MS Risk Blog

Combating Human Trafficking Does Matter to Thailand

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Martin Luther King, Jnr said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” When it comes to combating human trafficking, Thailand has stepped up to the challenge to demonstrate that combating human trafficking does matter to the South East Asian nation. In a US$150 billion dollar industry that human trafficking is, globally, Thailand, being a hotspot of human trafficking in Asia has made considerable progress on this front. According to the 2016 Human Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, Thailand has been upgraded to tier-2 watch list last year from a tier-3 status that it held for four consecutive years, from 2012 to 2015. In order to appreciate Thailand’s ongoing progress with combating human trafficking, the magnitude of the problem as a global issue needs to be perceived first together with what human trafficking entails. 

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) defines human trafficking as sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age. Human Trafficking is also defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery. A victim need not be physically transported from one location to another for the crime to fall within these definitions.

Human trafficking, globally, is a US$150 billion industry, of which, US$99 billion are from commercial sexual exploitation, US$34 billion in construction, manufacturing, mining and utilities, US$9 billion in agriculture, including forestry and fishing and US$8 billion is saved annually by private households that employ domestic workers under conditions of forced labor. Approximately 21 million victims are trafficked around the world, of which, 55 percent are women and the rest 45 percent are men and boys. The Asia Pacific region alone constitutes 56 percent of the trafficked victims in the world. While only 22 percent of victims are trafficked for sex, sexual exploitation earns 66 percent of the global profits of human trafficking. The average annual profits generated by each woman in forced sexual servitude is US$100,000, which is estimated to be six times more than the average profits generated by each trafficking victim worldwide.

Thailand is a source, destination and transit for men, women and children who are trapped into forced labor and sex trafficking. The victims trafficked into Thailand are from Thailand itself, mostly ethnic minorities, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar. The country is a also a transit for victims from China, North Korea, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, and Myanmar en route to countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Russia, South Korea, USA and countries in Western Europe.

Migrant workers from neighboring countries typically meet the demand for cheap labor in unskilled sectors in Thailand. The nature of labor creates vulnerability for migrant workers who do not speak Thai and don’t know and understand their rights under the Thai law. Also, unregistered migrant workers are highly reluctant to seek help from the law in apprehension of deportation. Men, women and children from Myanmar are typically subjected to forced labor in fishing, factories, agriculture, construction, domestic work and begging while those from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are pushed into commercial sex exploitation. Trafficking is mostly facilitated by individuals and local level networks of friends, family, members of victims and former victims themselves. As the traffickers usually know the victims, trafficking cases usually begin with voluntary migration.

The estimated number of victims into forced labor and commercial sex exploitation in Thailand is 425,500, which is 0.63 percent of the country’s population. The complexity of Thailand’s human trafficking issues range broadly into the following areas:

Forced labor

In the US$7 billion fishing industry of Thailand, young men and boys are allegedly enslaved into labor where they endure ruthless treatment including severe and recurrent physical abuse, threats, extreme and inhuman working hours, sleep and food deprivation, forced use of methamphetamine and long trips into the sea, confined to the vessel. Exploitation in seafood processing facilities is also allegedly prevalent with reports of men, women and children working excessive hours in abusive conditions. Even in households, domestic workers, mostly females from Thailand’s ethnic minorities and those from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are subjected to physical and sexual abuse by their employers. Abuses include confinement within the home and withholding of their pay and identification documents, all of which make it nearly impossible for the victims to escape.

Commercial sex exploitation

Thailand’s sex industry allegedly subjects boys and girls between 15-17 years of age and young women to commercial sex exploitation. The victims are commonly found in entertainment hotspots like bars, hotels, massage parlors and karaoke lounges. On the streets, the victims are even younger, many less than 17 years of age, performing survival sex. There is also a higher prevalence of young boys servicing the demands of male tourist. In Thailand’s commercial sex exploitation, 52 percent are girls, 21 percent are men, 20 percent are boys and 7 percent are women.

Child soldiers

With the southern border of Thailand overwhelmed by armed violence between the insurgents and the government’s security forces, the non-state violent groups typically recruit children and train them to be scouts, informers and combatants. Children as young as 14 years of age have reportedly been conscripted into these insurgent groups.

In 2016, the US government has removed Thailand from its global list of worst offenders in human trafficking. The country has been lifted to tier 2 watch list as it has met the minimum standards required to fight trafficking. Given the country’s past tier-3 status for four consecutive years, this upgrade is an indication of Thailand’s commitment to combating human trafficking.

The Thai government, this year, has allocated over US$900 million to prosecute, protect and prevent human trafficking. Thailand is now among the most active nations in addressing human trafficking issues in the region. Human trafficking convictions in the country have also increased to 268 cases last year from 205 in 2015. About 90 cases have been sentenced to more than 2 years of jail terms and 98 cases, greater than 5 years. The improved incentive in fighting trafficking likely has some correlation to potential consequences of being ranked down to tier-3 status. Under the US law, a tier-3 status could trigger non-trade related sanctions on countries, leading to restrictions on US foreign assistance and denial of access to global financial institutions such as the World Bank. Other factors that attribute to Thailand’s improved performance in combating human trafficking include the government’s focus on the matter as a national priority, increased budget by 24 percent relative to last year to combat human trafficking, quicker processes for human trafficking law suits by the Office of the Attorney General and the Thai courts and severe punishments to convicted traffickers with high risk of no-return proposition.