Bangkok's street childrenMost beggars in Bangkok are not from Thailand. They are migrants from neighboring countries, such as Cambodia or Burma, who are drawn to the city’s lucrative begging opportunities. These beggars must accept a high level of risk when they travel to Thailand; many are thrown in jail and then deported in a worse state than before. But the biggest issue arises when they bring their children with them. These children are often abandoned and left to work on the streets of Bangkok. They are at risk of being abused and exploited, are often unhealthy and are in danger of being hit by cars or motorcycles.

There are more than 20,000 street children in Thailand’s major urban areas. In a single day, a child can earn 300 baht ($10) to 1,000 baht ($30) – much more than the amount a Cambodian or Burmese living in poverty makes back home. In Phnom Penh, for instance, scavenging rubbish all day will only earn a child 16 baht ($0.50).

Cambodians make up around 80 percent of Thailand’s child beggars. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world and half of its population is children.

Beggars who are from Thailand usually hail from the northeast Isan region, where 40 percent of the country’s poor comes from. Their parents come to Bangkok to find work, usually as motorcycle taxi drivers or construction workers. When they have children, they realize they cannot afford to take care of them. Distrustful of the government-run orphanages, many simply abandon their children in the hands of babysitters, hoping they will find a home there. However, these children are often made to work on the streets to earn some money for their upkeep, according to chairwoman Darat Pitaksit of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Bangkok, an organization that works with underprivileged children.

Because going to school is mandatory until the sixth grade, most Thai children manage to attend at least primary school. Secondary school attendance in Bangkok, however, drops by 20 percent. Despite it being the richest area of Thailand, rates of attendance are lower in Bangkok than anywhere else in the country because of the presence of migrant workers’ children and the lifestyles they are made to lead.

Contrary to common perception, street children, both from Thailand and neighboring countries, do not fall into crime, drugs, or other illicit activity. “Thai children are raised to respect their elders,” Pitaksit says. “In addition, the belief in karma helps them to be more accepting of their hardships in life.” Similarly, Cambodian children would often rather beg on the streets than go to school, says Chantana Sueprom, a staff member of the UNICEF supported NGO Friends International. They feel it is their duty to help their parents earn money.

– Radhika Singh

Sources: Reuters, UNICEF, Asian Development Bank
Photo: Jimmy Lam Photography

As of 2013, there are an estimated 7.3 million people that are considered to be in poverty in Thailand, according to the World Bank.

Lack of opportunities, education and income inequality have been major contributors to the cause of such high poverty numbers. Although it is claimed the number of the poor has decreased in recent years, the rate overall remains consistently high.

Basic needs are not the biggest problem that families face. It is that the difference between the income of the lower and upper classes is increasing. Thirty percent of the population possess the wealth, most of which was obtained in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the earning capacity of the remaining 70 percent remains relatively low.

Beginning in 1997 and lasting throughout 1998, what is commonly referred to as the “Asian Crisis” took place. Prior to this, Thailand was experiencing an abundance of economic growth. In 2011, a flood occurred just after the global financial crisis of 2008. From 2013 to 2015, political turmoil further contributed to the problem. Since then there has been less and less global demand for Thailand’s chief exports, such as shrimp. Currently, growth is predicted to increase this year at 3.5 percent.

The Millennium Developmental Goals can be reached in Thailand on an aggregate basis. The rates of maternal and under-five mortality rates have decreased. Efforts have also been made to increase access to clean water and sanitation in urban and rural areas alike. The biggest concern is environmental sustainability. There is a need to make more employment opportunities available to those in rural areas. In addition, educational resources for parents to assist their children or micro-enterprise business opportunities need to be made available.

At its worst, the top 20 percent earned 15.8 times more in contrast to the lowest 20 percent. At times, the average income is found in the most impoverished region in the northeast; it has been recorded as being 11.9 times lower than Bangkok. This has driven rural workers to seek work in urban areas like Bangkok. It is a contributing factor to the slum areas in cities. Bangkok is considered a concentration of economic activity, services and goods. This is evident given that 50 percent of Thailand’s GDP is from Bangkok.

An additional reason for poverty is the government’s lack of responsibility during its financial and industrial reforms. During these times there has been a lack of social services implemented. Another reason stems from the failure of the Thai government to provide social safety nets amid the country’s rapid growth and industrialization.

Since the 1990s the government in Thailand has embraced the MDGs. It has adopted more aggressive methods in confronting the root problems of poverty and income gaps. In addition, programs to utilize rural workers have been developed. As the Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2015 development agenda near, and will eventually replace and advance the progress of the MDGs, Thailand and other countries will have the opportunity for renewed efforts to combat poverty and inequality.

– Erika Wright

Sources: Nations Encyclopedia, World Bank
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Bangkok
According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Thailand is a “top destination for victims of human trafficking.” The majority of Thailand’s trafficking victims are voluntary economic migrants from countries like Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and China. They come only for the promise of a good job.

Without documentation, knowledge of Thailand or understanding of its language, they are vulnerable to traffickers. For the same reasons, it is nearly impossible for them to escape. Many are trapped in Thailand’s bustling capital of Bangkok, famous for its rich history, stunning architecture and thriving sex tourism industry.

Operation Graceland began with a tip-off by an Uzbek woman trafficked into prostitution at Bangkok’s Grace Hotel and desperate to return home. What followed was a police raid, the holding of 19 women and an investigation of all involved. In the end, only two of the detainees admitted to being trafficked. They identified their abusive ‘manager’ amongst the group, but after receiving word that their families had been threatened, they spoke favorably of her in court. She was released.

In 2002, there were an estimated 200,000 sex workers in Bangkok and the trade has grown. It is a lucrative job: women and men from poor families earn money to support their relatives, finance future aspirations or live a life of previously unknown affluence.

Though many are forced by circumstance, involvement in the sex industry is considered voluntary. Because there are so many willing sex workers in Bangkok, it is difficult to identify victims of trafficking. Officers are being trained to recognize trafficked workers. Do they work excessive hours? Do they have documentation? Are they of age?

But even if they manage a rescue, it is difficult to convict the perpetrators. Gangs threaten those rescued and their families, warning them against speaking out. Some victims hope that, by cooperating with their captors, they will be released with a small share of their earnings, all of which typically go to their slavers. Still others are undocumented migrants, who fear legal retribution for involving themselves in any legal affair.

In any case, testifying is risky, since many prosecutors base their arguments entirely on hearsay and the victim’s statements. Slavers are often released and the case against them deemed unsubstantial.

The prevalence of trafficking in Thailand and the legal support for victims have not improved enough for international recognition. In June, the United States dropped Thailand from tier two to tier three on the 2014
Trafficking in Persons report.

But the Thai government is making headway. In 2013, the number of trafficking cases investigated was double that of 2012. Nearly 750 victims received some form of assistance from the Thai government: most were referred to one of nine shelters run by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. Thousands of public officers were trained on new anti-trafficking laws; ideally, they will offer victims the legal support they need and give them hope of a life once again in freedom.

-Olivia Kostreva

Sources: Bangkok Post, Time, UNIAP
Photo: Laura Leigh Parker

A.T. Kearney, a United States-based consulting firm, ranked Jakarta, Indonesia’s bustling capital, whose metropolitan area contains roughly 30 million people, as the next Southeast Asian leading city. The Javanese city boasts first among a list of 34 cities in low-income and middle-income countries that will most likely become a global leader in fields ranging from business activity to workforce health and security. The methodology used involves 26 metrics in five categories: business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experience and political engagement.

Certainly, Jakarta’s status as the capital of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) contributes greatly to the city’s rising position. Furthermore, the emergence of the ASEAN Economic Community, a quasi-European Union style economic community minus a common currency due to take off in 2015, is also another factor that helps to make Jakarta an up-and-coming Southeast Asian city.

Jakarta, over the past few years, has invested immensely in improving its once inadequate infrastructure. However, it is the city’s improvements in other fields such as stability and security that has put it on the map. Areas involving Jakarta’s population such as income equality, stability, healthcare cost, minimum wage and security are those that have fared the best.

Jakarta’s improvements also extend to the fields of information exchange and high gross domestic product growth rate. In terms of the city’s once feeble infrastructure, today’s Jakarta has been developing its mass rapid transit system. Its groundbreaking ceremony was held in late 2013. This project will begin operating in 2017-2018 and it will help to facilitate the daily commute of the residents of the city and its surrounding areas.

Furthermore, Bangkok, Thailand, its future appearing promising in 2008, has been experiencing instability for the past few years, thus eliminating Jakarta’s regional competitor. John Kurtz, A.T. Kearney’s Asia-Pacific head, stated that the city’s growing political and economic importance is attracting both domestic and international talents and investments.

The city’s rise in importance and prosperity is certainly a stunning achievement. The city’s transformation into the region’s powerhouse is undoubtedly a testament to development as a tangible and a feasible process, not just an illusive rhetoric.

– Peewara Sapsuwan

Sources: The Jakarta Globe, Wall Street Journal
Photo: Luxury Real Estate Blog

Anti-government protesters are trying to shut down the capital city of Bangkok in order to stop next month’s election. While the protesters have not yet shut down the city of 10 million people they had succeeded in shutting down many intersections and plan to make government offices inaccessible and take over the homes of top government officials where they plan to shut down water and electricity supplies.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is set to win the upcoming election on February 2.

Protesters used double-decker buses, pick up trucks and sandbags to block roads. The police have been taken over by protesters in the streets and government has called in 8,000 military personal to help tackle chaos and destruction.

Businesses, tourist groups and some of the countries top scholars are worried that Thailand is at risk of becoming increasingly violent and are pleading with protesters to cease their protests and allow the election to go ahead. Government supports in the North and Northeast have also lashed out at the protesters and asked for more support from the military.

The protest movement is being led by educated middle and upper class citizens who are highly motivated and idealistic, these individuals reside predominantly in Bangkok and southern Thailand. Protestors are acting out on hatred of Ms. Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire and former president who has left the country but hold significant influence over the country.

Human rights activists and others are requesting that protesters, police and the government respect human rights and avoid violence during these demonstrations in Bangkok.

The protests have been predominately peaceful with raising Thai flags, blowing whistles and spreading tents and picnic blankets across seven major intersections. However, authorities say 8 people have died and 470 people have been injured since the protests began in November.

Amnesty International has recognized that violence could erupt and asked officials to allow the citizens their right to peaceful process, but also warned protesters not to commit human rights abuses either.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke over the telephone to both Ms. Shinawatra and the opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiv in attempts to bring a peaceful end to the protests and help them to reconcile their differences. Ms. Shinawatra has already made an attempt to calm the tensions; in December she arranged the February 2nd re-election. This move has not eased protestors who are asking Ms. Shinawatra to step down and allow an unelected “people’s council” to take over and put in place political reform.

A travel advisory has been put in effect for the region and the U.S. Embassy has warned America’s to avoid travel to Bangkok until the situation becomes more stable.

Elizabeth Brown

Sources: CNN, New York Times, CBC News
Photo: Daily Mail

Poverty and climate change are related problems, says World Bank president Jim Yong Kim. The World Bank has doubled its spending on researching adaptation to climate change to $4.6 billion, but it is also calling for the world’s wealthier countries to invest in similar research. The organization also recently released a report on the subject, which presents some shocking scenarios that the organization feels are likely to occur if global temperatures continue to increase. The Thai capital of Bangkok, for example, could experience floods in as much as forty percent of the city if temperatures rise by just 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which is expected to happen within the next three decades. Those who live in slums, the report suggests, will be the most affected by a natural disaster. But this hypothesis has implications not just for the poor or for the people of Thailand, but for the world over. Jim Yong Kim, the president of World Bank has said that it is “impossible to tackle poverty without dealing with the effects of a warmer world” for the following reasons:

1. Access to food. Many crops have a difficult time thriving in extremely hot conditions. While agricultural scientists are working, sometimes controversially, to create versions of popular crops that can adapt to such climates, the World Bank’s report estimates that as many as ninety percent of people in Sub-Saharan Africa could be malnourished by 2050.

2. Access to clean water. The report also suggests that extreme heat may lead to droughts throughout South Asia, reducing the availability of clean drinking water in places like India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

In addition to research, the World Bank spends $7 billion per year (not including the $20 billion received from other banks and partners dedicated to this issue) in helping developing countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

Samantha Mauney

Sources: The Saudi Gazette, Counter Currents
Photo: IFAD

Biking in Bangkok is More Than a Tour
For two bicycle tour companies, biking in Bangkok is more than a tour. These two extraordinary companies not only give excellent guided tours of the hidden gems of this city, but also have significant impacts on the poverty in and around Bangkok.

Bangkok, the coastal capital of Thailand has two seasons, covers 606 sq miles, and 18 million residents, and approximately 1.5 million slum dwellers. There are over 400 Buddhist temples and thousands of other tourist attractions including the Royal Palace and the famous Khaosan Road.  One could spend a lifetime discovering new parts of Bangkok. As a tourist with limited time, the best way to see the real Bangkok is to pound the pavement with locals.

The first bicycle tour company is Co van Kessel. Mr. van Kessel, a Dutch ex-patriot, started the tour company over 30 years ago. Frustrated with the image of Bangkok as a city of uninhibited urban sprawl, grid-lock traffic and suffocating pollution, Mr. van Kessel started a bicycle tour company to change this image. His was the first bicycle tour company in Bangkok and has been working towards making Bangkok a cyclist-friendly city ever since.

In addition to being an entrepreneur, Co van Kessel bike tour company is also generous with their time and money. They often donate money to local charity organizations. Additionally, every year they donate bicycles that are unfit for tours but still in good working condition to villages in the north of Thailand. The bicycles serve the villagers as their primary form of transportation thereby allowing them to pursue livelihoods otherwise unavailable.

The second, Recreational Bangkok Biking (RBB), is also run by a Dutch ex-patriot, Andre Breuer. RBB offers several different tours each with their own extraordinary sights. They offer a variety of walking, biking, rickshaw, boat and combination tours throughout the city. Their goal is to give tourists a chance to see what Thai life is really all about—colorful markets full of sounds and smells that make your whole body tingle, daily life along the canals that wind through the city, and stretches of green space one could hardly imagine existed when limited to main tourist areas.

What makes this company stand out is not only the high quality of the tours but also the social commitment Mr. Breuer insists on. His employees are local, mostly low-class Thais. The employees start out as bicycle mechanics and learn English through interacting with foreigners—two skills that are extremely valuable to enhancing their living standards. The restaurants, food stands, boat drivers, and bicycle repair establishments are locals, mostly slum dwellers. Mr. Breuer also uses his influence and business network to help fund a local orphanage, the Mercy Center, and a kindergarten. (Mercy Center is located in the largest slum in Bangkok, Khlong Toey and serves as an orphanage and rehabilitation center for those with AIDS.)  Tourists have the option of stopping at the school and talking to the children, who learn English from their frequent interactions.

It is easy to get sucked into the tourist traps in Bangkok. Everyone wants to take you for a ride. Let yourself be taken by Recreational Bangkok Biking or Co van Kessel and you will not regret it!

Katherine Zobre

Sources: Co Van Kessel , The Mercy Center
Photo: Google Plus