After treating the 13-year-old girl like a slave, and beating her for a whole year, it was her abusive boss's last act of cruelty that saved the girl's life.
Since Chand (not her real name) could no longer work due to a high fever from the infected wounds all over her body, she became ''useless''. Her employer put her on a train back to her home village in Buri Ram, one of the country's poorest provinces, alone, untreated and unpaid for the previous year's work.
Alarmed by Chand's condition, the village head immediately sent her to Buri Ram Hospital for treatment. The little girl remained hospitalised for weeks before she could return home. When the doctors at Buri Ram Hospital saw Chand's wounds, they were so shocked they contacted human rights organisations for help.
Chand was forced to work from 4am to midnight every day, serving 50-year-old Wipaporn Songmeesap and her family of six. Instructed never to leave the house or contact her parents, fear-stricken Chand was only allowed to eat once or twice a day, unless her boss was angry with her, in which case she went hungry.
When unhappy with her work, Wipaporn would violently beat her with an iron rod or a belt with a metal buckle, said Chand. She was never sent to the doctor, and repeated beatings kept opening old wounds, leading to a severe infection.
The legal efforts to take Chand's employer to court for the crime of slavery began two years ago. In a landmark verdict last month, the Criminal Court sentenced Wipaporn to more than 10 years in jail for abusing Chand as a slave. The mother of four was also ordered to pay Chand 200,000 baht in compensation. Despite an appeal by the defendant, history was made. The country's 51-year-old anti-slavery law had been enforced for the first time, paving the way for future cases to tackle human trafficking and slavery.
Millions of migrant workers from Burma, Laos and Cambodia, suffering too long hours and unfair pay, in illegal confinement, will stand to benefit. So will the children, Thais and non-Thais, who are sold to work in factories, private households and, worst of all, the sex industry. According to the Criminal Code, subjecting another person to slave-like conditions can result in a maximum seven year prison term. If it involves children under 15, the maximum jail term is increased to 10 years.
So why did it take 50 years for the anti-slavery law to be used? The problems that plagued Chand's case, including attitudes of the community to domestic workers and police in interpreting the law, provide telling answers.
''A good law is often not enforced because of deep prejudices that can paralyse the legal system,'' Human rights lawyer Siriwan said. ''We cannot expect the problem of slavery to go away unless we tackle our own prejudices that endorse the exploitation.'' Condemned as a centre of human trafficking, Thailand is drafting an anti-human trafficking bill which will also punish the use of slave labour. But this progressive law won't work if the present anti-slavery law remains unenforced, said Siriwan. For without legal precedent, the police will continue to refuse to charge abusive employers with the crime of slavery.
Adapted from: "Of human bondage: After 50 years, the anti-slavery law is finally being enforced." Bangkok Post. Outlook, 8 May 2007.
Search the entirety of the site for resources or updates.