Two anti-trafficking charities have reported this week that that trafficking of Cambodian “brides” to China has increased sharply this year as a result of job losses in the wake of the pandemic.
While “bride trafficking” of women into China from Southeast Asia is not a new problem, anti-trafficking organizations have said the pandemic’s impact on Cambodia’s garment, hospitality, and tourism sectors has led to a significant increase of the issue.
According to the organization Chab Dai, reports of a new case have arrived every three days on average in 2020, double the caseload of previous years.
Meanwhile, the Blue Dragon Foundation—a Vietnamese organization rescuing women trafficked to China—said its caseload of Cambodian victims had almost tripled this year.
“There is no work, no options, for young women, so it has become even easier for perpetrators to persuade women and their families,” said Chan Saron, program manager at Chab Dai.
“COVID-19 has changed the trafficking landscape – for now, at least,” said Michael Brosowski, the head of Blue Dragon, which was forced to temporarily freeze rescue operations in late January as coronavirus related travel restrictions took hold.
“The drastic rise in the number of Cambodians trafficked through Vietnam is a sign of how traffickers are willing to try new routes and new tricks to keep their trade going.”
The exploitative trade mostly targets victims in their twenties, but in some cases the girls trafficked are as young as 14.
Authorities in Cambodia have found it difficult to tackle the crime, as victims’ relatives are often complicit; the promise of cash—up to thousands of dollars—by criminal matchmakers can be difficult to resist for poor, rural families.
However, authorities in Vietnam, a common transit country for women heading to China, have become more adept at spotting potential Cambodian victims.
The case is just the latest example of the way that the pandemic has exacerbated different forms of modern slavery around the world.