People at Risk

People at Risk

International Labour Organisation

According to the ILO, 168 million children worldwide are engaged in child labour as of 2013.

Of these 168 million children, 85 million are engaged in what the ILO deems “hazardous work.” Asia and the Pacific still has the largest number, almost 78 million – equivalent to nearly one in 10 children in the region.

Young girl carrying heavy terracotta pots
Young girl carrying heavy terracotta pots in a pottery business.

In Thailand, child labourers are found in some of the so-called Worst Forms of child labour, including in agriculture, and shrimp and seafood processing.

ILO have classified the worst forms of child labour as:

the worst forms of child labour comprises:
  • (a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;
  • (b) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;
  • (c) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties;
  • (d) work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

Children transporting fire wood in Cambodia.
Children transporting fire wood in Cambodia.

Thailand, the hub of trafficking

Thailand is a source, transit country and destination for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour. Victims from neighbouring countries, as well as Vietnam, China, India, Uzbekistan, Russia and Fiji, willingly migrate to Thailand with the aim of obtaining employment, often with the help of relatives and members of the community or through smuggling networks and the use of informal recruitment. There are an estimated two to three million migrant workers now living in Thailand, most of whom are from Burma.

Young Burmese woman in a clinic
Young Burmese woman in a clinic along the Thai-Burmese (Myanmar) border. The over-whelming majority of these migrants do not have access to Thai social services and rely upon the use of the services provided by NGOs.

In Thailand, the majority of the trafficking victims – by conservative estimates – tens of thousands of victims have migrated from neighbouring countries. These trafficked victims are defrauded, coerced or forced into labour or they are exploited in Thailand’s sex industry. Commercial fishing and related fish-processing trades in Thailand are responsible for exploiting a significant number of labour trafficking victims. A significant portion of labour trafficking victims are also exploited in factories, low-end garment production and domestic labour; some victims are forced into street begging under the control of a street broker.

The Greatest Risk

Foreign migrants, stateless persons and members of ethnic minorities in Thailand are most vulnerable and at the greatest risk of being ensnared in the human trafficking trade. They suffer various abuses that may indicate they are victims of trafficking. Those abuses include the retention of travel documents, work permits, migrant registration cards and wages. Employers frequently exploit them by taking illegal deductions from their meagre wages, verbal and physical abuse and threatening them with deportation. Undocumented migrants are highly vulnerable to trafficking due to their lack of legal status, which often makes them fearful of reporting problems to government officials.

As a result of their exploitation, many foreign migrant workers are liable to accumulate exorbitant debts, both in countries they have come from and in Thailand. Because they are exploited, they invariably become victims to debt bondage. Stateless persons and members of ethnic minorities in Thailand face a high risk of becoming trafficking victims.

Hmong village children, Thailand
Hmong village children, Thailand.

Men, women and children in the northern highland areas of Thailand are particularly susceptible to human trafficking. Research conducted by the UN cites a lack of legal status as the principle cause for the exploitation of undocumented workers. Some children from Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma are forced by their parents or brokers to sell flowers, beg or work in domestic service in urban areas.

False and misleading employment opportunities abroad are also offered to members of ethnic Thai minorities. Thai victims are recruited and deceived into incurring exceptionally high debts to pay recruitment fees and brokers, sometimes using land owned by their family as collateral, predisposing them to being easily exploited at their destination. Thai nationals have been lured into sex trafficking in Australia, South Africa and in countries in the Middle East, North America, Europe, and Asia. The prospect of agricultural labour and low-skilled contract work are strong incentives to Thai men who are willing to migrate. However, when they arrive at their destination they are vulnerable to conditions of forced labour and susceptible to debt bondage.

Child sex trafficking

Sex trafficking is identified as the leading cause responsible for entrapping the majority of Thai victims. Women and girls from Thailand, Burma and Vietnam including some who initially intended seek work in the extensive sex trade of Thailand, are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Trafficking of children for sex, has become increasingly clandestine, although in the past was connected to highly visible establishments, but now covertly operating in massage parlours, bars, karaoke lounges, hotels, and private residences. Now, false identity documents are given to children who are exploited in the sex industry in massage parlours or karaoke bars. Local non-government organisations are now reporting that women and children are increasingly being recruited into sex trafficking through the increasing use of social media.

In Chiang Mai and Bangkok, business establishments that cater to foreign tourists demand for commercial sex are a driving impetus for trafficked victims. Thailand is a transit country for victims from North Korea, China, Vietnam, Burma, Bangladesh and Pakistan prone to sex trafficking or forced labour in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Russia Singapore, the United States, and countries in Western Europe.