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Thailand’s Trouble with Human Trafficking

Human trafficking has grown into a widespread and horrific issue in Thailand. The country has become a trafficking hub, sending and recruiting people all over the world to work in prostitution, unfair labor situations, forced marriages, sex tourism, and other crimes.

The majority of the human trafficking in Thailand feeds into prostitution. The country has struggled with its treatment of women since it became a country in the 1930s. The country did not grant equal rights to women until 1997 and today is still not enforcing these standards of equal rights consistently. Research conducted by the Ministry of Public Health in Thailand explains that approximately 1.5 million female children report cases of abuse annually. This shocking number does not include the vast number of cases left unreported. Further inquiry into these discoveries by the Ministry of Public Health reveals that females under 15 years old made up nearly one half of all reported rape and abuse cases in Thailand.

Sex trafficking and prostitution have always been a part of Thailand’s history, however, the Vietnam War contributed to an explosion of the issue between 1955 and 1975. With an influx of anxious, homesick, and bored soldiers into the country, spilling over from Vietnam, the demand for prostitution skyrocketed, resulting in the growth of the human trafficking industry which still remains today. The influx in human trafficking during this time, combined with a historical view of women as inferior, has led to the cultural acceptance of prostitution throughout most of Thailand. The World Health Organization estimates that Thailand currently has nearly 2 million sex workers.

Deep poverty and desperation of many Thai citizens have contributed to the human trafficking industry and problems that have derived from it. People who do not hold proper immigration documentation or citizenship are the most vulnerable recruits, as they perceive this path as their only opportunity to make money. Recruiters target many impoverished people, telling them they are being led to a job where they will have an opportunity to make money to send to their family. The hill tribe women in Northern Thailand, who lack citizenship papers, often fall into prostitution, as it is the only job they can perform without needing proof of citizenship.

Victims of human trafficking can be forced into prostitution or the sex trade or other forms of difficult labor, often without any pay or any limitation on the amount of hours they must work. Though exact numbers are currently unknown, trafficked children make up a significant part of the labor force in construction work zones or factory sweatshops. Many of these trafficking victims work in the fishing industry and relayed how it was not uncommon for a boat captain to kill any of the fishermen who fell sick or too weak to work under these harsh conditions.

Some critics have called for the legalization of prostitution in Thailand as a method of curbing the trafficking problem. This could lead to better legal protection for prostitutes and would put many traffickers out of business. Additionally, if the industry were legal the government could tax it, making a profit of it and discouraging people from prostitution, as it would be more expensive to cover the tax. However, Thailand would be taking a step backwards in their push to end trafficking and prostitution. While it may sound economically beneficial to legalize prostitution, one must not forget the basic violation of human rights that prostitution, forced labor, and the slave trade infringes on its victims.

– Allison Meade

Sources: State Department, Human Rights Watch, Human Trafficking
Photo: Sabre