Trafficking in Thailand’s Indigenous CommunitiesThe hill tribes of Thailand encompass ethnic minority groups residing in Northern Thailand. These indigenous communities face significant challenges in accessing social welfare programs. Some members of these tribes do not have citizenship, and this further intensifies poverty, limiting education and leading to inadequate employment opportunities. The deprived living conditions affecting indigenous communities make them vulnerable targets for traffickers seeking to exploit their circumstances. The initiatives of NGOs and community leaders aim to create sustainable solutions and combat trafficking in Thailand’s indigenous communities.


The high poverty rates among Thai rural indigenous communities create a vulnerable environment for child trafficking to thrive. The 2017 Safe Child Thailand Report concluded that 64% of the hill tribe families in Mae Hong Son province live below the poverty line, earning less than $2 a day. Among them, 23% live in extreme poverty, earning less than $1 a day.

The combination of poverty and the struggle to provide for their families makes the hill tribe communities particularly susceptible to the manipulations of child and sex traffickers and brokers. Traffickers and brokers entice children from these tribes with promises of higher wages and improved living conditions, exploiting their vulnerability and desperation to escape poverty. In some cases, traffickers convince families from the hill tribes to sell their children, convincing them that doing so will provide them with a brighter future.

Limited Education

Limited access to education heightens vulnerability to child trafficking in Thailand’s indigenous communities. According to the 2017 Safe Child Thailand Report, only 51% of hill tribe children enroll in primary school — significantly lower than the national average of 87%. The situation worsens at the secondary level, with only 35.6% of boys and 29% of girls continuing their education. Consequently, 25% of hill tribe people are functionally illiterate, compared to a national average of just 2%.

The Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice and the International Volunteerism Organization for Women, Education and Development name poverty as the primary driver pushing children into prostitution and forced labor. Children from indigenous communities in northern Thailand, often lacking Thai citizenship and facing limited opportunities for schooling, are compelled to work at a young age, making them prime targets for child trafficking.

Lack of Employment Opportunities

The restricted movement imposed by current legislation on hill tribe people in Thailand contributes to their vulnerability to trafficking and exploitation. Many individuals within hill tribe communities lack basic identification and official documentation, hindering their ability to travel outside their home areas and seek better work opportunities.

Due to the limited freedom of movement, hill tribe populations often require assistance or guidance to feel more secure when leaving their areas. Brokers offer to facilitate the illegal movement, smuggling and trafficking of Thai indigenous men, women and children. Brokers take advantage of the desperate circumstances and restricted mobility of hill tribe individuals and exploit them through trafficking and forced labor.

UNESCO recognizes statelessness as a significant risk factor for the hill tribe people to be trafficked and exploited. They cannot obtain certificates that validate their educational qualifications, acquire land titles or secure legitimate employment outside their immediate communities. As a result, sex and child traffickers hoodwink members of the hill tribes into exploitative informal labor arrangements.

Civil Society Organizations

Civil society organizations are taking action to address the lack of legal protections and social welfare support for Thailand’s hill tribes.

For example, the Green Horizon Project (GHP), launched by Plan International and GE Thailand, provides vocational and entrepreneurial training to women, empowering them with skills for starting businesses. GE Thailand volunteers support local schools and students, repairing infrastructure and donating supplies. From repairing school playgrounds and fences to school supply donations, these initiatives reflect the positive changes in the lives of hill tribe people in Thailand, providing them with more opportunities and options for a better future.

Moreover, the Karen Hilltribes Trust (KHT) focuses on improving health and well-being through projects such as water and sanitation initiatives, agricultural support and education access for rural Karen children. KHT ensures that children staying in school dormitories receive three nutritious meals daily, fostering their educational development.

The work of community non-profit organizations is actively addressing these issues and fostering sustainable development. Overall, these efforts aim to empower hill tribe members, provide them with better opportunities and raise awareness about their rights and well-being.

– Freya Ngo
Photo: Unsplash

GIVE VolunteersWhile traveling abroad is a favorite pastime of college students for the views, food and fun, GIVE Volunteers works to engage travelers for a different reason. This service organization gives young people the opportunity to immerse themselves in the culture of five international destinations where they offer programs. On these trips, volunteers work alongside community members on conservation, restoration and education projects. The Borgen Project spoke to one former volunteer and chapter president, Logan Falk, about her eye-opening experience in Thailand and Laos.

GIVE Programs

GIVE Volunteers offers a diverse array of programs in North America, Tanzania, Thailand and Laos. Program itineraries vary by country, but overall the organization focuses on combining cultural immersion, tourism and service. The trips are an alternative to traditional study abroad programs, emphasizing hands-on service projects instead of classroom education. 

Most volunteers are recruited on college campuses. GIVE often exists as a student-led club on U.S. campuses, offering students the opportunity to volunteer locally in their university towns while fundraising for their potential trips abroad. Some of the trips focus on conservation and restoration efforts, while others place volunteers in impoverished communities to assist with construction, farming and education. 

The Borgen Project spoke with a GIVE member who participated in one of these poverty-focused programs in Thailand and Laos. Falk was an executive member of James Madison University’s GIVE chapter in Virginia. On her 5-week trip through Thailand and Laos in the summer of 2022, she worked in local schools teaching English, assisted craftsmen and women and used her “tourist dollar to support local businesses.” For the people living in these areas, such efforts can make a world of difference.

Poverty in Thailand

According to a 2022 report by Thailand’s primary economic agency, The Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC), approximately 8.1 million Thai people live in poverty. Many of these individuals are children. Of the overall population, the poverty rate among children was 9.9% in 2021. UNICEF reports that this is a lasting effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, which raised food and energy costs. Inflation hit its highest rate in 14 years at 7.66% in June of 2022. Households with children were especially impacted, forcing many students out of school.

The effects of poverty forced more than 280,000 children to drop out of school in 2021, the NESDC reports. According to the UNICEF Representative for Thailand, Kyungsun Kim, reversing these effects is imperative to the country’s lasting recovery. In a 2022 UNICEF press release, she emphasized the need for building human capital in Thailand. With the population “rapidly aging,” ensuring children receive protection and the means to grow into active members of society is of the utmost importance. 

Poverty in Laos

The issue of poverty is similarly prevalent in Laos. About 23% of the overall population lives below the poverty line, surviving on less than $1.25 per day. Considering that more than 30% of the population is under the age of 14, children suffer significant impacts.

Laos is primarily an agricultural country, with 80% of families working in agriculture. However, the rural areas that house them are prone to food insecurity as a result of extreme floods and droughts. Estimates suggest that 33% of children under the age of 5 face stunted growth due to malnutrition. Of every 22 Laotian children, one dies before they reach their 5th birthday. This is seven times the U.S. infant mortality rate. 

For those that do survive, an estimated 28% are forced into child labor to support their families. GIVE Volunteers makes it its mission to get these children back in school and support them with life-changing education.  

Expanding Perspectives

On her trip, Falk worked one-on-one with children from rural communities in Thailand and Laos, engaging them in activities and teaching them English. She told The Borgen Project that her time volunteering was full of “authentic experiences” in a program that was “constantly creating open learning environments.” Rather than going in with a specific agenda, Falk liked that the trip let volunteers get involved by “asking where [they] can help rather than taking the lead.”

This collaborative approach aligns with Falk’s idea of being a global citizen, one of her biggest takeaways from the program. For her, global citizenship is a reminder “that we all share the same home, so no matter where we are, there are ways for us to be giving back and supporting one another.” On her trip, she learned that the key to being a global citizen and an “ethical and sustainable volunteer” is “supporting the community that is welcoming us with no intention to ‘fix’ it. We went in to learn without judgment.”

After learning from, bonding with and seeing the struggles of people in Thailand and Laos, Falk left GIVE Volunteers with an inspiring realization: “There are so many large and small, intentional social, political, environmental, and economic actions we can take to make a difference on this planet that never ceases to amaze me… We can use our voices, our art, our activism, our knowledge, our money, and our VOTE to support communities within and outside of just our own.”

– Rachel Rebecca Smith
Photo: Unsplash

Poverty in Rural Eastern Asia Around 75% of the rural Eastern Asian population struggles to afford food, with an estimated 320 million living on less than $2.15 a day. The employed population in the region largely works in the agriculture sector where three out of four people in rural communities are poor. Families cannot afford to relocate to well-paid urban jobs. As a result, they continue to live in a poverty cycle. Countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia have up to 90% of their rural population living in poverty. Factors such as hunger issues, natural disasters and health care impact poverty in rural Eastern Asia greatly.

Poverty in Rural Eastern Asia

  • Mongolia: Rural areas of Mongolia have a poverty rate of 30.8% according to the World Bank, with two out of every five children living in poverty. Education heavily impacts poverty in Mongolia, as only 10% of Mongolians are able to complete university-level education. A lack of education and skills affects the jobs people can send in applications for, and this impacts Mongolians as it’s harder for many of them to enter urban employment for better-paid jobs.
  • Philippines: Half of the 100 million people in the Philippines live in rural areas with the main source of income consisting of agricultural employment such as fishing and farming. Illiteracy, unemployment and poverty are more common in Indigenous people and people living in upland areas. With an overall poverty rate of 25%, a decrease in agricultural productivity and unprofitable farming businesses stand as leading causes due to limited access to technology and knowledge.
  • Thailand: Despite major efforts to reduce poverty in Thailand, its rural sector, including agricultural households, remains poor with a poverty rate of 79%. Impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic affected the rural economy much greater than the urban, with the World Bank reporting that 70% of rural households reported decreased income levels since March 2020. The average monthly income is 68% of urban households. With the highest income inequality rate in Eastern Asia and the Pacific as well as the impacts of droughts, Thailand’s agricultural sector has been impacted heavily by economic and environmental factors. These recent droughts have caused dried-up land/soil impacting the production and quality of farming in these areas.

Improving the Socioeconomic Impacts in Mongolia

Asian Development Bank (ADB) donated $73 million toward easing Mongolia’s socioeconomic impacts from COVID-19. It also provided a $30 million loan to improve livestock production in central Mongolia. These donations have been effective in strengthening food security and traceability for communities.

Agricultural Development Projects in the Philippines

Since 1978 the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has donated $243.7 million to fund 15 agricultural development projects in the Philippines, directly benefiting 1,742,000 households and enabling poverty-ridden rural communities to improve their income and food security as well as education and health care. IFAD also supported technology operations to improve soil and water management through the use of micro-catchment techniques that will support local fishermen.

The Baan Mankong Program in Thailand

The Baan Mankong program was one of many that transformed Thailand’s poverty rates. The program focused on improving housing, communication between citizens and the government and improving drainage systems. With $191 million, it supported 320 cities/districts, many of whom reside in the city.

Looking Ahead 

Despite negative outlooks on rural poverty in Eastern Asia, its rapid economic progress has been notable, lifting millions out of poverty. Between 2008 to 2018, GDP per capita grew at a rate of 6.7% each year, beating the global rate of 1.5%.

Organizations like ADB have contributed massively throughout COVID-19 and afterward to continue to improve rural communities through better health care, sustainable equipment, improved technology and food security. East Asia has contributed to the global reduction of extreme poverty with countries such as China, Thailand and Malaysia securing poverty rates below 1%. However, with many people still not economically stable in Eastern Asian countries, there appears to be room for more progress.

– Joshua Rogers

Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Thailand
Modern slavery plagues millions of communities globally. Human trafficking, a $150 billion plus industry, impacts lives regardless of race, gender or economic status. Human trafficking in Thailand is a major national problem.

Children and Human Trafficking

With convenient trafficking routes that funnel women and children in and out of the country, Thailand has become a popular destination for traffickers. Extreme poverty, particularly in rural areas makes children vulnerable. Research estimates that around 60,000 children are trapped in the sex trade in Thailand. Direct intervention can be extremely difficult, due to the violent nature of this criminal activity.

There are a number of risk factors that make children vulnerable to human trafficking. Poverty and hunger can cause parents to sell their children into slavery with the hope that they will find a better life. In addition, traffickers target homeless and isolated children, hoping to lure them with false promises. A lack of education or understanding of their legal rights, also makes children more vulnerable.

In Thailand, most children only attend school for about 7 years. The most susceptible population are girls living in orphanages who are about to graduate into the outside world.

Peacework Safe Girls Campaign

Peacework, a non-profit based in Virginia, has developed the Peacework Safe Girls Campaign to combat child trafficking in Thailand and other countries through education and empowerment. The Safe Girls Campaign empowers children with financial self-reliance and avoid the chains of trafficking.

The Peacework Safe Girls Campaign hosts a variety of different empowerment projects at orphanages in Thailand staffed by university students from the United States working alongside university students in Thailand.

In Saraburi, Thailand, Peacework partners with Asia Pacific University, a Seventh-day Adventist university east of Saraburi. The partnership between Peacework and Asia Pacific University focuses on the development of a financial independence curriculum. They present the curriculum to the orphanages and shelters on an annual basis.

Peacework Safe Girls Campaign empowers children in Chiang Rai as well. Chiang Rai sits at the top of Thailand, and ineffective border regulation results in well-used trafficking routes. Peacework partners with Keep Girls Safe, an initiative of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency that runs a shelter for young girls. The Safe Girls Campaign sends university students from the United States to Chiang Rai to run educational workshops for shelter residents.

Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

Through these projects, the Safe Girls Campaign helps children achieve self-determination that helps them avoid trafficking. Equipped with knowledge about their legal rights and the skills to pursue a profitable career, vulnerable children can take control of their futures and resist the cycle of trafficking. The work also gives children the tools to lift themselves out of poverty. Entrepreneurial development equips them to pursue a financially stable career.

While the scale of the campaigns’ reach may be small, the impact of economic empowerment on the lives of orphans in Chiang Rai and Saraburi are sure to have a ripple effect. In addition, the tactics they are developing to fight human trafficking and poverty are inherently valuable to ending the epidemic globally.

The prevention work Peacework does through the Safe Girls Campaign is crucial in the fight to end trafficking and it currently hopes to expand the campaign to countries around the world. Their prevention strategy can be applied to any country. The Safe Girls Campaign empowers children to pursue better lives.

– Julia McCartney

Photo: Flickr

Facts About Poverty in BangkokBangkok, the capital of Thailand, has long been one of the fastest developing cities in Asia. Thailand has made major developments in its economy, environment and infrastructure in recent years. However, neither the city of Bangkok nor the nation of Thailand is free from poverty. The following are 10 important facts about poverty in Bangkok.

Facts About Poverty in Bangkok

  1. As of 2014, 10.5 percent of Bangkok’s population lives below the national poverty line. 
  2. Over the last 30 years, poverty in Thailand has reduced from 67 percent to 7.2 percent in 2015. The World Bank calls Thailand a great developmental success. 
  3. Poverty reduction since 1988 has been most effective in Bangkok and the surrounding regions. While this is fantastic, it means poverty has become more concentrated in the Northeast region of the nation.
  4. 3.8 million people living in the Northeast are in poverty, compared to 2.3 million in the rest of the nation. The Thai government has been creating poverty reduction policies that span the entire country, but focusing on areas of higher concentration may be more necessary. 
  5. Thailand has achieved gender equality in primary schools and women outnumber men in secondary and tertiary schools. This is a major accomplishment, as it enables women to earn higher incomes in the long term and ultimately reduces poverty.
  6. The Eleventh National Economic and Social Development Plan, which ran from 2012 to 2016, aimed to reduce the number of people living below the poverty line through a variety of strategies, such as restructuring the tax system to improve income distribution in the country.
  7. Between 2013 and 2016, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) partnered with the Thai government to increase the effectiveness of the Eleventh Development Plan. The ADB committed to creating higher and more inclusive growth in Thailand. 
  8. Bangkok is expected to become one of the world’s “megacities” and is likely to have a population of over 10 million people soon.
  9. In 2016, Thailand joined the World Bank Group’s Partnership for Market Readiness, which is an alliance of over 30 nations aiming to reduce the production of greenhouse gases and energy consumption in developing nations. 
  10. Bangkok houses only 10 percent of Thailand’s population, but it contributes more than 50 percent of the national GDP.

As these facts about poverty in Bangkok show, severe poverty remains a problem in Bangkok. The Thai government has been quite proactive in partnering with organizations like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and seems to be committed to reducing poverty levels in the country. This is a great sign, and with more projects and increased funding from other countries and organizations, Thailand may be able to eradicate poverty before long, making these facts about poverty in Bangkok a thing of the past.

– Liyanga de Silva

Photo: Flickr

Thailand is a country in Southeast Asia with a population of about 69,000 people and a history of underdevelopment and impoverishment. The good news is that Thailand’s poverty rate is declining rapidly due to incredible progress in development. The country has moved from a lower-income country to an upper-income country in less than a generation. Thailand is the success story of Southeast Asia.

Thailand’s economic growth started in the 1960s and continued until 1996 at a rate of about 7.5 percent per year. After the Asian financial crisis that lasted from 1995 to 2005, Thailand still saw remarkable growth at an annual rate of five percent. Millions of people were pulled out of poverty due to the many jobs that were created at this time.Thailand has made a great deal of progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and has created its own MDG-plus targets. The country has a firm commitment to the MDGs and to the U.N.’s Office for South-South Cooperation making Thailand an increasingly active global partner in development.

Some contributing factors to the decline of Thailand’s poverty rate are that a growing number of children are getting more years of schooling, almost every citizen is covered by health insurance and other forms of social security have expanded. HIV rates decreased in the 1990s from about 125,000 infections to fewer than 20,000 in 2003.

Thailand’s poverty rate has been declining considerably over the last four decades from 67 percent in 1986 to 10.5 percent in 2017. Thailand has the third-lowest poverty rate in Southeast Asia after Malaysia and Vietnam. Thailand has a 20-Year National Strategy that will last from 2017 until 2036 with the purpose to attain developed country status through reforms. These reforms will address economic stability, human capital, equal economic opportunities, environmental sustainability, competitiveness and effective government bureaucracies. Previous reforms included large multi-year infrastructure projects, improving state-owned enterprise governance, the approval of progressive inheritance and taxes and the beginning of the National Savings Fund.

There are still many issues facing Thailand but the good news is that there are many goals and deadlines being made by the Thai government to ensure that Thailand’s poverty rate keeps dropping. The country consistently meets target dates for development goals and gets one step ahead by creating newer objectives in order to reach the UNDP’s Sustainable Development Goal to end global poverty in all forms by 2030.

– Lorial Roballo

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Thailand Thai Poverty
While Thailand historically has been known to have a fairly strong economy, it experienced setbacks in 2013-15 as a result of domestic political turmoil and slow global demand. Since then, the Southeast Asian country has undergone a period of economic growth, advancing as a middle-income country and moving toward achievement of its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), poverty in Thailand has decreased from 21 percent in 2000 to about 12.6 percent in 2012.

While it is important to note the remarkable progress that has been made, certain challenges and conditions still pose a threat to people and society. Discussed below are the leading facts about poverty in Thailand.

Top 5 Facts about Poverty in Thailand

  1. The reported unemployment rate in Thailand is less than one percent. In addition, 69.4 percent of the population aged 15 and older is employed.
  2. Just more than 38 percent of the population have at least some secondary education. Advancements in education have been particularly impressive and a large contributor to reducing poverty in Thailand as a whole.
  3. According to the Asian Development Bank, for every 1,000 babies born in Thailand, 11 die before their first birthday. Similarly, the maternal mortality rate as of 2015 is 20 deaths per 100,000 live births, and the total infant mortality rate is 9.4 deaths per 1,000 live births, emphasizing the close link between the effect of poverty on death rates.
  4. In the booming 1960s, Thailand’s economy grew at an average annual rate of 7.5 percent, creating millions of jobs that helped pull millions of people out of poverty.
  5. As of 2014, more than 80 percent of the country’s impoverished population of 7.1 million live in rural areas. Moreover, an additional 6.7 million were living within 20 percent above the national poverty line and remained vulnerable to falling back into poverty in Thailand.

With a massive population of more than 68 million as of 2017, poverty in Thailand affects many individuals. Fortunately, with awareness and assistance, there are opportunities for the nation’s recovery to eliminate poverty and help boost prosperity for all citizens.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Thailand
Thailand is being touted as a development success story. Sustained growth and poverty reduction are the reasons for the incredible progress. Poverty in Thailand was reduced from 21 percent in 2000 to 12.6 percent in 2012 and 7.5 percent in 2015. Between 1999-2005 the economy grew annually by five percent, which created jobs and improved education.

While Thailand has become a middle-income country and an active development partner, the country’s growth has slowed to only 3.5 percent between 2005-2015. Despite this, Thailand is making great progress towards meeting their Millennium Development Goals.

Thailand’s economic success is not shared with all citizens. Poverty in Thailand mainly affects those living in rural areas. There are 7.1 million people living in poverty and 80 percent of those live in rural areas. The inequality is not limited to those living in rural areas. Some areas and ethnic groups are affected more than others, particularly in the Northeast, North and Deep South.

Poverty and inequality create a challenge for a country with a faltering GDP. While the World Bank predicts that growth will increase 3.2 percent in 2017, it has grown by less than 2.5 percent annually between 2014-2016.

A 20-year strategic plan to end poverty in Thailand and help attain developed country status includes reforms to stabilize the economy and provide equal economic opportunities, environmental stability, and effective government bureaucracies. The country has already implemented large-scale public infrastructure projects, renewable energy tariffs, strengthened the renewable energy market, identified opportunities for energy efficiency improvement, diversified fuel sources and created a state enterprise policy committee. On a more economical level, the country has transferred supervisory oversight of specialized financial institutions to the Bank of Thailand, created a National Savings Fund and created a retirement safety net for workers.

Thailand may achieve its desired goals and see an end to poverty in the country if it can sustain growth and implement additional sound reforms.

Mary Barringer

Photo: Flickr