Location and Population
Cambodia is located in South East Asia, snuggled between Thailand on the left, Vietnam on the right, Laos on the top, and the Gulf of Thailand on the bottom. It is about the size of the state of Oklahoma with a population of around 15 million. "It is estimated that 26% of the adult population is illiterate and 18.6% of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25/day. The lives of children in Cambodia are also challenging with 36.1% of children working as child labor" (SheRescue).
Government, Religion, and Culture
Cambodia operates under a constitutional monarchy. The Prime Minister, Hun Sen (in power since 1985), is the head of government and the Monarch, King Norodom Sihamoni, is the head of state. It has a bicameral parliament, which is made up of the National Assembly, and the Senate. The two main parties are the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) headed by Hun Sen, and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) headed by Sam Rainsy. The official religion in Cambodia is Thearavada Buddhism which is practiced by around 90 percent of the population. Cambodia's practice of buddhism is also mixed with some animalism. Pagodas are aplenty, and monks are revered. The next most common religions after Buddhism are Islam and Christianity. These religious beliefs inspire some of their culture. Their culture is also inspired by their unique history, and ancestors. One way you can see this in their traditional dancing, called Apsara. Cambodian culture emphasizes togetherness and thinking as a body, versus thinking just for oneself. Cambodia is also keen on holidays, having 27 days worth of public holidays in 2015 (Acleda).
Illustration of an Apsara dancer
A Brief History
Once occupied by the French, Cambodia gained independence in 1953. In 1975 the Marxist leader Pol Pot and his supporters took power and implemented brutal policies that killed two million Cambodian people. This four year period, ending in 1979, would come to be known as the Khmer Rouge Genocide. Pol Pot wanted to return to "year zero" and targeted anyone religious, educated, artistic, and in power so that Cambodia could be returned to an agrarian society. Vietnamese troops through the Khmer Rouge over in 1979, but little healing would take place for the victims of these tragedies (Source: BBC). In 1992 the United Nations Transitional Authority (UNTAC) took over administration in Cambodia to help run an election and foster the protection of human rights. This was the first time the UN had taken over an election (versus just monitoring it), but saw it as necessary because of Cambodia's fragility due to the history of civil war. UNTAC left in 1993, at the completion of the election. There are mixed feelings about UNTAC's presence. You can read more about that here. If you are interested in modern Cambodian history, Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land, by Joel Brinkley is a fascinating read.
Human Trafficking in Cambodia
Cambodia is not only a source and transit country for human trafficking, it is also a destination for human trafficking. After the Khmer Rouge, there was a lack of a strong moral code. Mixed with extreme poverty, and other factors, human trafficking has become a huge issue in Cambodia. It is estimated that close to 156,000 people are currently enslaved in Cambodia, causing it to rank #14 in the 2015 Global Slavery Index. What makes trafficking in Cambodia extreme is the emphasis there is on sexual slavery, especially involving children. In a study done by Love146, it was found that 64% of children in Cambodia said that they knew children who had been sexually abused. It is not uncommon for a parent or grandparent to sell their child or grandchild to repay or a loan shark, or get some extra money. The issue itself is multi-faceted and complex. The area we work in outside of Phnom Penh was once a notorious place for underage sex slavery, with girls as young as 4 being sold. Since AIM's involvement in that community close to eight years ago, the area is no longer a hub for sexual predators. Amazing change is happening in Cambodia and all over the world to combat human trafficking and you can be apart of it! You can learn more by watching The Pink Room.