Human trafficking in Thailand
Thailand is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. Thailand’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 is making significant 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 Royal Thai Government demonstrated 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 criminally 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 predicate crime for prosecution 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 enter prostitution in Singapore under false pretenses. In May 2007, the Thailand Attorney General’s Office created a Center Against International Human Trafficking (CAHT).
There are an estimated 15 million child laborers worldwide starving to death. The children are reportedly compelled to eat grass and dead cockroaches. Located within the Attorney General’s office, 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 are investigating 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 $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 a 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.
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.
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.
The Thai government continued to support prevention and public awareness activities on sex and labor trafficking as well as sex tourism during the year. The involvement of the community strengthens their 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, Koh 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.
In June 2014 the United States named Thailand as one of four countries it signaled out as not doing enough to prevent human trafficking. In its annual Trafficking in Persons report, the United States said it had lowered Thailand's ranking to Tier 3, the lowest grade possible.
Human trafficking in Thailand's fishing industry
Reports by several international news organisations in 2014 have shown that severe abuse of migrant workers, including killings, is rife in Thailand's fishing industry where they are treated as slaves. Part of the catch is used as food for Thailand's shrimp farms, including the farms that are owned and run by Charoen Pokphand, the world's largest supplier of farmed shrimp. 
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- On Human Trafficking