A tear falls down the cheek of a young girl with long black hair, dressed in a pink blouse. Female singer Oeun Sreymom begins to tell her story in a voiceover: a tragic narrative of a young woman sent away from her family and sweetheart to work as a housemaid, only to find that she had actually been trafficked into prostitution.“If I go in the water, I meet a crocodile. If I go in the street, I meet a tiger,” the song goes in Khmer.
The song, I Have Only My Honest Heart, is a sad and sentimental tale of women from the Cambodian countryside, lured by the bright lights of the big city, being pushed into the sex industry. The song was released ten years ago by music production company Angkor Amatak, which has since shut down. But in September this year, the song was banned by Cambodia’s Ministries of Information and Culture and Fine Arts, following a request made by the Ministry of Labour.
“The meaning of the song may have reflected the reality years ago, but presently, the life of domestic workers has improved because the government has been giving them protection and full rights”, said a statement from the Ministry of Information published in the Khmer Times. The ministry ordered all media to stop broadcasting the song.
The ban was supported by the Cambodian Domestic Workers Network, an independent local NGO. “On behalf of domestic workers in the country, we thank the government for taking care of them by banning the song which affects them,” it said in a statement.
I Have Only My Honest Heart isn’t the only song to undergo this treatment. Another song was banned from the airwaves in October. Missing Home for Pchum Ben, performed by Mao Hari, had been released a year ago, and touched on the plight of garment workers unable to visit their hometowns during the few days off they have per year: “Workers have not been paid, they cannot visit families in their hometown, so workers can only telephone them and shed tears.”
Again, the Ministry of Labour took issue with the song. Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng asked his counterparts in the two ministries overseeing the media to ban the song, saying that it “paints a grim picture of the government policy on Cambodian garment workers.”