Executive Summary


This subregional report provides an overview and synthesis of the child trafficking problem among the six riparian countries of the Mekong river including Yunnan Province of China, Myanmar (or Burma), the Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. There were four research teams involved in this subregional study with one team from each country including Thailand, Vietnam, Yunnan, and Cambodia. To synthesize findings obtained from the four reports produced by the four research teams, the report of the Thai team which emphasized on situations in Thailand, Myanmar and Laos is used to be a main body of the subregional report combined with the case of Vietnam, Yunnan, and Cambodia. Summaries of the Cambodia, Vietnam and Yunnan studies are presented in Appendices E, F and G respectively.
Concepts and Methodology
The study focuses on cross-border trafficking of children into prostitution and other extreme forms of labour, but trafficking within a country that is connected to cross border trafficking was also given attention. To study this problem, not only children were interviewed but those over the age of 18 who were recently trafficked when they were below the age of 18 were also interviewed. The study also obtained information from key informants in sending and receiving communities who are connected with the children's lives and the trafficking problem.
Definitions: The definition of child trafficking is framed to meet the aims of this study. A child labourer refers to any native or foreigners engaged in any types of worked whether in exchange for money or not when they were below 1? years of age, regardless of their age at the time of the interview. The report defined extreme forms of child labour as: the use of children in prostitution, pornography the drug trade, and other forms of forced or compulsory labour, debt bondage, and serfdom, and their employment in any type of work that is dangerous, harmful, or hazardous. A trafficked child in this study refers to a child who was recruited and transported form one place to another place within one national border and/or crossing national borders, legally or illegally with or without a child's consent. In the destination the child was coerced or semi-forced (by deceptive information) to engage in any type of work under exploitative and abusive conditions for remuneration in cash or in kind, usually but not always organized by an intermediary: parents, family member, tea her procurer, or local authority.
Research Methods: The primary data collection methods were in-depth interview and documentary analysis with emphasis placed on obtaining the most updated, valid, and informative data. The major method of data collection was the in-depth interview, either with or without a structured questionnaire. The sampling methods were by nominations by knowledgeable persons or the snowball sampling technique. Interviewees were the trafficked children, parents of child workers, migrant children in various business sectors, government officials, and NGOs locally working on issues of women and children. Data were also collected by assessing secondary data and from co-operation with GOs and NGOs. Altogether, 196 trafficked children and key informants were interviewed.
Nature and Extent of the Problem
Four main trafficking patterns including trafficking into prostitution, other sexual purposes related to child labour, begging and soliciting, and other extreme forms of child labour are found. Trafficking into prostitution is a relatively new phenomenon in some countries and did not exist prior to 1970 in Yunnan, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. Presently, Myanmar officially denies the presence of several hundred thousand migrants in Thailand, probably because most of them are ethnic minorities. In Laos, the problem of cross-border trafficking is officially acknowledged, especially concerning the young girls being lured into prostitution in Thailand. In Vietnam, an estimated 10.5 per cent of the 200,000 prostitutes are children, but proportion of child prostitutes is rising alarmingly to estimates as high as 20.8 per cent in 1995. In Cambodia, the estimated total number of prostitutes ranges from 15,000 to 80,000 with 15-30 per cent being child prostitutes. It is widely agreed that in Cambodia the age of prostitutes has been decreasing in the past few years, and child prostitutes under the age of 13 years are not uncommon. The majority of cross-border trafficked cases in Vietnam are transported to Cambodia. One Cambodian survey indicated that 78 per cent of the 2,291 child prostitutes in the survey areas aged 915 were Vietnamese and 22 per cent were Cambodian.
In Thailand, the numbers of northern Thai young girls arriving at sex establishments is decreasing with a corresponding increase in the number of foreign girls. This phenomenon goes hand in hand with the influx of immigrant labour into Thailand in the last decade. The majority of foreign child prostitutes in Thailand are from Myanmar with an estimated 10,000 women and children horn Myanmar entering prostitution in Thailand yearly. The next largest proportion of foreign prostitutes in Thailand is from Yunnan while trafficked girls from Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia are mostly lured into the sex industry in the bordering provinces. Bone study found that most Laotian prostitutes were forced to work. In all of Thailand is it estimated that there 16,423 foreign prostitutes from the Mekong subregion countries including 30 per cent child prostitutes under the age of 18; and 75 per cent of them began their sex services when they were under the age of 18. In total, it can be concluded that between 1990 and 1997, there were approximately 80,000 women and children from Mekong subregion countries and ethnic groups along the Thai-Myanmar border drawn into the sex industry in Thailand.
Using percentage estimates of various authorities and observations of the research team, it was estimated that the total number of foreign child workers who entered Thailand illegally was 194,180 with 70 per cent being boys and 30 per cent being girls. The number of foreign beggars has also more than doubled in the past three years and, between October 1, 1996 and July 31, 1997, 530 foreign children beggars were arrested and sent to detention centres. About 95 per cent of them were Cambodian and 5 per cent were Burmans with an approximately equal sex distribution. The actual number in the begging business is much higher as children were arrested only in some areas and many were not caught in the areas where arrests were made. Another estimate of the total number of children beggars was 1,060 foreign beggars and 184 Thai beggars with about 25 per cent being girls. These children beggars are ones most vulnerable to various forms of exploitation, especially when they are forced to work in beggar gangs.
The Push and Pull Factors of Child Trafficking
The economic opportunities offered in Thailand's rapidly developing economy and booming tourist industry has been the main factor pulling migrants to Thailand. Thailand's well-known sex industry creates a demand for sex workers, a large proportion of which are trafficked women and children. Of the 283 000 undocumented migrant workers who registered during 1996, 246,000 were from Myanmar,, 11,000 were from Laos and 25,000 were from Cambodia. Regarding trafficked labour or forced labour,, 10,000 young women from neighbouring countries were trafficked into prostitution in 1996. Also, thousands were lured into the beggar business controlled by smuggling gangs or into other forms of forced labour in construction, plantation, and fishery businesses.
In Myanmar, the push factor is equally as great as the conditions are extremely unfavourable for most people who pushes many migrants out of the country. The main factor pushing migrants out of Myanmar is the military regime of he SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) government. Since 1989, grassroots people in Myanmar have faced increasing starvation due to increased types and amounts of taxes and being forced to sell their agricultural products to the government and unfair low prices. Citizens are also detained and forced to work as porters and forced labourers, especially on infrastructure projects. The cost of living has alarmingly increased and the value of the Kyat was unstable and dropping even before economic crisis in Asian currencies. The education system in Myanmar is also unreliable with schools frequently closing down and reopening, a situation which promotes lower levels of education or the search for education in other countries.
There are differences among regions regarding migration and trafficking, particularly for Shan State which was not part of Myanmar at one time. Shan State shares a long border with northern Thailand and is the home of the 'Tad people' and several other minorities. Shan State is considered isolated because of its different culture and language. The region has faced continuous race-related conflicts. After the SLORC took power, the conditions in the region became even worse. The oppression and conflicts created many broken families and caused many people to flee the country and become easy victims for traffickers.
The perception of prostitution also affects push and pull factors which encourage or discourage women to be trafficked into prostitution. For a long time the region has traditionally shared the value that visiting prostitutes and having sex before marriage is unacceptable behaviour. Prostitutes have traditionally been considered as bad and immoral persons. In some areas, however, prostitutes with their nice homes and expensive things have come to be considered as 'role models' for other young women. The families and communities have come to appreciate the economic benefits obtained from prostitution. In some border areas prostitution and trafficking in women is seen as a familiar and accepted practice. Often, the traffickers are women who were formerly trafficked and sometimes children are the ones who navigate the women and children across the frontiers and borders.
The situation in Lao PDR is that, due to its poor economic and educational situation, it sends many migrants including boys and girls to Thailand. These migrants are usually difficult to recognize and locate due to their similarities to Thais in language and appearance. Vietnam generally sends women and children to China on the North and Cambodia on the Southeast while Yunnan and Cambodia both send and receive migrants across their borders to work in the sex industry. Most of the child trafficking in Vietnam and Yunnan now 'voluntary' while in Cambodia there may continue to be a great deal of deception or force involved.
Recruitment Process of Child Trafficking
There are various recruitment processes for children trafficking into the sex trade and other extreme forms of child labour in the subregion. The procurement ranges from outright kidnapping of children to obtaining the children's full consent and understanding of what types of work they. will be engaged in. Among them, debt-bonded labour is in practice with all trafficked victims with no exception. In most of the reported case studies the trafficked victims did not have a full understanding of the costs and subsequent debt of their journey until after they arrived at their destinations. Most expressed shock and worry when they learned of their debt and they felt they must cooperate with their brokers and employers in order to repay their debts. Some also realized that their parents received an advance payment for the promise of the women and children to work, so they also felt obligated to repay that. Some realized that they could never repay the debt by receiving factory or other 'legitimate' wages so they had a strong incentive to work in the sex industry. Even among of those who entered the sex industry experienced a similar cycle of debt so that they could not quit working if they wanted to. Some trafficked victims did manage to pay off their debt after years of hard labour or sex work.
The case studies also discuss many trafficked victims who were deceived about the jobs they would be doing at their destination. When recruited, they were told they would be taken to a highly paid service or factory job, but some were delivered in China to be wives or unpaid servants and others were delivered to brothels to work as prostitutes. Often they were confined and prevented from escaping. At the brothels, some were forcibly raped and forced into prostitution and others were too frightened and disoriented to resist the brokers' and owners' wishes. It was also discussed that often the girls were delivered to brothels and allowed to live there and socialize with the other girls even if they did not wish to become prostitutes. Eventually, through peer pressure and familiarity with the environment, they would voluntarily begin sex work. Sometimes they would face the incentive of receiving a subjectively huge amount of money for selling their virginity and from that point continuing in sex work was not difficult. There were case studies which discussed girls and their mothers actively searching for someone to buy the young girls' virginity.
During recent years, it seems that the push and pull factors are sufficient to bring most young women and children into the sex industry without much force or deception. There are the 'smooth ways' that children and women are deceived into becoming sex workers which appear to be less forceful and deceptive. The four major ways of matching children to employers are discussed: delivery according to an employer's specifications, contacting employers to offer a group of children, taking the children from place to place, and the employers coming to select the children.
Exploitative Working Conditions and Abuses Encountered by Children Migrants
The findings suggest that child labourers in every country in the subregion are subject to being taken advantage of by employers, but migrant children are in a particularly vulnerable position because of their illegal status. They are constantly taken advantage of by agents and employers and all types of police as well and are therefore faced with endless violence.
Children trafficked into prostitutes work in a wide range of conditions from expensive hotel rooms to tiny, dirty rooms in brothels. Call girls, freelance sex workers, and rented wives usually work in better conditions and have fewer customers, but they must travel to appointments and run the risk of being mugged, physically harmed, or cheated. A girls may sell sex 'for the first time' occasionally and get from 350-500 USD on 2-3 occasions. Many rich Asian foreigners may rent a wife for only a short time or they may treat them well for a year or longer. The conditions in the traditional brothels are generally not as good. The rooms are generally small and dark without ventilation and in Cambodia they are generally dirty and undecorated. The girls usually work about 8 hours per day and receive a meal before and after work. Customers sometimes spend the night with them. The temporary rate is 1-8 USD or 6-15 USD per night. The girls usually receive 50 per cent minus utilities and police fee. The approximate income per person is 100-200 USD per month for medium range brothels and the girls service 3-4, 6-8, or sometimes 1 C customers per day. The conditions vary but are somewhat better for women and children working in indirect sex establishments such as restaurants, karaoke clubs, bars, cafes, traditional massage places.
Although their numbers are comparatively fewer, the trafficked children who finally work for begging gangs can become extremely exploited and abused because they are often forced to work for long hours and then have most of their income taken by the gang leaders. They are sometimes beaten if they do not make enough money and they risk a severe beating if they try to leave the gangs. They frequently fight with other children and usually develop a personality that makes it very difficult for them to exist in normal society.
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. Moreover, the trafficked children are disempowered in many ways. They are transported and sold or deceived as bonded labour, treated like property, and may work under slavery-like conditions. Whenever they feel depressed, or suffering, or face difficulties, or are tortured, commonly they have no one they can turn to as they live in an isolated milieu.
In general, children who were trafficked into prostitution and other forms of labour face a number of physical, mental, psychological, and developmental problems. Children may have given up any available opportunities for education because they were trafficked. They may have lost the chance to develop mentally and socially as other children do. They also face a wide range of health risks including physical beatings, malnutrition, lack of health care, exposure to hazardous substances, exposure to accidents, exposure to STDs and HIV/AIDS, risks associated with unwanted pregnancy and abortion, and a wide range of other problems associated with working in sweatshop-like environments often with poor lighting, poor working postures, and performing monotonous tasks for very long hours with little rest. Some children develop a fear against strangers and noisy places. Some girls hate men due to their experience of being raped and forced into prostitution. prostitution has been in the Mekong subregion, lack of self esteem, deep-rooted anger and frustration, and a feeling of injustice have consequently been haunting characteristics of child prostitutes and former sex workers. Many of them prefer to conceal their past, suppress their psychological disturbance, and possibly withdrawal and isolate themselves from society. They usually develop a way to cope with low self-esteem. Some tell lies about their career and develop a deep distrust in people, especially in men.
Child beggars were found to be very aggressive, probably a necessary survival skill to protect themselves. As a result they were treated with no respect, were not welcomed, and were considered socio paths. Because of the behaviours, the children were often placed into worse environments and not given a chance to be accepted in society.
Some of the affects of trafficking on communities are that the communities may lose valuable members who eventually bring many undesirable ideas and values back to their home communities. Parents or husbands may worry endlessly about their missing children or wives. Some children may be raised without their missing mothers. When the trafficked victims return, they may view their home communities as dirty and boring compared to the foreign cities. They may bring HIV/AIDS with them and the values which allow it to be spread. Some of the more successful former trafficked victims may have enough money for nice homes, cars, or other nice material things and some may start small businesses in their home communities.
Response to the Problem: Policies, Legislation, and Programs
A number of problems and difficulties in assisting trafficked children including: language barriers and communications problems, lack of immigration laws to support migrant children in trouble, need for collaboration in repatriation of returnees, need for community preparation to welcome and support returnees, lack of reasonable procedures in dealing with begging and soliciting children, need for right attitudes in working to combat trafficking in children and need for respect for the victims, and an understanding of the uncertain national identity of the migrants from Myanmar.
The efforts to solve problems related to trafficking of children in the Mekong subregion vary among countries. Although most countries have ratified many conventions in relation to child labour, especially the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, the directions to comply with the conditions are significantly different and getting all countries to push in the same direction is not easy. There is progress as most countries are beginning to cooperate on some issues dealing with the trafficking, of women and children. The many laws and strategies that each country has in place to help prevent the problem are seldom enforced. It seems that laws, on their own, are an impractical way to stop trafficking.
Conceptualized Remarks and Recommendations
There are different degrees of being trafficked. The most abusive trafficking method is to force victims out of their normal lives or kidnap them and force them into the workforce. The least abusive method is that the people are mostly former child trafficked victims, but no longer regarded as victims or as children. A trafficked victim usually starts being trafficked at young age and moves to points further right on the line of the trafficking continuum as their trafficking experiences are accumulated. The movement is usually from the most abusive form of trafficking to the least abusive form. The fact found identical for any trafficked victim at any point of their life along the continuum line is that, every trafficked victim carries loads of debt which they owe to the trafficking agents.
Important factors which expose children to being easily trafficked and victimized are the children's legal status and education. The populations most trafficked are evidently disadvantaged groups of people such as marginalized people and people who have little or no access to education. The marginalized populations include stateless people who hold none or limited legal status such as hill tribe people, ethnic minorities from Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Yunnan and low-income people including their children from Cambodia.
Three root causes of Trafficking are discussed.
(1) Gender Sensitivity: The gender insensitivity leads girls and women to being vulnerable subjects Or trafficking. Although vary in degrees, most countries in the Maekong subregion share the male dominated culture which usually express their beliefs by providing different treatment for boys and girls. Boys and girls are given unequal education opportunities, and given, different sets of sex education and sex norms by parents and schools. Equal schooling opportunity between boys and girls are therefore needed in order to provide all children with equal opportunities in their lives. It will lead boys and girls to equal employment placements, relatively equal social status and respect from a society.
(2) Cultural Factors: An attitude in which children have to pay gratitude to their parents is a common practice among countries in the Maekong Subregion. Girl children in particular, are expected to support their family from a very young age. Especially if a girl is an older sister, she is expected to even generate income to support family as well as sending brothers to school. Being raised to be obedient, girls are usually cornered into protecting and supporting their families, come what may. Many girls as young as 12 or 13 years old have been reported to enter the sex industry to generate income for their family. New perspectives where both boys and girls pay gratitude to their parents should be created and initiated.
(3) Materialism has influenced the lives of people in the Maekong subregion. The general populations in the sub-region have been affected by the rapid economic growth in Asia, and their attitude has been changed towards materialism. Private sectors have put tremendous effort in advertising and marketing their products. Most communities in tile Maekong Subregion favour easy money and convenient life, become less self-sustained, and depend rather heavily on external factors. Among the disadvantaged groups people, they struggle to' keep up with such rapid change. As girls are not equipped with education but are obliged to support families, girls have become easier subjects of trafficking.
The two-year plans of action: Two important actions are recommended.
(1) Prevention of Child Trafficking: In order to design practical and effective policy, and intervention programs in each country, all issues related to the trafficking in children have to be identified and studied. Overlapping issues among countries should be considered and co-studied among the countries involved. Programmes actions at local, national and international levels have to be collaboratively planned among all parties involved at various levels:
Develop mechanisms at community level, to build and strengthen the capacity of GOs and NGOs, and concerned citizens to detect and investigate the trafficking which occurs in their respective areas, and to prevent and eliminate it. Develop national plans of action to recognize issues related to trafficking in children, including; Action plan to develop mechanism to cooperate national cross-sectoral intervention strategies and programs among policy makers, law enforcement officers, community leaders, activists, parents, teachers, and concerned citizens. Action plan to pay intensive attention to sectors most directly in contact with trafficking agents such as border patrol police, immigration officers, law enforcement officers, and business owners, identify their current problems, strengthen their weaknesses, and provide support to their limitations. Action to raise level of public awareness and publicly campaign against trafficking in children. Need for crating a special day to stimulate energies to fight for children's rights, to support children in difficult situations, and to eliminate trafficking in children. At bilateral, subregional and international levels, collaborative intervention prograrnmes and strategies to prevent the cross-border trafficking in children have to established.
(2) Reintegration of Trafficked Victims: The process and programmes to be implemented have to be children friendly, sensitive, convenient reintegrating atmosphere as follows: Agree among involved countries and commit to collaboratively and realistically work toward the goal to best repatriate and reintegrate trafficked victims. Develop mechanisms to gather representatives from all countries in the sub-region, discuss the cross-border trafficking in children, end realize together what the problems are. Design occupational training and job generating programs for returnees. If a returnee ever needs medical care upon and after being repatriated, they should be provided with the medical care needed with respect of basic human needs. Authorities should be equipped with updated information and knowledge to take care of returnees and help the communities learn how to welcome returnees. NGOs should be brought into the repatriation and reintegration process.
The five-year Plan of Action: Four plans of action are recommended.
(1) Establish multi-disciplinary community-based organizations in areas most exposed to child trafficking and in a network format having branch offices in different local communities to watch and react to child trafficking incidence.
(2) Learn and practice about child trafficking and be sensitively exposed to issues related to child trafficking among the governments in the subregion.
(3) Encourage movement to solve political unrest by supporting democracy and sloping Aid, international relations, and foreign investment from other countries.
(4) Illegal migration should be systematically organized so illegal migrants are organized, registered, and taken care of. The plan should include activities such as building work capacity for authorities to deal with child trafficking issues, and advocating for awareness of child trafficking problems among general public and among the migrants themselves.
Last updated: 06 June 2000 Arrowback.gif (1004 bytes) arrow.gif (1001 bytes)

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