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A web resource for combating human trafficking


The Situation
Thailand is a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking. It is a destination-side hub of exploitation in the Greater Mekong Sub-region, for both sex and labor exploitation.
Migrants, ethnic minorities, and stateless people in Thailand are at a greater risk of being trafficked than Thai nationals, and experience withholding of travel documents, migrant registration cards, and work permits by employers. Thai men who migrate for low-skilled contract work and agricultural labor are subjected to conditions of forced labor and debt bondage as well.1
Although the networks that traffic foreigners into Thailand tend to be small and not highly organized, those who traffic and enslave Thai victims abroad tend to be more organized and work in more formal networks; often collaborating with employers and, at times, with law enforcement officials, and have been found to hold Thai and foreign passports.2 Many Thais are lured by labor recruiting agencies and are forced into involuntary servitude or sexual exploitation because of the high debt owed to the agencies.3  
The majority of Thai trafficking victims are trafficked to the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, and China for both sexual and labor exploitation. Thai victims have also been repatriated from Russia, South Africa, Yemen, Vietnam, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Singapore. Thai nationals are also known to be trafficked to Australia, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Timor-Leste.4  
Thailand is a transit country for victims from North Korea, China, Vietnam, Pakistan, and Burma destined for third countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Russia, Western Europe, South Korea, and the United States.5
The majority of the trafficking victims identified within Thailand are migrants from Thailand’s neighboring countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region, but also come from farther away such as Uzbekistan and Fiji. These migrants are forced, coerced, or defrauded into labor or commercial sexual exploitation. They are often fleeing conditions of poverty, or in the case of Burmese migrants, which make up the bulk of migrants in Thailand, from military repression. Conservative estimates have this population numbering in the tens of thousands of victims.6 
Trafficking victims in Thailand are found employed in maritime fishing, seafood processing, low-end garment production, and domestic work. Children from neighboring countries are forced to sell flowers, beg, or work in agriculture or domestic service in urban areas. Evidence suggests that the trafficking of men, women, and children into these sectors represent a significant portion of all labor trafficking in Thailand.7 
Child prostitution also remains a problem. According to government officials, academics, and NGO representatives, children (both boys and girls), especially among migrant populations, were sometimes forced, coerced, or lured into prostitution.8
Internal Trafficking
Thailand is a country with internal trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation, and labor trafficking.  Ethnic minorities and women and girls from the northern Hill Tribes are especially vulnerable due to their lack of citizenship.9 UNESCO officials assert that lack of legal status is the single greatest risk factor for trafficking or other exploitation of highlanders.10  There is also an issue of rural-to-urban trafficking, where ethnic Thais are trafficked from the relatively poor areas of Chiang Rai, Phayao and Nong Khai to urban and tourist areas.11
Sex tourism remains a problem. According to the Thai Government, there are no laws that specifically address sex tourism. However, the criminal code, laws on prostitution, and laws combating trafficking in persons contain provisions to combat sex tourism. While it is widely believed there are fewer incidences of Thai citizens forced into prostitution today than in past years, children from poor families remain vulnerable, and there are some incidences of Thai parents who force their children into prostitution. The 1996 Prostitution Prevention and Suppression Act imposes heavy penalties on whoever procures, lures, compels, or threatens children under 18 years old for the purpose of prostitution.12
Child labor is still present, particularly in agriculture, the garment industry, seafood processing, fishing-related industries, and the informal sector.  Within the country Thai men are trafficked into the fishing and seafood industry.13
There are many causes of human trafficking in Thailand. Many argue that Thailand is a destination for human trafficking because of its relative affluence in the Greater Sub-Mekong Region. Other cited vulnerability factors include: statelessness, poverty, lack of education, awareness and employment, or dysfunctional families.14  
The Thai Government
In 2010, the Thai prime minister chaired meetings with labor and civil society organizations to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts, which led to the development of the Thai government’s second six-year National Policy Strategy on human trafficking for 2011-2016. In July 2010, the prime minister publicly acknowledged the need to improve the government’s weak interagency coordination in addressing human trafficking and the government self-reported increased trafficking prosecutions and convictions; however, there was insufficient data available to determine whether each of these could be categorized as human trafficking convictions. The government also continued efforts to train thousands of police, labor, prosecutors, social workers, and immigration officials on victim identification.15
Despite these increased efforts, the scope and magnitude of the trafficking problem in Thailand remains significant, and there continues to be a low number of victims identified among vulnerable populations and of convictions for both sex and labor trafficking. NGOs report that problems hindering the government’s anti-trafficking efforts included:
  • Local police corruption, including direct involvement in and facilitation of human trafficking; 
  • Biases against migrant laborers; 
  • Lack of a comprehensive monitoring system of the government’s efforts; 
  • Lack of understanding among local officials of trafficking;
  • Courts’ lack of a human rights-based approach to labor abuse cases; and 
  • Systematic disincentives for trafficking victims to be identified.  
Furthermore, while authorities continue efforts to prevent human trafficking with assistance from international organizations and NGOs, the government has not yet adequately addressed structural vulnerabilities to trafficking created by the country’s migrant labor policies.16
For these reasons, the Thai Government was placed in Tier 2 in the 2011 U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) for not fully complying with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but making significant efforts to do so. This marks Thailand’s second consecutive year on Tier 2.17
Thailand’s 2008 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act criminally prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties from four to 10 years’ imprisonment. The Act applies to everyone on an equal basis, not only women and children. Its key elements are: 1) heavier penalties on all offenders involved in human trafficking; 2) victims may claim compensation from the offenders for any damages caused by human trafficking; and 3) victims will be provided with shelter and other necessities including physical, psycho-social, legal, educational and healthcare assistance.18
However, according to the 2011 TIP Report, the Thai government has made mixed progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. It reported 18 convictions in trafficking-related cases in 2010 – an increase from eight known convictions during the previous year; however, as of May 2011, only five of the 18 convictions reported by the government could be confirmed to be for trafficking offenses. The government also reported initiating 79 prosecutions in 2010, up from 17 prosecutions during the previous year. The police reported investigating 70 trafficking-related cases in 2010, including at least 49 cases of forced prostitution and 11 for forced labor. This compares to the 95 trafficking-related investigations reported in 2009. Very few cross-border labor exploitation investigations lead to arrests of alleged traffickers, and even those arrested rarely find themselves prosecuted in court.19
Corruption remains widespread among Thai law enforcement personnel, creating an enabling environment for human trafficking to prosper. There are credible reports that officials protect brothels, other commercial sex venues, and seafood and sweatshop facilities from raids and inspections. There are also reports that Thai police and immigration officials extort money or sex from Burmese citizens detained in Thailand for immigration violations, and sell Burmese people who are unable to pay to labor brokers and sex traffickers.20
According to the 2011 TIP Report, the Thai Government demonstrated limited efforts to identify and protect foreign and Thai victims of trafficking during the year. The Thai Government reported that 381 foreign victims were classified as trafficking victims in Thailand and received assistance at government shelters during the year, a decrease from the 530 foreign victims assisted in 2009. The government also reported that in 2010, 88 Thai nationals were classified as trafficking victims abroad and were repatriated to Thailand, a significant decrease from the 309 victims repatriated in 2009. The government has reported increasing efforts to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations through screening checkpoints at airports and border crossings. However, only 52 trafficking victims were reported identified in immigration detention centers in 2010.21
The Thai government continues to refer victims to one of nine regional shelters run by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS), where victims receive counseling, limited legal assistance, and medical care. However, trafficking victims typically cannot opt to reside outside of these shelters or leave, and stays can be long due to lengthy repatriation and court processes. Furthermore, despite a 2005 cabinet resolution that established that foreign trafficking victims in Thailand who are stateless residents can be given residency status on a case-by-case basis, the Thai government has yet to report granting residency status to a single foreign trafficking victim. As a result, it has been reported, that migrant victims run away from shelters to avoid deportation, which in turn makes them vulnerable to re-trafficking.22 
While the government generally encourages victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, it provides limited incentives for victims to do so.  High legal costs, language, bureaucratic, and immigration barriers, fear of retribution by traffickers, distrust of Thai officials, slow legal processes, and the financial needs of victims effectively prevent most victims from participating in the Thai legal process. While in the past, the government has offered legal aid and encouraged trafficking victims to seek financial compensation from their trafficking offenders in a few cases, there were no such reported cases during 2010.23
The Thai government supports an array of projects to prevent human trafficking for sexual and labor exploitation and sex tourism and made notable efforts in 2010.24 
The government collaborates with international organizations and NGOs to raise awareness on trafficking among migrant workers, targeting high-risk industries and populations within Thai society.  The government reported that throughout 2010 and early 2011, it reached more than 3,000 people from high-risk groups to raise awareness on trafficking, as well as approximately 2,000 employers to raise awareness on labor rights and trafficking. NGOs confirmed that awareness of human trafficking and labor rights grew, both among these high-risk populations and government officials.25  
Further, the Thai Government is working with the Government of Burma to open a Burmese government office in Thailand, in the hopes of reducing the need for some undocumented Burmese workers to return to Burma, and thus making them less at risk to being exploited.  However, there are several Thai policies that also put Burmese and other migrants at greater risk for trafficking. These include:
  • The government’s Nationality Verification and Granting an Amnesty to Remain in the Kingdom of Thailand to Alien Workers Program binds Burmese and other migrant workers’ immigration status to Thai employers, effectively leaving workers without legal recourse or protection from forced labor. 
  • The government’s process to legalize migrant workers includes associated fees which, in addition to costs imposed by poorly regulated and unlicensed labor brokers, increase the vulnerability of migrant workers to trafficking and debt bondage. 
  • The government announced plans in 2010 to collect additional funds from migrant workers undergoing nationality verification in order to underwrite the cost of deporting undocumented migrants; if enacted, this could further increase workers’ debt.26
Thailand’s 2008 anti-trafficking act also stipulated that a government fund be established to support the prevention and suppression of human trafficking as well as welfare protection for trafficked victims.27 The government reportedly disbursed $200,000 from its fund to assist trafficking victims and finance anti-trafficking activities in 2010, but this is only a small portion of the total fund value.28
International Cooperation
The Thai government works with international agencies and NGOs and foreign governments to combat human trafficking.29  It has also signed anti-trafficking memoranda of understanding (MOU) with Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam and established a migrant registration policy and signed bilateral employment MOUs with Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar.30
The U.S. Department of State recommends that the Thai government enact the following measures in its 2011 TIP Report: 
  • Enhance ongoing efforts to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations, in particular undocumented migrants and deportees; 
  • Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict both sex and labor trafficking offenders; 
  • Improve efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict officials engaged in trafficking-related corruption; 
  • Ensure that offenders of fraudulent labor recruitment and of forced labor receive stringent criminal penalties; 
  • Improve labor inspection standards and procedures to better detect workplace violations, including instances of trafficking; 
  • Improve implementation of procedures to allow all adult trafficking victims to travel, work, and reside outside of shelters; 
  • Provide legal alternatives to the removal of trafficking victims to countries in which they would face retribution or hardship; 
  • Implement mechanisms to allow adult foreign trafficking victims to reside in Thailand; 
  • Make greater efforts to educate migrant workers on their rights, their employers’ obligations to them, legal recourse available to victims of trafficking, and how to seek remedies against traffickers; 
  • Improve efforts to regulate fees and brokers associated with the process to legalize migrant workers in order to reduce the vulnerability of migrants to human trafficking; and 
  • Increase anti-trafficking awareness efforts directed at employers and clients of the sex trade.31
2 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
3 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report; 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report
4 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
5 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
6 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
7 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report
8 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report 
9 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, UNIAP: The Human Trafficking Situation in Thailand (last updated 2008)
10 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report
11 UNIAP: The Human Trafficking Situation in Thailand (last updated 2008)
12 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report
13 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report
14 UNIAP: The Human Trafficking Situation in Thailand (last updated 2008), 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
15 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
16 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
17 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
18 UNIAP: The Human Trafficking Situation in Thailand (last updated 2008), 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report,  
19 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
20 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
21 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
22 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
23 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
24 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
25 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
26 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
27 UNIAP: The Human Trafficking Situation in Thailand (last updated 2008)
28 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
29 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
30 UNIAP: The Human Trafficking Situation in Thailand (last updated 2008)
31 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report

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