The hill tribe people are a migratory people. Nearly one million inhabit the mountainous northern & western region of Thailand. There are six major hill tribes within Thailand, they are – the Akha, Lahu, Karen, Hmong/Miao, Mien/Yao and Lisu. They are viewed by the Thai government as a national security threat, hundreds of thousands are refused citizenship. Living in relative cultural isolation and with distinctive linguistic and cultural backgrounds, hill tribe people lack a sense of national identity. Although the majority of the first-generation hill tribes have obtained Thai identification, the Ministry of Interior is cautious about granting Thai identity to newly immigrated hill tribes, because of their alleged involvement in illegal trafficking. With the variety of laws involved, the legal status of hill tribes fluctuates between “naturalized”, “alien” and “illegal”. Hill tribe people are among the most disadvantaged groups of the country, due largely to a lack of infrastructure, limited access to Thai citizenship and delayed land settlement. Their predicament leads to poverty, labour migration, improper schooling, marriage breakdown and families cannot support children.
Typical hill tribe home.
Child trafficking, child prostitution, child labour, drug dealing, drug abuse & illiteracy are major ethnocentric issues. Thai government struggles to effectively combat and prevent human trafficking. Consequently, hill tribe children invariably become the victims of gross human rights violations.
In mid-2014, the US State Department’s latest Trafficking in Persons Report states:
“…members of ethnic minorities, and stateless persons… are at the greatest risk of being trafficked.”
The founder of the local anti-trafficking organisation, Children of South East Asia
“Usually, if they have opportunities to stay at school, a strong community base, or any other opportunities realize, you find that they will not get mixed up with trafficking.”
Hill Tribe children swimming in mountain stream.
The United Nations and NGO’s have helped to provide ID cards and register hill tribe children. However an estimated 50% remain unregistered and do not attend a school (2014). They remain at home, often alone and are deemed “high risk” to trafficking.
Many of these high risk children have been abandoned by family because they are not wanted or can’t afford to keep them. Others are orphans. These become the poorest of the poorand the most vulnerable.
Chiang Rai Hill Tribe Project Begins
In 2005, Surasak and Mon Klumsomphan began an orphanage for hill tribes children at risk. It was started by the passion of one family. It has been very difficult to effectively operate the full potential of this project because they have been restricted by their meagre budget. Their aim was to help the homeless and high risk children by providing them with a home and a caring environment.
Many of the children’s parents have died or are in gaol or are drug addicts and their extended families were unable to care for them. Others have been abandoned by their mother or father after the spouse has died. Sometimes they go to live with a member of their extended family. However, these children are not viewed as children to beloved and nurtured, but as economic units to be exploited. In other cases, the relatives do want to provide a good environment, but are destitute themselves.
The children become vulnerable to traffickers. Child trafficking, child prostitution, child labour, drug dealing, drug abuse & illiteracy are major issues. The Thai government struggles to effectively combat and prevent human trafficking and it lacks adequate resources to handle its disproportionate problem.
Young girls rescued from the sex trade.
Most of those trafficked from the hill tribes are simply economically desperate. Devoid of opportunity, they sell themselves, or are sold without fully understanding the debt bondage and slave-like conditions they will end up in.
Exploitation of children and HIV/AIDS are common results of these problems. According to Ecpat International, some 30,000 to 40,000 children, not including foreign children, are exploited as prostitutes in Thailand every year.
A young girl suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Many human trafficking victims come from Laos. The country of Laos has one of the worst poverty rates in South East Asia and is a prime source for the flourishing sex trafficking rings in Thailand. Around 90% of Lao trafficked victims are transported into Thailand. The majority of these victims are 12 to 18 year-old girls who are coerced into the sex trade. (The Democrat 2014).
Moreover, many poor people from Myanmar and Laos leave their homes to work illegally in Thailand to improve their standard of living. However, many of these girls and young women are deceived into prostitution through working in Thai restaurants and karaoke bars. They are extremely vulnerable. This problem is very common in Thailand.
While there is no single solution to the alleviation of rural poverty and child trafficking, providing a “safe-house” is one of the most critical elements. A “safe-house” that provides training in life skills, social skills and offers access to education, whether formal or non-formal is their saving grace.
Young girls being trained in dressmaking and embroidery.
The children and youth are raised with care, attention and security that is provided by full-time staff in a home environment. This offers a needy generation a chance to have enough clothes, good nutrition, access to medical care and good standard of living.
Mr. Surasak Klumsomphan and his wife have developed programs to teach disadvantaged youth. They offer to train them and give them skills that will equip them for occupational opportunities that they may not otherwise have. These vital skills provide each young man and woman with the potential to have an income generating vocation and a viable prospect for the future. It gives them a purpose and sense of self-worth and engenders hope for a better future.
Mrs Klumsomphan teaching weaving.
It is essential to provide adolescents with vocational skills and such as computer and mechanical training, small scale agriculture, spinning, weaving, cookery, crocheting, handicraft, raising pigs, raising catfish, language and human rights studies etc. Acquiring these skills can often result in young people gaining access to employment prospects in the labour market. Equipping young people with life-skills helps them to make the transition into the working community.
Village women working with fabrics.
Tribal women learn embroidery to make hill tribe products. This gives the village women a small income for their families, creating a better quality of life and a solution to the poverty problem.
With a basic education young people are better equipped to make more informed decisions for their own lives. They become confident, active participants in promoting the economic, social and cultural development of their communities. It is equally accepted that without basic literacy and numeracy, people face limited employment opportunities, except for basic wage labour. Promoting education and training opportunities is therefore essential for the alleviation of poverty. Both non-formal and formal education is essential for sustainable rural development.
Collecting girls after school.
These hill tribe children now have security and safety from child traffickers. They are provided with a safe and supportive family-style environment. They now enjoy good nutrition, health, hygiene, and education. They are afforded protection and treatment for dengue fever, encephalitis, malaria, food and water-borne diseases. The children are not raised as borders, they are raised as ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’. They are raised with the care, attention, security and love that children deserve.
Children who are orphaned, abandoned, marginalised and considered to be high risk need an environment in which they can thrive, not just survive. They need a family. They need a future. They need hope. Each individual child has a unique set of needs. Those needs can best be addressed in the context of a loving family environment.
The Need for a Larger Place
The Klumsomphan family started this project in their house which is very small. They faced many difficulties due to the limited plot of land and small house. Children do not have sufficient space to play sports or do other outdoor activities which are important to their physical and mental wellbeing. When children are growing up, they should have a safe house to live in with adequate space proper surroundings. The dormitories for the boys and girls are small. The accommodation in these dormitories is at their absolute limit. Better facilities and larger premises are desperately needed for long term development. More land is required to accommodate more children.
The objectives of this project are to:
- Provide a caring safe home environment,
- Improve their quality of life through health care and good nutrition,
- Provide access to education,
- Remove the risk of becoming a victim of human trafficking, child labour, sexual exploitation and HIV/AIDS,
- Offer life-skills training to succeed as young adults in the community.
Mr Surasak Klumsomphan surveys the proposed land for building the new safe-house.
Plan for new project building development
Children in their tribal dress.
This is a successful working model that has been in operation since 2005. It demonstrates what initiative and an enterprising vision can achieve. They need your support to save more children from the grips of poverty and human trafficking. Your gift can go a long way to making another life better.