Chapter 1


1.1 Socio-economic and Political Context and Transnational Migration. in The Mekong Subregion
With the end of the cold war and economic, cross-border relations among the six riparian countries of the Mekong river - Yunnan Province of the People Republic of China, Myanmar (or Burma), the Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam - have revived. This has led to an arrangement of a new subregional co-operation, 'the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS): initiated by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 1992. There have also been other international initiatives to help enhance economic cooperation in this subregion. These include the ASEAN Mekong Basin Development Co- (ASEAN-MBDC), the Forum for the Comprehensive Development of Indochina (the Forum), the Working Group on Economic Co-operation (MITl) Initiative, Mekong River Commission (MRC), and Quadripartite Economic Co-operation (QEC) (Stenholt 1996:139 cited in Than 1997:55). The core framework of the Mekong Subregion development is merely economic co-operation for expanding subregional trade and investment. However, development of infrastructure or 'hardware' in the Subregion has been given priority as compared to removal of the trade barriers and other 'software ' projects, such as environment and human development.
Geographically, the total area of the Mekong Subregion is more than 2,423,000 square kilometres and the total population is around 240 million. Selected economic and social indicators are shown in Table 1.1. The six countries have both similarities and differences in terms of social, cultural, and economic systems. The six countries have mostly agricultural societies and most of the people practice Buddhism. The per capita income ranges from 200-300 USD except Thailand's pet capita income is about ten times that amount at 2,400 USD. Thailand also receives over ten times the number of tourists than the other countries. But politically, Thailand is a democratic country whereas China, Vietnam, and Lao PDR have been ruled by a single socialist party. Myanmar has been controlled by the military for more than 30 years and Cambodia has recently been in the process of transition from a close political system to a more openness of political structure which began in 1993 (Than 1997). It is reasonable to believe that political reform and stability are key factors for advancement of socio-economic and human capital development in both countries.

Table 1.1: Selected Social and Economic Indicators
of the Mekong Subregion (1995)

Yunnan Myanmar Laos Thailand


Population (million)1 40.5 46.8 5.2 60.6 10.5 77.5
Population Density -- 69 26 118 58 234
(person/Square km)1
Urban population (%) 15.0 26.0 22.0 35.0 14.0 20.0
Population growth (%)1 1.5 1.8 3.1 1.0 2.0 1.9
Total Fertility rate (%)1 -- 3.3 6.7 2 0 5.2 3.2
Labour force participation (%) -- 61.12 56.62 68.3d,3 59.2e,2 73.72
Area  (1000 square km) 394.0 676.6 198.5 513.1 181.0 3317
Cultivated land (%) 7.3 15.8 3.9 41.0 17.4 21.6
Forest land (%) 24.9 49.3 54.2 26.4 75.8 29.6
GNP per capita ($) 573b,2 280 320 2,410 215 250d
GDP growth (%) 9.7 6.0 6.9 6.7 6.0 8.2
Share in GDP (%)
     Agriculture 31.9 45.8 53.6 1 0.4 42.8 32.3
     Industry 52.1 16.0 20.5 43.0 20.0 28.6
     Services 16.0 38.2 25.9 46.6 37.2 39.0
Export ($million) 910c 1,214 348 56,662 342 5,471
Imports ($million) 434c 2,293 641 73,954 1,542 11,586
Money supply (%) 22.0 22.0 23.0 13.6 33 0 22.3
Inflation (%) 6.1 31.54 14.0 5.9 10.0 6.0
Current A/C (%) -- -322


-14,545 -430 -2878
External debt oust. -- 5.6 0.8 78.5 0.6 9.2
Debt-service ratio -- 18.9 6.0 12.5 -- 1.1.1
Exchange rate local 8.3 5.6f 1,OOOf 40.Og 2,646 12,980g
Parallel market rate -- 310f -- -- -- --
Number of tourist arrivals in 19935 400,000 21,335 11,291 5,760,533 7,166 670,000
Literacy rate (%) 75.0 83.0 43.0 94.0 38.0 94 0
People per doctor 700 12,500 4,545 4,762 9,523 2,500
Infant mortality
(per 1,000 live births)
-- 946 92 36 110 42
Life expectancy -- 58 52 69 52 68
Refugees in Thailand7 100,000
Cross-border migration 800,000 to Thailand7
-- not available.
a for 1997 b for whole country of China c for 1994
d for February 1998 e for 1996 f for December 1997
g for April 1998
Sources: If not stated, cited from Than 1997 (Tables 2 and 8 page 46,52).
1. 1997 ESCAP Population Data Sheet.
2. The ILO EASTMAT 1997.
3. National Statistical office (1998).
4. NCGUB 1997.
5. ADB1996a:141-6 cited in Than 1997 (Table 8 page 52)
6. WHO (1997).
7. Archavanitkul! (1998a).
If the economic and labour development among the six countries are considered Thailand has been a fundamentally capitalist country with open economy since the early 1950s while the other five countries are in the transition from socialist to market economies. Economic growth rates in Thailand were sustained over a period of three decades until up to 1995. China has adopted policies of economic reform since the late 1970s and resulted in rapidly economic growth in Yunnan during the 1980s and 1990s. Overall economic growth in Yunnan in 1990-1995 was on an average of 11 per cent per annum While Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia have been in transition from a centrally planned economy to a market oriented system which just started in the latter half of the 1980s. In this regard, the ILO EASTMAT (1997) divided the six countries into three groups: (a) Thailand is the most advanced, open, and influential economy in the Subregion, stimulating trade, investment and labour flows with other five countries. (b) Vietnam and Yunnan Province have a more diversified industrial structure, international and intra-subregional economic links, and overall impact on labour markets within the Subregion. (c) Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar are comparatively less developed in infrastructure and human capital and encountered with more problems of labour surplus, rural poverty and the initial phases of urban and industrial development.
In recent years, a rapid increase of cross-border migration has been an emerging issue in the Subregion. This is a result of widening wage differentials either real or perceived and differences in labour demand and supply among the six countries. Most migrants leave home in search of work and are undocumented. Many hundreds of thousands are in self-exile because of the ethnic strife and civil war in their home countries. Although the extent of illegal migration is difficult to estimate, the rapid increase in the numbers of undocumented migrants can be traced through the diversity of countries in terms of economic growth and demographic structure. As can be seen for the case of Thailand, a high demand for unskilled/semi-skilled labour in rapidly expanding economy with limited, and even declining supplies of domestic labour, created a situation of labour demand in Thailand during the early 1990s (Guest and Punpeuing 1997) and led to an influx of nearly one million undocumented migrant workers from neighbouring countries in 1996 (Archavanitkul 1998a). This makes Thailand standing as a major sending country in the Subregion. In contrast, Myanmar has become the major sending country as a matter of fact that over two million people migrated from Myanmar to China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Thailand since 1981 when SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) took over power.
1.2 Trade in Children and Women
During the last three decades, all Mekong states have experienced similar social problems which have now become common crimes in this region. The prominent crimes are trade in 'bads' (not goods) such as arms, ammunition, endangered species, drugs, and even human beings; that is, trade in children and women. It seems that each country is either a producer of drugs or a transit point for drugs and women trafficking (Than 1997). It is documented that the network of trade in drugs and the network of trafficking in persons, have been closely associated and long established in Asian region (IOM 1995; Feingold 1996). With over a hundred infrastructure' improvement projects supported by multilateral agencies in the Mekong basin area to date, the investment in the projects themselves and the completed infrastructures have indirectly turned to be lucrative underpinning of the trade in 'bads'. addition, with a billion dollars gained gained from tourism policy in every country each year, it has been proven that this policy has had unexpected and devastating consequences on the environment and disadvantaged people, particularly those living in the subregional highlands. Many development policies arc also seen as stimulating factors determining the expansion of the bad trades, particular!, trade in drugs and women. Feingold (1996) used an analogy 'the hell of good intentions to describe this phenomenon.
Along with the massive cross-border migration, a thriving illegal smuggling industry exists in the Mekong Subregion. This industry with its own well-established networks has recruited a large number of children and women into many types of bonded labour. The predominant purpose of trafficking in children is for prostitution, but many are also trafficked as domestic labourers, factory workers, service workers, and sweatshop workers. Several well-defined child trafficking routes have been identified in this subregion - Myanmar to Thailand; internally within Thailand; from Thailand as well as other five countries to China, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, and the United States (ILO 1996). It is very difficult to obtain accurate data on the magnitude of this phenomenon due to the illegal and hidden nature of trafficking. However, it is believed that trade in children and women is on a rising trend in this subregion.
There have been consistent reports of young Cambodian women and children being lured into the sex industry in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, but the main destination countries are Thailand and Vietnam. The trafficking of Lao women and children to bonded labour has been increasing since 1991 (Johnston 1997:4-5). Many hundreds of Vietnamese children and women are trafficked crossing the frontier to China, and Cambodia each year (Nguyen Phong Hoa 1997). Yunnan province of China which has long border with Myanmar and Laos has exported many thousands of people, mostly young Tai women to Thailand. As the greatest number of illegal migrant workers in Thailand is from Myanmar, it is not surprising that the majority of foreign prostitutes in Thailand are also from Myanmar, and some of them are transited to the third country within Asian region (Archavanitkul and Koetsawang 1997). Furthermore, the problem of trafficking in children for sexual purposes has not only been confined to the six riparian countries of Mekong river, but has become an universal problem as stated in the first world congress against commercial sexual exploitation of children in 1996 (ECPAT 1997). Accordingly, more and more attention has now been paid to combat this serious problem at local, national, subregional and global levels. Study after study confirms that the nature and extent of trafficking makes this trade as one of the most serious crimes in modern society of the 20th century.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
This subregional study aims to investigate the phenomenon of trafficking in children and their exploitation in prostitution and other intolerable forms of child labour in the Mekong basin countries. It is one among several programmes of the ILO's continuous efforts toward the elimination of child labour world-wide. In this study, special attention will be paid to the category of 'intolerable or extreme' forms of child labour as the child victims are the ones most likely to end up in forced labour. This is in accordance with the ILO's firm stand that no form of forced labour can be tolerated and that all efforts must be made to bring an end to the practice. ILO Convention No 29 (forced Labour) in 1930 1930 forced forced as all all or service service was exacted from any person under the menace of a penalty and for which the said person has not offered him/herself voluntary. Convention No 29 ratified by 139 ILO member states has enabled the ILO to examine practices of forced labour such as trafficking in children within the meaning of the Convention internationally in order to identify practical plans to eradicate the problem. Specific Objectives of the study therefore cover the following dimensions:
(a) to understand the current nature, magnitude, and trends of trafficking in children and their exploitation, the demand and the supply, the mechanism of recruitment, and conditions under which children work.
(b) to examine the nature of migration of labour as well as the legality of migration: migration of families or of members singly. the decision making process in the family, the origin, the transit points, and the destination.
(c) to overview the ongoing responses of the governments in the Subregion with regard to policies, legal framework and the enforcement practice as well as the role and performances of non-government organizations (NGOs).
(d) to identify a strategy for action and design programmes to prevent trafficking in children and rehabilitate the child victims at the country and subregional levels.
1.4 Structure of the Report
This report consists of 9 chapters. The first chapter deals with a brief description of the situation of development of Mekong Subregion and trafficking in children and discusses about cross-border migration in relation to trade in children. Chapter Two focuses on methodology including, conceptual framework, definitions used in the study, data collection methods. Nature and extent of child labour exploitation in relation to child trafficking across border are discussed in detail in Chapter Three. Chapter Four examines push and pull factors of child trafficking in sending and receiving communities. Chapter Five investigates the recruitment process of trade in migrant children in the subregion in-depth. Exploitation and violation encountered by the trafficked migrant children are analyzed in Chapter Six. Then impacts of child trafficking on children and their communities are examined in Chapter Seven. And response of the problem by the six riparian countries of Mekong river is presented in Chapter Eight. The last chapter, conceptualization of the problem and recommendations regarding how to effectively implement state's policy, law enforcement and programmes as well as how to step forwards to a sincere bilateral and multilateral co-operation among the six riparian countries are presented.
Last updated: 06 June 2000 Arrowback.gif (1004 bytes) arrow.gif (1001 bytes)

Arrownext.gif (999 bytes)




Contact Us

SEAMEO Secretariat, 920 Darakarn Bldg., Sukhumvit Rd., Bangkok 10110, Thailand.
Tel (662) 3910144, 3910256, 3910554  Fax (662) 3812587