Northern Thailand - Child Trafficking & Sexual Exploitation - Girls
At an age when we would regard them as still being children, thousands of young children from Northern Thailand have and continue to be, lured, forced or coerced into prostitution. Girls as young as 10 years old have been sold into the brothels of Bangkok and other cities in the region and even overseas. In some areas as many as 90% of girls have left 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 a field into Thailand's neighboring countries. Agents have now established networks reaching into Thailand's neighbours including Burma, Laos, the southern Yunnan province of China, Cambodia and Vietnam (the Mekong Sub-Region). The children are mainly brought in through North and Northeastern Thailand where they are then taken to other areas within the country. Although there are no exact figures available regarding the numbers of children being trafficked into Thailand for sexual exploitation, estimates nevertheless provide an indicative picture. From Burma, it was estimated in 1994 that 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.
The children come from families in the region already trapped in a cycle of poverty and debt. Their parents are subsistence farmers or landless villagers with few work opportunities. Their traditional lifestyle and values are being 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 region. Often parents who are drug addicts are arrested and gaoled, leaving their children to fend for themselves. Those who are still at home are unable to provide proper care for their families. Many children along the border do not have birth certificates or family documents leaving them easy prey for traffickers.
Faced with these pressures parents come to view their daughters as commmodities who can be traded. Agents working on behalf of brothels have established effective and comprehensive networks throughout the countryside, systematically targeting families undergoing economic hardship in the hope of recruiting new girls. From DEPDC's experience, once a family is targeted an agent or a middleman, who may be a well respected member of the village, approaches the parents of the child with offers of work. Cash incentives are offered and the parents sign a supposedly 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 'luckier' ones find themselves trafficked into establishments with close links to the sex industry including bars, restaurants, pubs, cafes and karaoke. Here both boys and girls may wait on tables but also may be 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 available to provide room service or to act as a "friend" to the guest for the period of their holiday.
On the whole, these places tend to escape prosecution as on the surface the children seem to be doing legitimate work.
Local leaders, including some village headmen, police and government officials are involved in the recruitment and transportation of girls from the area 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 the establishment of an apparently legitimate business as a disguise for a brothel. Documentation is arranged which will allow young girls, without the necessary legal papers, to travel around the country.
The Blood Sucker Cycle
There are numerous 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 the children are caught in a cycle of evil, where a diverse cast of characters take a cut of the proceeds in recruiting the child. Unlike other industries these expenses are not passed onto the consumer, they are added to the debt which the victim must ultimately pay off. Mr Jantraka terms this process the blood sucker cycle. Below is a brief summary of the various players 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 recieves donations for new water tanks, libraries and such
- Monks at the temple will be given donations for "Tamboon" (making merit)
- Drivers will drive groups of girls south from the villages for 3000-5000 baht per trip (interviews of the returnees revealed that most were policemen)
- At the check-point the driver has to stop to pay 2000 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
- 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 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 for STD's or to renew any girl's health certificate
- Banks and trusts provide loans to sex business
- Beauty salons get money for doing the girls make up every day
- Tourist companies run expensive sex tours and receive large profits
- Most of Thailand's income comes from tourism of which the most profitable branch is sex tourism
- There are large international agencies who can organize sex tours to Thailand
- The international mafia can also be found behind the business of trafficking girls
- The airport immigration officers also look the other way in exchange for bribes
Education is the key! DEPDC applies prevention as the pathway and education, protection and development; as the preventive tools. These components are viewed as the most effective approach in reducing the vulnerability of girls and boys from entering prostitution or other sex-labour situations.