Human trafficking in Thailand
"Thailand is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.":330Thailand's relative prosperity attracts migrants from neighboring countries who flee conditions of poverty and, in the case of Burma, military repression. Significant illegal migration to Thailand presents traffickers with opportunities to coerce or defraud undocumented migrants into involuntary servitude or sexual exploitation.
Women and children are trafficked from Burma, Cambodia, Laos, the People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.), Vietnam, Russia and Uzbekistan for commercial sexual exploitation in Thailand. A number of women and girls from Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam are trafficked through Thailand’s southern border to Malaysia for sexual exploitation. Ethnic minorities such as northern hill tribe peoples who have not received legal residency or citizenship are at high risk for trafficking internally and abroad, including to Bahrain, Australia, South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong, Europe and the United States. Some Thai men who migrate for low-skilled contract work to Taiwan, South Korea, Israel, the United States and Gulf states are subjected to conditions of forced labor and debt bondage after arrival.
Following voluntary migration to Thailand, men, women, and children, primarily from Burma, are subjected to conditions of forced labor in agriculture, factories, construction, commercial fisheries and fish processing, domestic work and begging. Thai laborers working abroad in Taiwan, Malaysia, the United States and the Middle East often pay large recruitment fees prior to departure, creating a debt which in some cases may be unlawfully exploited to coerce them into very long terms of involuntary labor. Children from Burma, Laos and Cambodia are trafficked into forced begging and exploitative labor in Thailand.
Four key sectors of the Thai economy (fishing, construction, commercial agriculture and domestic work) rely heavily on undocumented Burmese migrants, including children, as cheap and exploitable laborers. The Government of Thailand does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it claims to be making efforts to do so. In November 2007, the Thai National Legislative Assembly passed a new comprehensive anti-trafficking law which the Thai government reported would take effect in June 2008. While there were no criminal prosecutions of forced labor cases during the reporting period, Thai authorities in March 2008 conducted a raid on a shrimp processing factory in Samut Sakhon province, rescuing 300 Burmese victims of forced labor. The Ministry of Labor subsequently released guidelines on how it will apply stronger measures to identified labor trafficking cases in the future. Nevertheless, the Thai government has yet to initiate prosecutions of the owners of a separate Samut Sakhon shrimp processing factory from which 800 Burmese men, women and children were rescued from conditions of involuntary servitude, including physical and psychological abuse and confinement, in September 2006. The factory remains in operation.
The US State Department's influential annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) for 2014 was released in June 2014. In it, Thailand was downgraded from Tier 2 to Tier 3 status. Tier 3 is reserved for those nations whose governments do not fully comply with minimum human trafficking abatement efforts and who are not making significant efforts to comply with those standards.:43 TIP 2014 provides numerous examples of egregious human trafficking violations, but cites no sources beyond noting that the report was prepared "...using information from U.S. embassies, government officials, non-governmental and international organizations, published reports, news articles, academic studies, research trips..., and information submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org".:37 Thailand's government vigorously disputes the downgrade in ranking.
The 2015 edition of the Trafficking in Persons Report retains the Tier 3 designation of Thailand first assigned in the 2014 report. The 2015 report states, "The Government of Thailand does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, and is not making significant efforts to do so.":331
Human trafficking in Thailand's fishing industry
"Thailand's fishing industry is rife with trafficking and abuse". Many reports since 2000 have documented the forced labour of trafficked workers in the Thai fishing industry. Thousands of migrants have been forced to work on fishing boats with no contract or stable wages.
In the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report, 2014 (TIP), the US government lowered Thailand's human trafficking ranking to "Tier 3", the lowest possible.:372 Trafficking in the Thai fishing industry figured significantly in the downgrade. Tier 3 nations are defined as those, "Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.":43 The government of Thailand vigorously opposed this ranking.
Thailand's downgrade has focused the attention of human trafficking and environmental organizations on tracking Thailand's progress on the issue. In the view of some, little progress has been made.
Big changes may be in the offing. In his Friday night "Returning Happiness to the Thai People" address of 27 March 2015 on national television, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha vowed to put an end to human trafficking in the Thai fishing industry "for once and for all". Prayut was quoted as saying, "If such abuses of fellow humans continue, I will instruct that they should not be allowed to do any business any longer in Thailand and they must be punished," Gen Prayut said. "Don’t...blame me for being cruel. How can you take advantage of other people? You’re incredibly rich and have dozens of boats. It is time to abide by the law."
On the same day, Prayut ordered all fishing vessels to be equipped with GPS to prevent them from illegally operating in other countries' fishing zones. "Each vessel will have a GPS and be issued under one operator", he said. Prayut went on to say that if Thailand failed to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, other countries would no longer buy Thai seafood and that that could cost the nation more than 200 billion baht a year.
Human trafficking in Thailand's sex industry
Thailand's sex industry is a human trafficking destination. Children of poor families are often the victims of human trafficking. Many are forced into prostitution by their parents and many are lured and captured by the traffickers. Ethnic Thais are trafficked from poor areas of Chiang Rai, Nong Khai, and Phayao to the tourist areas.
Minorities and refugees
Due to civil unrest, economic dislocation, and political repression in Myanmar there is an increasing number of Burmese minorities in the Thai sex industry. Some Burmese minorities choose to work in the sex industry, and some were lured or impressed into the sex industry. Many young girls were forced to work day and night as sex slaves. Hill tribe girls are about thirty percent of the total number of sex workers in Thailand. Hill tribes people are in many cases stateless, thus allowing traffickers to exploit them easily. Minorities are the victim of human rights violation in Thailand, especially women and children. A Reuters investigation that was published on 5 December 2013 brought the exploitation of the Rohingyas into the world's attention. Many Rohingya refugees who escaped from the political oppression in Myanmar were stuck at Thai immigration or were captured along the shore or had their boats pushed back into sea. Corrupt Thai immigration officials secretly supplied refugees from Burma to trafficking rings. Unwanted refugees are in sold into slavery, held hostage for ransom, or brutally murdered along the Myanmar or Malaysian borders. "The Rohingya are then transported across southern Thailand and held hostage in a series of camps hidden near the border with Malaysia until relatives pay thousands of dollars to release them". Some refugees relate how they were made phone and beg their relatives for money to set them free while being beaten by the traffickers. If their relatives did not have money, the refugees would be sent to shipping companies or farms for manual labor. In January 2014, based on information from the December 2013 Reuters report, 636 people were rescued by Thai police from human trafficking camps during two raids. In March 2014, 200 allegedly Uyghur people who had fled China due to the ongoing Xinjiang conflict, were also freed by Thai police from a human trafficking camp.
The Thai government continues to support prevention and public awareness activities on sex and labor trafficking as well as sex tourism. The involvement of the community strengthens awareness of the issues corresponding to child sex trade. Communal support increases the effectiveness of law enforcement. Thai government law enforcement efforts to reduce domestic demand for illegal commercial sex acts and child sex tourism have been limited to occasional police raids to shut down operating brothels. Greater educational efforts must occur to warn women and girls about the reality of human trafficking. At the same time, awareness-raising campaigns targeting tourists were conducted by the government to reduce the prevalence of child sex tourism and prostituted children. The Thai government also cooperated with numerous foreign law enforcement agencies in arresting and deporting foreign nationals found to have been engaging in child sex tourism. In 2007, the Thai government disseminated brochures and posts in popular tourist areas such as Chiang Mai, Ko Samui, Pattaya, and Phuket warning tourists of severe criminal charges for the procurement of minors for sex. Thailand has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. At the local level, advocacy organization must be included in the development of informational programs and awareness campaigns about the rights of trafficked persons, and how they can obtain help and services to meet their physical and mental health needs.
The Thai government demonstrated some progress in its law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in persons. Thailand passed new comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation in November 2007, which the Thai government reported would go into force in June 2008. The new law would prohibit all forms of trafficking in persons—covering labor forms of trafficking and the trafficking of males for the first time—and prescribe penalties that are sufficiently stringent and that are commensurate with penalties prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. It will also make trafficking in persons a crime prosecutable under the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
Previous Thai anti-trafficking legislation that was used during the reporting period defined "trafficking" only in terms of sexual exploitation and allowed only females and children to be classified as victims eligible to receive shelter or social services from the government. The Royal Thai Police reported that 144 sex trafficking cases had been prosecuted in the two-year period ending in June 2007. In April 2007, a Thai employer was sentenced to more than 10 years imprisonment for forced child labor in the first-ever conviction under Thailand's 1951 anti-slavery law. The victim, a female domestic worker, worked for the employer for four years without pay and was physically abused. In December, a Thai Criminal Court sentenced two traffickers to seven years imprisonment for luring a 15-year-old girl to engage in prostitution in Singapore under false pretenses.
In May 2007, the Thailand Attorney General's Office created a Center Against International Human Trafficking (CAHT). The CAHT has eight full-time attorneys devoted to coordinating the prosecution of all trafficking cases in Thailand. Corruption is still sometimes a problem with local police or immigration officials protecting brothels, seafood, and sweatshop facilities from raids and occasionally facilitating the movement of women into or through Thailand.
Two police officials faced prosecution for trafficking in Burmese migrant workers in Tak province in April 2007. In March 2008, a team of labor ministry, immigration, police, and NGO representatives raided a shrimp processing factory in Samut Sakhon and found 300 Burmese migrant workers confined to the premises and working in exploitative conditions. For the first time, the government included 20 males amongst the classified 74 trafficking victims and referred them to a government-run shelter. However, the government handcuffed and detained other illegal male Burmese migrant laborers at the factory and sent them to a holding cell to await deportation. These workers, who experienced the same exploitation as those deemed "victims" by the Thai government, were reportedly treated as criminals. They were not allowed to retrieve personal belongings or identity papers left at the factories and were remanded to a detention facility. Police filed criminal charges against the owners of the shrimp processing factory within 24 hours and investigated the labor brokers who supplied the Burmese workers.
The Ministry of Labor in April 2008 released new guidelines on how it will apply stronger measures in dealing with identified labor trafficking cases in the future. A Thai labor court awarded US$106,000 in damages to 66 trafficking victims rescued in the September 2006 raid of a separate shrimp processing factory in Samut Sakhon. However, as of March 2008, the government has yet to initiate criminal prosecution of the factory's operators. In other cases involving possible trafficking for labor exploitation, law enforcement reported 41 cases of labor fraud and 16 cases of illegal labor recruitment. The Ministry of Labor's Department of Employment reported that 28 labor recruiting firms were prosecuted in administrative labor courts in 2007 for violating regulations on labor recruitment rendering workers vulnerable to trafficking. These prosecutions mostly resulted in monetary fines, with only one license suspension. Department of Social Welfare officials and NGOs use the threat of punitive sanctions under the 1998 Labor Protection Act to negotiate settlements with abusive employers exploiting foreign trafficking victims in sweatshops and in domestic work. A total of 189 individual facilitators or brokers received fines and other administrative sanctions for violating labor recruiting regulations in 2007.
Critics charge that Thai governmental efforts to end trafficking are a charade that works like this: every March the Thai government talks tough and announces new plans and laws to end trafficking. This is timed to coincide with the writing of the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), issued every June. In 2015, the Thai government once again passed a tougher new trafficking law. The new law authorises the death penalty and fines of up to 400,000 baht for human traffickers if their "customers" die. Some observers believe that the continued trafficking exists only because of official corruption, a state of affairs that tougher laws do nothing to remedy.
The discovery in early-May 2015 of two dozen bodies from shallow graves in the mountains of southern Thailand, a discovery that has exposed a network of jungle camps run by traffickers who allegedly held migrants captive while they extorted ransoms from their families, has seemingly galvanized Thailand into action. A total of 33 bodies, believed to be migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, have now been exhumed from various jungle camps. The discoveries have embarrassed Thailand, which is already under pressure from the United States and the European Union to crack down on human trafficking both on land and in its fishing fleets. Thai Police chief Gen. Somyot Poompanmoung has moved quickly, arresting the mayor of the district town and relieving 50 police officers of their duties. "If you are...neglecting, or involved with, or supporting or benefiting from human-trafficking networks — your heads will roll," Somyot said.
Most recently, Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister in the current government, has pledged zero tolerance for trafficking and vowed to eradicate it from Thailand. He has demanded greater cooperation and coordination from all government agencies and called on the private sector to do it part. Anyone failing to fight trafficking, or turning a blind eye to the problem, will face disciplinary and legal action, according to the Prime Minister.
In September 2015 it was reported that, "A drive against human trafficking has brought severe retribution..." to 32 Thai police officers for their alleged roles in trafficking humans. All have been transferred from their posts. To date, as many as 150 arrest warrants have been issued for alleged accomplices. Of them, 89 have already been arrested. "Sixty-one others remain on the run," a source said, adding that about 20 had fled overseas.
Corruption and complicity at the highest levels of the Thai government continue to impede investigatory and prosecutorial efforts as underscored by the flight in December 2015 of Thailand's most senior human trafficking investigator to Australia, where he will seek political asylum. Major General Paween Pongsirin says his investigations into human trafficking implicated senior figures in the Thai police and military and he now fears for his life. According to Paween, "Influential people [are] involved in human trafficking. There are some bad police and bad military who do these kind of things. Unfortunately, those bad police and bad military are the ones that have power."
The Thai government continued to provide impressive protection to foreign victims of sex trafficking in Thailand and Thai citizens who have returned after facing labor or sex trafficking conditions abroad. However, protections offered to foreign victims of forced labor in Thailand were considerably weaker, as male victims of trafficking were not yet included under victim protection provisions of Thai law.
Thailand’s Prime Minister, General Prayut Chan-o-cha (Ret.), has reiterated his political commitment in eradicating human trafficking on numerous occasions. His strong determination has translated into a number of policy directives and deliverable measures addressing both the elimination of nurturing conditions and the immediate causes of trafficking in persons in Thailand. A case in point includes nationwide registration of illegal migrant workers, more stringent regulation of vessels and labour in the sea fishery sector, amendments and improvements of relevant laws; all of which contribute to long-lasting solutions to human trafficking and related problems.
The new comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation passed in November 2007 promises, when enacted and implemented in June 2008, to extend protections to male victims of trafficking and victims of labor trafficking. The government allows all female trafficking victims, Thai and foreign, to receive shelter and social services pending repatriation to their country of origin or hometown. It does not, however, offer legal alternatives to removal to countries where victims face hardship or retribution, such as the repressive conditions found in Burma.
The government encourages female victims’ participation in the investigation and prosecution of sex trafficking crimes. In cases involving forced labor, the 1998 Labor Protection Act allows for compensatory damages from the employer, although the government offers no legal aid to encourage workers to avail themselves of this opportunity; in practice, few foreign laborers are able to pursue legal cases against their employers in Thai courts.
Formidable legal costs and language, bureaucratic and immigration obstacles effectively prevent most of them from participating in the Thai legal process. Female victims of sex trafficking are generally not jailed or deported; foreign victims of labor trafficking and men may be deported as illegal migrants. The Thai government refers victims of sex trafficking and child victims of labor trafficking to one of seven regional shelters run by the government, where they receive psychological counseling, food, board and medical care.
In April 2008, the Ministry of Labor presented a series of operational guidelines for handling future labor trafficking cases. The guidelines include provisions that grant immunity to trafficking victims from prosecution arising from their possible involvement in immigration or prostitution crimes and provide migrant trafficking victims temporary residence in Thailand pending resolution of criminal or civil court cases. Thai embassies provide consular protection to Thai citizens who encounter difficulties overseas.
The Department of Consular Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) reported that 403 Thai nationals were classified as trafficking victims abroad and repatriated from a number of countries including Bahrain (368 victims), Singapore (14 victims) and Malaysia (12 victims). In 2007, the government’s shelters provided protection and social services for 179 repatriated Thai victims and 363 foreigners trafficked to Thailand. In 2007, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Department of Consular Affairs conducted training in Thailand and abroad for community leaders, victims and laborers. The MFA sent psychologists to provide training to Thai volunteers in Taiwan helping Thai trafficking victims, organized a workshop amongst Thai translators under the “Help Thais” program in Singapore and coordinated translators to assist 36 Thai trafficking victims arrested in Durban, South Africa. A 2005 cabinet resolution established guidelines for the return of stateless residents abroad who have been determined to be trafficking victims and can prove prior residency in Thailand. These stateless residents can effectively be given residency status in Thailand on a case-by-case basis.
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