in. Upon arrival, they were malnourished and covered in dirt and lice. We cared for them for six months, and provided medical and psychological support. We then placed them in foster care, where they have enjoyed visits from their mother. They are also delighted to have started school.
We worked with the family to develop a sustainable plan for their future. Prior to the pandemic they ran a successful recycling business, but during lockdown they were forced to sell their collection carts to buy food. We provided them with new carts, and several months on, the business is going well.
We will continue supporting the family to build the confidence needed to run the business independently, and plan to help them move to a more permanent home. We are hopeful that in a few months, the girls will be able to return to their family.
It can seem as though there is a mountain to climb when working with families facing extreme poverty. However, thanks to our team’s dedication and the bravery and determination of this family, we are hopeful that they will never again be forced to sell their children to survive.