Struggles in life make us vulnerable. When all of these struggles come together, our choices in life can become unclear. Those who may not not know or feel like they have a choice can be tempted to take high risks in order to improve their life. For 17-year-old Sreyly, her struggles in Cambodia put her at risk of trafficking… which changed her life forever.
Living in a small province outside the capital city of Phnom Penh, life was often unpredictable and unsafe for Sreyly even as a child. Due to her family needing help at home, she dropped out of school at 9-years-old. With issues of extreme poverty, not continuing her education, and no parental guidance, these circumstances led her to becoming a teenage mother when she was just 14. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, she had lost her mother due to complications from chronic diabetes. These events also led her father into alcoholism and the failure of his barbershop business.
In order to provide for the family (which also includes her younger brother and grandmother), Sreyly was desperate to find work in a factory. During her time there, she was introduced to an online broker by other workers. She was promised that she could earn money by marrying a rich businessman in a neighbouring country and would have the opportunity to get a high paying job. These opportunities would allow her to send money for her son and family at home. In her situation, Sreyly felt this was the best chance she had to help both herself and her family.
Once she arrived in another country in November 2020, she was prepared by a broker to meet the man that she would marry. However, this was intercepted by the police who placed her in a detention centre because she had no legal paperwork and had false documents.
She was placed in a detention centre where she was very frightened, believing she would end up in jail for the rest of her life with no way out. Sreyly was sexually abused by other women in the prison and due to not being able to speak the language, she was often verbally abused.
After seven months, Srely was deported back to Cambodia. The Embassy of Cambodia in that country contacted the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, which organised her return to Phnom Penh on June 2021. The local police paid for her flight due to overcrowding and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Anti-Human Trafficking Department played their role by bringing back Sreyly and not criminalizing her further. They facilitated her transport, met her at the airport, took her to the quarantine centre for COVID testing and care for 14 days.
The Ministry met Sreyly at the airport and referred her case to Hope for Justice (a partner organisation of Terre des Hommes Netherlands) which supported her with basic needs, toiletries, clothing, some extra food items and a phone so she could connect with her family, and to receive further care in their centre once she had clearance from quarantine.
Sreyly received psychological assessment and therapy for her trauma, relationship with her son and father. She also received grief counselling and anxiety/depression support. She got full health care to treat her sexual health issues and severe anaemia. She was given the proper nutrition that she needed and dental care. Furthermore, Sreyly received legal support and made a police statement to begin investigation and to build a case. Through a family assessment visit by social workers, the desperate situation of Sreyly’s father was confirmed.
Hope for Justice’s Economic Empowerment team was notified of the need for intervention to help restart the father’s barber business if he was to commit to supporting the family. His business was restarted and this has encouraged him to work and help his family. “I am hopeful and happy with my current situation and future. In addition, I am very thankful and grateful for what HFJ has done for me, my son, and my family, especially for my father’s business”, said Sreyly.
Through Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ programme to combat online sexual exploitation of children in Cambodia, organisations such as Hope for Justice can provide proper care victims such as Sreyly. By coordinating with the government, the programme also focuses on stopping online exploitation at its roots through awareness. Sreyly added, “I got to learn more about the risks of online social media and how I can protect myself from all these risks”.
In 2021, Hope for Justice received 20 similar cases of young girls being trafficked and exploited in another country. The majority of these girls were also groomed online before their experience of exploitation. Hope for Justice is one organisation amongst others who received similar child cases, and this does not include girls who are over 18 years and yet still very vulnerable.