Cambodia interim trip teaches history of human trafficking

May 23, 2012 | 8 a.m.

Professor Christina Busman discusses what the students learned about Buddhism and culture

Culture |

Cambodia interim trip teaches history of human trafficking

Understanding the culture of Cambodia was the first step to learning more about human trafficking. | Courtesy of Christina Busman

Christina Busman, Bethel University biblical and theological studies professor, has lead 15 students on an interim trip to Cambodia focusing on issues and praxis in Christian social justice. She has been to Cambodia a number of times and works closely with organizations such as IJM, Chab Dai, and Agape to counter sex trafficking in Cambodia.


Q: How does the Cambodia Interim trip help the victims of sex trafficking?

A: We aren’t going over to save people; we aren’t going over to be, in any way, the solution. We are there to learn, and we are there to support those that are in some way trying to create the solution. So I really try to affirm partnership in my class. I teach it from a historical approach because we really need to know a lot about Buddhism before we understand what’s happening in terms of trafficking of humans in Cambodia. We need to know about the genocide of the 1970s in order to know the structure of Cambodia and why it is the way it is. We need to know about the statelessness of Vietnamese people and how they are uniquely and disproportionally trafficked in Cambodia. So we look at all the different layers before going to Cambodia.

Q: Why Cambodia?

A: “I have gotten to know IJM while working on my Master’s degree, and so I knew that IJM has a really unique office in Phnom Penh. In fact it’s one of the best offices in terms of having a really good working relationship with the police in Phnom Penh, in terms of having a really strong local presence. It has a very integrated office where you see a lot of healthy collaboration. But when I came back to Bethel I thought I would go back to the Dominican Republic or somewhere in South America because I had a background in Spanish. But the office of International Studies was really interested in Cambodia and the injustices happening in Cambodia. So they sent me on an exploratory trip and after going to Phnom Penh and spending 2 weeks there it was evident to me that it would be a good fit for a class.”

Q: How does understanding Buddhism help us with tackling the issue of sex trafficking in Cambodia?

A: “The majority of people in Cambodia are Buddhist, and it’s kind of a Buddhism that is wedded to Animism. So ideas of spirits existing and residing in things and Buddhism and specifically the idea of Karma end up being pretty restrictive. There are kind of two ways that this impacts sex trafficking. The first is that people assume ‘I was born in this situation; maybe I did something to deserve this. So if I am trafficked by my family, maybe I don’t deserve any better.’ That feeling of this is my lot in life and so I need to wait before I am able to move onto something better. Buddhism in this sense is used to keep boys and girls enslaved by saying ‘This is your lot in life, how dare you believe you can change it.’ There is also a significant sense of familial duty that is run through Cambodian culture – this idea that my parents need money for various reasons, so I have a responsibility to help my family and see that they’re fed.”

Q: How do you change people’s perspectives?

A: “In Cambodia, trafficking happens in kind of 2 senses. The first is when families are tricked. 80% live in rural areas and 20% live in the major cities. They might have a neighbor or an aunt that says, we have work for your daughter or son to work in a kitchen, or something like that and so they send their kid and supposedly the family will be sent back the money. Education ends up being really important in order to build up the communities and let them know what is really happening, precautions need to be taken.

The second reason is that their parents traffic them. It’s interesting because when we break down the ethnicity of people in Cambodia the majority is Kamai but you do have a small minority that is Vietnamese. And the Vietnamese boys and girls are disproportionately trafficked in the population. A lot of the tricking happens in Kamai families. The Vietnamese don’t have citizenship for a variety of reasons even though they should. Within the Vietnamese community they say ‘okay we have to have some way to survive’ so that’s where a lot of trafficking happens within these families. Chab Dai has a Vietnamese project, not explicitly, because it could be shut down by the government, but they have 3 individuals who are Vietnamese women that are changing minds within these communities that educate other women and families about how advantageous it is in the long run to not to sell their children.”

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