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Rare success against trafficking

Thailand sentences a Cambodian woman to 50 years in jail for trafficking eight women.

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A Cambodian woman in Thailand who procured underage women for brothels in Malaysia has been convicted of human trafficking by a Thai court, a verdict hailed as a breakthrough in Asia's uphill struggle against the practice.

The woman, Mrs. Khunthea, was jailed two weeks ago for 50 years for trafficking eight Cambodian women who said they were offered jobs selling clothes and noodles in Bangkok. Instead, they were sold into brothels in Malaysia, where they were later detained by police for illegal entry.

UN officials who facilitated the case said it involved extensive cross-border cooperation between prosecutors, police, and other state agencies. In the past, similar investigations have run aground over conflicting national laws and definitions of trafficking victims. Many Asian countries deem those who enter illegally as criminals, whatever their circumstance.

In the past, few trafficking cases here have resulted in convictions or tough sentences. But officials hope international pressure to curb the practice is finally beginning to show results.

"I think prosecutors and judges are beginning to sit up and take notice of trafficking crimes," says a Western diplomat. The sentence handed down to the Cambodian trafficker "was far longer than anything we've seen before in trafficking cases in Thailand."

Thailand has become the crossroads for an illicit trade that campaigners call a form of modern-day slavery. Every year tens of thousands of young men and women are sold into servitude in Southeast Asia, not only in the sex industry but also in manual and domestic labor. Traffickers prey on the ignorance of rural communities in Cambodia, Laos, and Burma (Myanmar), where migrant work is seen as a chance to escape poverty and conflict.

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