Chapter 7
Impact of Child Trafficking on
the Children and their Communities

 

Trafficking of migrant children has unquestionably affected individual children and their communities in various immediate and long term ways. It sometimes endangers the children’s lives. The obvious impacts of child trafficking often mentioned is on deteriorating their education, physical and mental development. Moreover, the trafficked migrant children are disempowered in many ways. They are in the foreign country with foreign customs and foreign language. They are transported and sold or deceived as bonded labour, treated like property, and work under the slavery-like conditions as discussed in the previous chapters. Whenever they feel depressed, or suffering, or face difficulties, or are tortured, commonly they have no one they can turn to as they tend to live in isolated milieu. Even if they have a chance to seek help, they often do not know where to go or what to do or whom to ask because they are illegal migrants and are afraid of police. In some circumstances, they may encounter racism from the police, authorities, and general people among whom may be their own employers.
7.1 Impact on the Education of the Child
It is found in this study that most trafficked children were children from families with difficult economic situations and had little opportunity for schooling or education. It is very common that a majority of them quit schooling to work for their family’s survival. In the case of Cambodia, most children were from families in which the fathers deceased during the Cambodian civil war. Before leaving the community of origin, migrant children trafficked in all extreme forms of child labour in this subregion are largely have only primary education or less. Many have never been to school. When they arrived in the destination country, their education’s opportunity would reduce to none or nearly no chance to be schooling again. Very few may have a chance to go to an informal school or a vocational school run by local NGOs working with illegal migrant population.
The work environment at sex establishments is mostly that which restricts the development of one’s mind. Girls trafficked into prostitution are very unlikely to be provided with enough time and encouraging atmosphere to go to school, to study, or to develop other skills necessary for career change. Some girls managed to practice their reading skill, but most of them did not. As a result, their future life and career are lined with less opportunities compared to those who have access to education.
Cambodian beggar children detained at Bangkok's Immigration Office expressed that they dreamed of good jobs and better lives. It is unfortunate to witness that the children truly lacked even chances to the first step which would take them to attaining their dreams -- an education. They started working in unskilled labour at very young ages, their physical and mental development were constrained due to such hard physical work, and they appeared to experience difficulty in adapting themselves to rules, regulations and discipline of the ‘educated’ system. The only thing they learned as a life skill was the way to survive, and that it was not their dreams.
Migrant children who came with their families usually traveled from one place to another in search for work with their parents. Consequently, the children lack education and vocational training, seldomly have access to any kind of survival information, decent health care, skilled jobs, and finally become victims of trafficking. Many of them were trafficked into some types of workforce at very young ages. Most small migrant kids living with their parents never go to school as their family status is illegal. They are not eligible to have access to any public services in the destination country. The new born migrant babies in the destination country therefore unlikely to be educated in any formal school. For the case of illegal migrant families with small migrant children, if the parents’ kids remain in the destination country for long time, they will lose all contacts with their mother’s homeland and become more rooted with culture and language of the foreign land. When grown up, these migrants may face a problem of people who belong to nowhere and feel alienated in everywhere they live.
7.2 Impact on Physical and Mental Development
(1) Child Prostitutes
Children in the sex industry generally have to service their customers on an average of 3 - 7 customers per day. Some girls on high demand have to sometimes service even more 10 customers per day. Sex practices engaged in were likely unprotected sex. Studies show that the higher the number of unprotected sexual intercourse acts, the more risk of HIV infection and reproductive health morbidity. Trafficked victims are no exception.
There were immeasurable consequences in prostitute girls. The vivid one is collapse of their physical and mental health from STD and HIV infections. The HIV risk among prostitutes in Cambodia was high. According to the Ministry of Health report, in 1996 in Cambodia, 40 per cent of 50,000 prostitutes were HIV infected. It was the highest rate in the South East Asia.

(Vietnamese in Cambodia: Tuoi tre Chunhat, 29th, June, 1997).

Trafficked victims usually reported abnormal bleeding during sexual intercourse, mal-practice of contraceptive methods, and no access to health information and care. One girl said she used contraceptive injection since she was 14 years old when she had her first menstruation. Although further research to understand potential incomplete development of breasts, uterus, and other reproductive health organs as a result of mal-practice of contraceptives is needed, the assumption can be hypothetically predicted to be true.
Besides being pressured in violent work conditions and punishment, due to their illegal status, the children also developed fear against strangers and authorities. Some children get phobia of noisy places. Some cannot be among crowds of people. Some girls hate men due to their experience of being raped and forced into prostitution. Many children were trafficked as a result of civil wars in some Mekong basin countries. For example, after a sere of wars against the Myanmar Military Government, Karen families broke down, male family members deceased as a result of the war, and women and children had to flee their homeland, and finally became easily victimized by trafficking networks.
Prostitution has always been a social stigma in the Mekong subregion. Lack of self-esteem, deep-rooted anger and frustration, feeling injustice have consequently been haunting characteristics of child prostitutes and former sex workers. Victims of the sex trade are often not aware of the psychological disturbance and unconsciously suppress such disturbances. Many of them prefer to conceal their past, avoid talking about it, and possibly withdraw or isolate themselves from society. Some trafficked victims continue to be emotionally disturbed by trafficking agents who repeatedly persuade them into the same abusive conditions. The agents are mostly successful, especially under circumstances where girls and women have to support their families.
Some girls reported the desire to get married, flee the cycle, and/or stop assuming the responsibility to generate income for their families. After marriage, the young women frequently faced social stigma from their in-laws, and were repeatedly disturbed by questions regarding their sexual intercourse with their former customers. The rushed marriages often ended in a short time.
Mental impacts on children in prostitution usually present in emotional scars in their lives. Trafficked victims in the sex trade realize how they are viewed in the society. They usually develop ways to cope with such low self-esteem. Some of them became either aggressive or too fragile, very pessimistic, and addicted to drugs and gambling. Some tell lies about their career and develop deep distrust in people, especially in men. The following testimony about long term impact on the former victims of child trafficking into sex trade given by her close friend portrays how deeply, physically and mentally painful one has to face as being a prostitute.

Opinion on Peaw's case given by
her close friend for more than 3 years.
Peaw is half-Tai from Keng Tung, Shan State of Myanmar.
At her 17, she was kidnapped and then forced into prostitution.
She is now aged 21.

Peaw is not like Ann (me). She was sold to a brothel, later was helped escape by one of the customers. She was beaten to work without payment at first. Then she had got some. She worked there for almost 3 years before she went home only to find out that her mother had passed away or something...She then had no one left to care of. What should she do? Everybody knew she was a prostitute. Her rice field belonged to her no more.
She then decided to return to her old brothel and then moved here where we met. Peaw has no more responsibilities for anyone. When she earns some money, she will disappear from work for some time and come back later. She sometimes goes traveling...to the sea alone. She has been in many places including even Phuket. She will be back when all the money is gone. Her room is different from others'. She decorates it with many pictures, of the sea and the mountains. She said they recalled her of her homeland. There is not many migrant children here. 'Mom' will tell her to flee away whenever the police come and order her to tell others that they have some fights.
One day she had a boyfriend. He asked her to marry him. 'Mom' treated the new couple a feast. She went to live with him. We all thought that was good for her but then one day she came back saying she was pregnant and has just come from having an abortion. We all didn't understand asking what's wrong with getting pregnant? She said her child would have no identity card. She was afraid of being left alone. I also thought that she was too pensive. We found out later that she discovered her positive-HIV result when she had her blood tested for prenatal care. She then decided to have an abortion and lied to her husband that she had a miscarriage and left him. Her husband came asking her to go back with him but she refused to do so. Actually, doctor came to perform blood testing very often but I have no idea why he didn't tell her the positive result. Now she has been away again since the doctor came last time. What a pity! For me, in my most suffering time, I still have my home to turn to.

(Interviewed many times, the latest was on January 12, 1997)

(2) Child Beggars
Beggar children were found to be aggressive. This could be the result of being forced by their superiors to beg for money and being beaten when daily quotas were not met. Such an environment led the children to learn aggressive survival skills to protect themselves. As a result, the children were treated with no respect, were not welcomed, and were considered sociopaths. Because of the behaviors, the children were often placed into worse environments and not given a chance to be accepted in a society. The beggar children are also easily to be arrested as they have to beg money or solicitate things on the street or in the public areas. Many of them are experienced of being detained many times. Detention for a long period or many times also disempowers the children.
(3) Migrant Children in the Extreme Forms of Child Labour
Since countries in the Mekong basin restrict job recruitment of children under the ages between 13-18 years old depending on each country, and because trafficking in children is unlawful, businesses which use child labour, especially trafficked child labour, have to perform their businesses underground and uninspected by authorities. These businesses usually offer no welfare facilities to the migrant children. They are found to be subjects of verbal, physical and mental abuses instead. Furthermore, the work conditions are usually notorious for the children’s dire health and safety hazards which have certainly affected their physical and mental development as discussed in Chapter 6. The conditions which have gradually contributed harmful effects on the children’s health include the work which is generally monotonous and repetitive in nature, the work in stifling heat, in restricted space and bad body positions, in noisy and badly ventilated places, in damp and unhygienic surroundings, and in an atmosphere contaminated with dust or gases or dangerous chemicals.
Frequently, it is the long term effects from continuously working beyond their strength and having improper food that damages their physical development. Children at work are usually not treated with respect, are punished, abused, and humiliated. A 13 year-old Burmese girl was reported being rescued from a factory (reported by the Centre for the Protection of Children's Right - CPCR). The girl revealed a story of her employer pouring boiling water on her which left her with badly scalded all over her shoulder and back. Although she has now recovered from physical pain, the scars remain and they will distress her self-esteem for the rest of her life.
7.3 Changes in the Values and Beliefs in Community of Origin
The impacts of trafficking in children on the communities of origin are numerous. The immediate impact is that the trafficking often creates a shortage of labor so that the production work (mainly agriculture) of the older adults in the communities becomes a burden. It is foreseeable that child trafficking may prospectively lead in some sending communities to a slack of working population and human resource. There have also been establishments of sex businesses in places historically not believed to be in the business. Women, who were originally trafficked but had managed to succeed economically, had been ‘models’ upon their return to the communities and influenced their younger generations to follow their path. Both the Vietnam and Yunnan studies stress that these ‘models’ have apparently strong impacts on changes in perceptions, values and beliefs both at individual level and community level.
As an example in Keng Tung of Myanmar, numerous brothels are opened for business. The clients are mostly tourists and native men who had worked and lived in Thailand, and had brought back the Thai male sexual culture upon their return. There had been big total changes in many traditional communities. There had even been a demand for sex services, which never historically happened. This, in return, has put many children at risk of being recruited and trafficked into prostitution. Families of trafficked victims have evidently turned everything they owned into money and spend it in the search for their lost children. Some parents reportedly suffered to death after learning that their daughters had been sold into prostitution. A Mon ethnic woman who used to live in a traditional town in Myanmar reported:
Our men went to work in Thailand and came back with AIDS. They went to the prostitutes. In Myanmar, they hardly go there. Although there are prostitutes in Malamang, but there are not as many as in Thailand. Prostitutes here are quite old while those in Thailand are very young. Their parents probably don’t know what the children are doing. Otherwise they wouldn’t let their children do this. Some of them were tricked to work. Some of them need money. Why are men going to prostitutes in Thailand? At home, it is not like this. Everyone would notice if anyone goes to that place.

(Interviewed on October 16, 1997)

Upon return, whether they be repatriated or simply managed to return by themselves, trafficked children who have grown to become adults do not have an easy time getting adapted to their own home communities. Most of them have been influenced by urbanization and modernization -- faster life pace and materialism, and have been accustomed to them. One girl expressed that her community was so dirty and the people moved so slow, and that streets in a foreign country she had been to were clean and the people behaved nicely. Many former trafficked victims reported very little in common with their local folks, relatives, and old friends. One informant in a village stated that the people in the community could not talk to the returnees much about anything. To the communities, the returnees seem to feel frustrated about everything in the community. This has contributed to the fact that former trafficked children have voluntarily returned to the workforce in the foreign countries all over again. The repatriated returnees in Yunnan, however, usually felt greater social stigma due to their being easily spotted by the locals. It would be, for some undetermined psychological reason, difficult for them to find a man to marry. It is therefore quite easy for the women to leave their local communities and go into workforce in another country again.
Many young trafficked girls could financially support their families more than they ever could before. They built modern houses, bought automobiles, and furnished their houses with modern facilities. They were often dressed up in fashionable clothes and wearing rings and necklaces. Some of them even started small business such as grocery stores and beauty salons, and have created jobs opportunities in their home communities. These ‘successful’ returnees were hardly re-engaged into traditional farming activities although some ‘less’ successful returnees got married, stayed with their husbands’, and re-engaged into farming as before. Repatriation of trafficked victims and former victims obviously has changed their communities of origin in many ways. Materialism is one of the changes which the returnees have modeled their communities into. Furthermore, the current outflow of married women (either former victims of trafficking or others) has affected their children. Because they had to leave their children to be raised by husbands or relatives, the children were often neglected and became at higher risk of trafficking. The children could also be under great psychological stress and physical hardships too.
7.4 Impact on AIDS Epidemic
Migrant girls in sex business generally lack access to health information and health services. They are at more risk of STD and HIV infections, and have in fact increased the STD and HIV prevalence upon their return to the communities of origin. The communities themselves are also not yet equipped with either knowledge or strategies to combat the bio-medical and social problems related to HIV/AIDS. The trafficked victims living with HIV or with AIDS are therefore left abandoned with no knowledge and information with which to take care of themselves and to prevent others who have come to sexual contact with them. In most cases, repatriated trafficked victims with HIV are blamed and not provided decent support, especially emotional support.
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