Radio Free Asia has a sad article on young Cambodian girls being pushed into prostitution, made all the more horrific because it seems that US trade and foreign policy is exacerbating the trend. The US is working in a few ways that harm these young girls: they push for labor standards that make employing these girls legally more expensive, and thus they are left to professions not subject to the law. But more directly, they pushed for anti-trafficking laws that the Cambodian government interpreted as a directive to crack down on prostitution, driving prostitutes deeper into the underworld and away from the protection that legal tolerance provides to these most vulnerable of businesswomen.
In his NYT column two weeks ago, Nicholas Kristof did a good job of summing up the ways that US pressure on Cambodia's labor standards has decreased employment opportunities:
Cambodia has, in fact, pursued an interesting experiment by working with factories to establish decent labor standards and wages. It’s a worthwhile idea, but one result of paying above-market wages is that those in charge of hiring often demand bribes — sometimes a month’s salary — in exchange for a job. In addition, these standards add to production costs, so some factories have closed because of the global economic crisis and the difficulty of competing internationally.
The Radio Free Asia article explains how the worsening plight of prostitutes is thanks to US foreign policy, and how NGOs are willing partners in crime:
In February 2008, the Cambodian government began enforcing the new “Law on the Suppression of Human-Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation” after years of U.S. pressure to crack down on sex trafficking.
Human rights groups, however, say the law and its enforcement have made life harder for the women they aim to help.
Prostitutes caught in police raids are made to pay fines of up to U.S. $200 for their release, the 17-year-old girl said.
“They take us to district police headquarters and take our money. If we don’t have the money, we will be kept in custody for two or three days. So we have to run for our lives when we see police approaching us.”
“Police arrest us in the hope that the brothel owners will pay, but if we don’t have anyone to pay for our release we will be sent to one of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). It’s o.k. to live at the NGOs, but then our families have nothing to eat,” she said.
“If [the NGOs] want to help me, they should also help my family. Otherwise I can’t quit.”