The International Labor Organization estimates that at least 20.9 million men, women, and children around the world suffer in forced labor, though the actual number could be closer to 27 million. Further, 55 percent of victims of forced labor are women, and girls comprise 98 percent of sex trafficking victims.
Chanty* was one of them -- but now she has a second chance.
* * *
Nine years ago, a wealthy foreigner lured 12-year-old Chanty into a trap. She was a street child, collecting garbage to sell, like so many of Cambodia’s poor. A landmine had killed her mother four years earlier; her father was ill.
“I couldn’t go to school,” Chanty says. “I had to think about food first.”
A Russian foreigner was kind to Chanty and gave her a treasure trove of empty cans to recycle. He asked Chanty and a few of her friends to take a boat ride to an island off Sihanoukville, a popular tourist destination. Once there, he raped them.
Chanty never told her father, who died the following year. Orphaned at 13, Chanty began working as a waitress. But that job, too, turned out to be a ruse: She was subsequently forced into the sex trade. Her body still bears the scars.
In 2007, Chanty’s achieved her freedom through the legal system: The 46-year-old Russian, Alexander Trofimov, was arrested for hiring prostitutes. Authorities called on Chanty to testify.
World Vision’s trauma recovery center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital city, took her in for protection and therapy. But at the center, Chanty had a temper, her emotions raging. “I threw a clay pot,” she recalls.
Learning was a struggle, so the center provided her with private tutoring.
Chanty’s housemother, with whom she battled ferociously, introduced her to a Baptist church. Chanty had no interest in church, but went just to escape the center.
And that was where she had an epiphany. “One day, I realized that the preacher was telling my own story,” she says. “That’s how I became a Christian.”
Now, at 21, Chanty can look back on her time at the center gratefully. World Vision supported her in finding the perfect job at a Phnom Penh bakery, where she now bakes and decorates beautiful cakes.
And best of all, through her church, she met the man of her dreams. “He’s kind,” she says. “He supports me emotionally.”
In 2008, Chanty’s testimony helped put Alexander Trofimov behind bars in Cambodia’s largest-ever pedophilia case. In 2010, his many convictions were consolidated into an eight-year prison sentence.
But a year later, Alexander Trofimov was pardoned. Not long after, he returned to Cambodia, a free man, visiting his development on the tourist destination, Snake Island.
“He had been in jail, but the king forgave him,” Chanty says. “I wanted him in jail, as the court said.”
Chanty was not alone. Alexander Trofimov had also made Interpol’s wanted list. World Vision and 13 other nongovernmental organizations in Cambodia petitioned the Kingdom of Cambodia to revoke Trofimov’s visa. In June 2012, he was arrested at the home of a teenage girl and deported to Russia; Interpol arrested him at the airport.
Today, Chanty and her husband are expecting a child: Elijah if a boy, Manna if a girl. “I want to raise my child with my belief in my Lord Jesus,” she says.
Chanty has dreams for her career, too. “I want to start my own shop in the countryside or in the city.”
She echoes Jeremiah 29 when she considers her future. “God has a great plan for me,” she says. “That’s how I became who I am today. I know I was transformed by Him.”
Yesterday’s headstrong girl has transformed from selfish to selfless. When asked what she would like prayers for, her answer is surprising. “Instead of me, pray for the children of Cambodia, that they will have the courage to live and the strength to survive,” she says.
“That they would know that the Lord is with them.”
* Name changed to protect identity.
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