Human Trafficking Situation
Our Target Groups
Tens of thousands of young children from Northern Thailand have and continue to be, lured, forced or coerced into prostitution and other forms of forced labor. Girls as young as 5 years old have been sold into the brothels of Bangkok and other cities in the country and trafficked abroad. In some areas, as many as 90% of girls have been taken from their village to work.
While Northern Thailand has long provided traffickers with a supply of young girls, the mid 1980’s saw a new trend emerge. Traffickers expanded their networks further afield into Thailand’s neighboring countries. Agents have now established networks reaching into Myanmar (Burma), Laos, the southern Yunnan province of China, Cambodia and Vietnam, and the southern provinces of China – the Mekong Sub-Region.
These children are mainly brought in through borders within Northern and Northeastern Thailand, where they are then taken to other areas of the country. Although there are no exact figures of the children being trafficked into Thailand for sexual exploitation, estimates provide an indicative picture. From Myanmar (Burma), it was estimated that in 1994, as many as 20,000 to 30,000 women and girls had been trafficked primarily into brothels in Thailand, with 10,000 new recruits being added each year. As of 2003, these numbers estimated by UNICEF still remain the same.
These children typically come from families that are trapped in a cycle of poverty and debt. Their parents are subsistence farmers or landless villagers with few viable work opportunities. Their traditional lifestyle and values are constantly eroded by the influx of consumer goods. Many young parents and young people have also given into the lure of heroin and amphetamines, which are cheap and freely available in the ‘Golden Triangle’ region. Often, parents who are drug addicts are arrested and jailed, leaving their children to fend for themselves. Those parents who are still at home are frequently unable to provide proper care for their families. Many children along the borders of the Mekong Sub-region do not have birth certificates or family documents, which leaves them easy prey for traffickers.
Faced with these pressures, parents come to view their daughters as commodities that can be traded. Agents who work on behalf of brothels have established effective and comprehensive networks throughout the countryside, systematically targeting families that suffer economic hardship. From our organization’s experience, once a family is targeted, an agent or a middleman who is likely well-respected member of the village, will approach the parents of the child with an offer of viable, safe work. Cash incentives are offered and the parents sign a obstensibly legal contract. The ‘contract’ may specify the period of employment and the amount of debt plus interest the child must pay back. It can take years to pay off the debt as extra costs are often added such as doctors visits, food, penalties for disobedience and interest.
On reaching the destination many find that the reality is very different to what has been promised. Many believe that they are going to work as housemaids, in beauty salons, shops, bars or restaurants but instead find themselves victims of gross human rights violations. They are imprisoned in brothels, forced to endure deplorable conditions and practices akin to slavery. They endure sexual, physical and mental abuse whilst being forced to serve customers and endure dirty, over crowded conditions. They also face a high risk of catching AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases, addiction to drugs and long term psychological problems.
The ‘more fortunate’ ones find themselves trafficked into establishments with close ties to the sex industry, including bars, restaurants, pubs, cafes and karaoke. In these places, both boys and girls wait on tables, but are also made available to keep the customer company. They may also be rented by the hour or the night. Also, in guesthouses, hotels and motels, young women are made available to provide room service or to act as a companion to the guest for the period of their holiday. These places tend to escape prosecution because, on the surface, the children seem to be doing legitimate work.
Local leaders, including some village headmen, police officers, and government officials are involved in the recruitment and transportation of girls from the local region to work in the sex industry throughout Thailand. Protection is provided for brothels in the Chiang Rai area and for agents moving girls to the South. Assistance is given in matters such as legitimacy of the business in order to disguise it as a brothel. Documentation is arranged which will allow young girls who lack the necessary identification documents to travel around the country.
The Bloodsucker Cycle
There are countless people involved in the movement of a child from the village to the brothel, and hundreds of people stand to profit when one girl enters the sex trade. From the very beginning of the process, children are caught in a cycle of cruelty and negligence, where a diverse set of players take a cut of the proceeds in recruiting the child. Unlike other labor industries, these expenses are not passed onto the consumer but are added to the debt that the victim must pay off before escaping from the trap.
Mr. Sompop Jantraka calls this process the blood sucker cycle. Below is a brief summary of the people involved in the exploitation of one child:
- Parents or family will be contacted by a middleman to sell the girl for a price of one TV set (around 10,000-20,000 baht)
- Middleman will earn 2000 or 3000 baht per girl
- Village headman will get some gift or a share of the profits for looking the other way
- Teachers are well fed or the school receives donations for new water tanks, libraries, and such
- Monks at the temple will be given donations to tham boon (ทำบุญ – to make merit)
- Drivers will take groups of girls south from the villages for 3,000-5,000 baht per trip (interviews of the returnees revealed that most were policemen)
- At the police check-point, the driver has to stop to pay 2,000 baht per head if the girl doesn’t have an ID card
- If the girl has no documents (from foreign country), she needs to pay for immigration fees
- Pimps at the brothels will be paid by income of the girls, which helps protect their jobs
- Brothel owners benefit most from the income from the girls
- Mafia, gangs, and the police need to be paid each month per girl for the brothel to remain in business
- Taxi drivers will get at least 10% of the profit for bringing one customer
- Tour guides will get at least 30% of the profit for bringing one customer
- Doctors from local clinics are paid to check the girls for sexually transmitted diseases or to renew any girl’s health certificate
- Banks and trusts provide loans to brothels
- Beauty salons get money for doing the girls’ make-up and hair every day
- Tourist companies run expensive sex tours and receive large profits
- Some of Thailand’s income comes from tourism, of which the most profitable sector is sex tourism
- There are large international agencies that organize sex tours to Thailand
- The international mafia can be found behind the business of trafficking girls
- Airport immigration officers look the other way in exchange for bribes