Cambodia serves as a country of origin, transit, and destination for both domestic and international trafficking networks. Girls and women are easy targets for traffickers, unaware of the dangers that lurk behind promises of good employment. They are a living testimony to the link between lack of education and vulnerability. The OPTIONS program worked to reduce the number of children, especially girls, who fall victim to trafficking and exploitation. The immediate objective was to ensure that children removed from or at risk of trafficking and exploitation were educated in programs relevant to their needs.
From 2004–2007, the OPTIONS Program was implemented in the rural districts of Banteay Meanchay, Kampong Cham, and Prey Veng Provinces, and in the municipality of Phnom Penh, which is the destination for many youth who migrate blindly, and as a result, are vulnerable to trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.
Over the course of four years, OPTIONS provided direct education services to 18,353 children (14,351 of whom were girls) in 126 primary schools, 24 secondary schools and 76 village-based nonformal education classes. In addition, at least 50,000 additional children (siblings, friends, and peers) received indirect benefits from OPTIONS through peer to peer outreach, mainstreamed life skills classes, awareness raising activities in schools and communities, and improved parental attitudes towards education. Other indirect beneficiaries included parents, village and commune-level leaders, teachers, school directors and district- and province-level government officials representing the Ministries of Education, Social Affairs, Women’s Affairs and Labor and Vocational Training.
A significant number of children were prevented from being exploited by having the opportunity to attend formal and nonformal education programs, and to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes that can protect them from exploitation. Communities are now more aware of the dangers of trafficking and blind migration, and village and commune leaders reported that community members are more responsive to the needs of vulnerable children in the community. OPTIONS helped to increase local capacity to respond to the education and social support needs of children who are vulnerable to trafficking and commercial exploitation.
The OPTIONS program was funded by the U.S. Department of Labor with additional support from the McKnight Foundation and UNICEF. The program was implemented in partnership with Kampuchean Action for Primary Education, CARE International in Cambodia, and the Asia Foundation.