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Economic Solutions to Thai Human Trafficking

The images of human trafficking that most often come out of areas such as Thailand are those that are the most shocking. Media stories usually focus on very young girls kidnapped from their rural villages and enslaved in the sex industry in Bangkok. These instances certainly occur, and are absolutely…

The images of human trafficking that most often come out of areas such as Thailand are those that are the most shocking. Media stories usually focus on very young girls kidnapped from their rural villages and enslaved in the sex industry in Bangkok. These instances certainly occur, and are absolutely reprehensible; however, they are far from the majority.

1 The story of a victim of trafficking in the Thai sex industry is far more likely to involve deception rather than force, and an attempt to escape hopelessness rather than violence. As often as not, a girl, or her family, know she isn’t going to be getting work as a domestic servant or in a factory. The conditions of the agreement and the nature of the situation in Bangkok or other destination city are generally not understood. These girls (and boys and men, but the victims are more often female) are seldom aware of the debt bondage they will incur, the conditions in which they will live or the number and nature of the “services” they will have to provide for their clients each day.

2 The U.S. Congressional Research Service has cited lack of economic opportunities, especially for women, as one of the single largest contributing factors toward trafficking.3 In Thailand this pattern is easy to see. The vast majority of people trafficked into, within, and out of Thailand are poor, rural women with little education and virtually no economic opportunities. People, especially women and children, are trafficked from poorer areas of Cambodia and Burma into Thailand, from Northern and Northeastern Thailand to Southern Thailand, and from all of these areas into other nations, especially Japan, Australia, the U.S.A. and Germany. The movement is almost exclusively from poorer to richer areas. Just about the only flow back to the poor areas consists of prostitutes who can no longer work, usually because of HIV/AIDS.

Poverty is not an issue that can simply be wished away with positive thinking, but we are now at a time in history where we have unprecedented abilities to combat extreme poverty. One of the most effective methods is also one of the simplest: micro-financing. Using Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Foundation as a model for intervention, a Thai focused foundation could work to combat poverty in its most extreme forms. This would provide viable economic opportunities for vulnerable women and help prevent them from becoming victims of trafficking. If a person is able to maintain a sustainable business in her hometown, what incentive is there for her to gamble on the promise of work in the major cities? Although many women are tricked into thinking that they have legitimate work opportunities waiting for them, many realize, at least on some level, the nature of work they are likely getting into.
Growing economic opportunities provide support structures that indirectly help deter human trafficking.  One of the major problems in trafficking is the practice of parents selling their children to traffickers. In this process, a trafficker offers a family a certain amount of money (reportedly the equivalent of the cost of a color television), which the daughter is then expected to work off at the destination. Unfortunately this “loan” is then charged exorbitant interest rates, fees are tacked on for providing food, shelter and protection, as well as fines if the girls don’t perform or refuse a customer’s specific request. And because the traffickers are keeping the books, it’s impossible for the girls to ever actually work their way out from under the debt. They are used until they are too weathered to work, or contract HIV/AIDS.4 By providing economic opportunities for families in the more rural areas, the incentive to sell children into slavery can be taken away.

In addition, women are often trapped in the sex industry because, once there, they see no opportunities for themselves even if they did escape. Depending on the individual’s situation, escape could be taken figuratively or quite literally. Because the girls in this industry often have very little education and no work experience outside of the sex industry, they often believe, sometimes rightly so, that they have no means of surviving if they leave the sex industry.5 This is where, in addition to the money itself, the support systems built into the Grameen model are so important. These women need job training, business counseling and personal support if they hope to succeed, and the Grameen model provides all of these services.

Thailand has experienced rapid, if uneven, growth over the last few decades. Its export levels have grown substantially, as has its GDP. However, much of this growth is concentrated in the South and does not reach the rural areas of the north and northeast. In fact, despite the growth of Thailand’s economy, northern and northeastern Thailand have grown poorer in real terms.6 Micro-financing, especially with the involvement of Thai businesspersons, offers the potential to help raise the standard of living for those who have been left behind, and as a consequence, combat one of the largest factors contributing to human trafficking in the region.
Naturally, a micro-financing program of this sort will not single-handedly fix the problems revolving around the Thai sex industry. Other activities are very much needed, ranging from HIV/AIDS health clinics, to more effective incentives and punishments for combating corruption within the police forces and political figures, to the creation of a “reflection delay” of at least three months that allows victims of trafficking, especially those brought across an international border illegally, to avoid deportation in order to testify against their traffickers. Additionally, educational opportunities are as important as economic opportunities and the two are intricately connected. Economic opportunities for a family means that their children can stay in school longer before having to leave to support the family, and higher education levels lead directly to greater economic opportunities, especially for rural women. Some of these are already being done, such as Doctors Without Borders’ establishment of free or low cost health clinics in Thailand, and the government’s passage of stricter laws against official corruption, but there is a continuing need for further efforts.
The Thai government and several NGOs are growing the effort to combat the evil that is human trafficking, sexual slavery and child prostitution in Thailand, but they are still losing ground.7 Unfortunately, so long as the financial incentives for all parties involved remain, the government and NGOs will continue so lose this battle. Only by providing economic opportunities to potential and former victims of trafficking, in coordination with their other efforts, can they hope to succeed in closing down this lucrative black market in human flesh.

Source: www.asiaecon.org |



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