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Cambodia is in tier two, which means pretty nasty. It is unlikely that the teenage prostitutes in the town of Krong Koh Kong in southern Cambodia are aware that bureaucrats in Washington may be concerned for them. Their world is very small: a row of shacks on a dusty road at the outskirts of the town, with red lights outside to advertise their business. The girls' knowledge of the hazards of their trade seems even smaller.
She traces them with her fingertips and says they are the result of a disease caused by the local water. She and others who have similar markings use a local traditional medicine to try, without success, to clear them up. Krong Koh Kong, it has to be said, is at the lower end of the sex trade. But when a number of brothels in Phnom Penh, the capital, were raided after complaints about human trafficking, the sex bosses moved some of their business out into the provinces.
Krong Koh Kong, whose respectable business is fishing, seems to be unpoliced, and the porous Thai and Vietnamese borders makes things even worse. The town attracts custom from a wide area because sex there is cheaper than in Phnom Penh, and very much cheaper than in neighbouring Thailand. Traffickers seem to have no trouble finding staff, often offered as debt repayment. It is human trafficking of a most cynical sort. The girls will be discarded when they become too ill to work.
During their short working lives many will be spreading AIDS. About 2. Some observers say that the United States has been soft with Cambodia over trafficking. Employing young girls in the sex business amounts to slave labour, they claim. Under America's trafficking law, it is argued, Cambodia should be reclassified in tier three—very nasty. Countries in tier three can be punished under American law with sanctions. Politics seems to have played a part here.
The countries now in tier three, such as North Korea and Myanmar, are already in trouble with America. But some Asian countries thought to be soft on trafficking, among them Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, are anti-terrorist allies of America and as a result may have slipped the noose of sanctions into tier two.