Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 8, October 2002

International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and Center for Advanced Study (CAS)

Paths of Exploitation:
Studies on the trafficking of women and children between Cambodia, Thailand and Viet Nam

Geneva, 1999, 229pp. ISBN: 92-9068-090-3

reading notes by Jocelyn Grace

At the Fourth United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, the trafficking of women was identified as a priority for international action. Since then, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has developed a programme of activities to combat the trafficking of women and children worldwide, including research, information campaigns, technical cooperation and return and reintegration assistance. Paths of Exploitation brings together the reports of five qualitative studies commissioned by the IOM to inform its work in Southeast Asia.

There are a range of purposes for which people are trafficked or become subject to illegal migration—for commercial sex work, domestic labour, begging, and construction, farming and factory labour. Many women are lured into illegal migration by traffickers offering well-paid jobs, and then find themselves in bonded labour or forced prostitution. Prostitution offers traffickers rich returns, while exposing migrant women to serious violations of their human rights, including deprivation of their liberty, rape and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Lack of money and travel documents, and the fear of discrimination, stigma and possible rejection, also act as major obstacles to their escaping such situations and returning to their homes.

Part One of Paths of Exploitation is about the situation of women and children trafficked to Thailand, and includes two reports: one of a survey of Cambodian and Vietnamese sex workers in brothels along the Thai-Cambodian border, and the other of Cambodian and Vietnamese women and children in detention in Bangkok for illegal entry into Thailand. These two studies were the result of collaboration between the IOM, the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) and the Cambodian Women's Development Association (CWDA). While the scope of these studies is not broad, with only a small number of people being interviewed in each, the qualitative information it provides is valuable and informative. Each includes a number of individual profiles of women explaining the circumstances which lead to their being where they were, the way in which they were trafficked, their sense of the possibility of escaping their present situation and what they might look forward to in the future.

Part Two of the volume focuses on the trafficking of women and children into and out of Cambodia, and consists of three reports written by Annuska Derks, collaborator of the Center for Advanced Study (CAS) in Phnom Penh. The three chapters in this section cover the trafficking of Cambodian women and children into Thailand, the trafficking of Vietnamese women and children into Cambodia, and the reintegration of trafficked women in Cambodia. These studies are more in-depth than those presented in Part One, and are clearly the result of a longer research process. Each chapter, like those in Part One, includes quotes from a range of people, in particular those who have been trafficked, giving the reader insight into the range of individual circumstances and experiences of trafficking, and the conditions under which women and children live as a consequence of being trafficked. However, beyond this descriptive material, the author also sets out to understand the underlying social, cultural and economic causes of trafficking. Derks provides an excellent analysis of the relationship between trafficking and migration and the historical, economic and cultural conditions which have given rise to the trafficking of women and children between these countries. While poverty is certainly an important factor, the author concludes that poverty alone cannot explain this trafficking, and further research will be needed in order to really understand all the underlying factors. These studies already go a long way in achieving that goal.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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