Chapter 3
Nature and Extent of the Problem


In this chapter, an effort to elaborate and investigate the nature and extent of the problem in the subregion is made. In the countries where no quantitative data exists, the general situation will be described. If availability of systematic data is compared among the 6 countries, it is obvious that an estimate of the number of children trafficked in Thailand is most possible. It is therefore justified that estimates of numbers of foreign child labourers are thoroughly made for Thailand's case only. As Thailand has been a major destination of cross-border migration in this subregion for at least a decade since the late 1980s, the estimates gained in this chapter will reflect the current magnitude of the child trafficking problem in the Mekong Basin Area to a certain extent. If information and available data allow, the estimates are broken down by age, gender, ethnicity or community of origin and occupation. It must be stressed here, however, that all estimates made in this chapter are indicative of the situation or trends, not proven facts.
3.1 Child Labour Exploitation in Mekong Subregion
In a recent report on the situation of child labour in Thailand, exploitative working conditions still remains in three forms: (1) low renumeration and excessive hours of work, (2) hazardous work and unsafe working conditions, and (3) physical and mental abuses (Kanchanachitra 1997). Approximately 15,000 child labourers are employed in abusive conditions (I abour Studies and Planning Division, MLSW). But the actual number of children working in exploitative conditions nust be much higher if a large number of foreign child labourers existing right now in Thailand is included. According to the Thai research team's observations in the selected 16 provinces, a considerable number of enterprises and employers in small-scale factories, service sector and informal sector have now shifted to hire migrant children from neigbouring countries. This is easily seen in some sectors, such as fishery and related industries, small factories, and service businesses.
In Cambodia and Vietnam, one prominent social problem is the exploitation of child labour. Many Cambodian children who were currently work at the time of the Socio-economic Survey in 1996, started to work for exchange of money since they were very small from aged 5 to 9 (Sophea and Thijs 1997). No macro level data is available to estimate the number of child labourers in Vietnam. The extent of the problem, however, might be indirectly measured by the number of 1,300,000 illiterate children which accounted for 10 per cent of children aged 6-14, according to statistics of the Departments of Education and Training. A large proportion of these illiterate children has become street children which was estimated to be around 50,000 in 1997 (UNICEF 1997). Similarly, presence of street children in Cambodia is very common in many provinces' such as, Phnom Penh, Battambang, and Poipet. In Myanmar, there are visibly street children in Yangoon. Approximately more than 100 children, many of whom were apparently under 10 years of age, were present around the central market areas at communities the Thai research team made visits to. Some children had to work and contribute to their family income. Some of them lived on their own and took the markets as their shelters. A UNICEF's report pointed out that some homeless girls around 13-14 years of age have become child prostitutes (UNICEF 1995).
Generally, the street kids are largely engaged in destructive, exploitative and abusive working conditions. Life on the street is very risky, polluted, and easy to be suffering from sexually abuse, violence and drug addicts. They are the ones most likely to be trafficked across border. For instance, many street children in Cambodia were found to be trafficked to Thailand by begging gangs. Furthermore, some were likely to be trafficked for criminal purposes by organised crime networks in Thailand (Derks 1997: 24-28).
In Yunnan, the one-child family policy announced in the late 1970s made most people unable to have more than one child. The economic development eventually generated an increasing demand for labour, and because child labour required no payment, the trafficking in boys at this time was a very prominent feature among the various forms of migration. The trafficked children were often put to work hard under slavery-like conditions. A few were forced to becoming beggars. Another impact resulted from the one child family policy is that many rural areas throughout China currently have a smaller number of girls than boys. This has led to a large number of young women in remote areas were sold or tricked into marriage. Abducting girls into forced marriage have later become a problem of trafficked women from Myanmar and Vietnam to China. The latter phenomena will be discussed in the following section.
3.2 Child Labour Exploitation: Cross-Border Situations
Although the study divides cross-border trafficking into three extreme forms of child labour, four main child trafficking patterns operating throughout the subregion are found. The nature of each type is different and varies from country to country. The crossbord-r of migrant child labour exploitation can be concisely summarised in four modes as follows:
(a) Trafficking into prostitution: Findings from this study suggests that all countries have experienced an increasing number of girls abducted into the sex trade, except for Thailand's case. Moreover, a greater number of girls are willing to join the sex work after they are trafficked by softly and smoothly being deceived into selling sex business. The most serious is in Cambodia as the age of trafficked girls under 13 is not uncommon. More details of the nature and extent of children trafficking into prostitution are discussed in the next sub-section.
(b) Traffic for other sexual purpose: This pattern includes procurement of girls into false marriage and into pornography. Little is known about trafficking of girls and boys into pornography business in this subregion. The most common pattern of child trafficking for sexual purpose in this subregion appears to be the abduction of poor rural girls to be a wife in rural family in the neighbouring country. This is a typical pattern for the case of communities in Vietnam and Myanmar sharing their borders with China. Both the Vietnam and Yunnan country studies confirm that most trafficked girls of this form lived under coercive situations. were mostly restrained and forced to do all household chores as unpaid servants as well as to help in family farmwork or business.
(c) Trafficking into begging and soliciting business: This pattern is the newest as compared to trafficking for other purposes. The prominent route in the subregion is trafficking of Cambodian kids into begging and soliciting business in Thailand. In the lesser extent there are also a number of Indian Muslim Burman trafficked by begging gangs in Bangkok. However, since late 1997, a number of beggars from Myanmar, overwhelmingly children, were found begging in local markets in Dehong of western Yunnan province, both in the rural areas and urban centres. They are found in small groups, most of whom are found being accompanied by the adults in the distance, appearing as if their businesses are organized into gangs. Although there is no report about Laotian beggars in Thailand, an official report of the Laos Government indicated that there were cases of whole families from a very poor area who left their home to beg in the cities (Lao PDR 1997). It is very likely that they may be procured across the border to beg in cities in Thailand one day.
(d) Trafficking into other extreme forms of child labour: In this study, other types of work that child migrants are found to be trafficked include: domestic work, construction work, small factories or business, such as garment factory, condenser factory, steel factory, salted fish factory, load carrying businesses, ceramic factor,, and restaurant. At present, thousands of small factories and business in Thailand have hired child migrant workers from Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. It is also common to see children from Myanmar working in restaurants, bars and individually-owned shops in a tourist bordering area of Yunnan.
(1) Extent of Children Trafficking into Prostitution in the Mekong Subregion
Trafficking of girls into prostitution is a comparatively new phenomena in some countries in the subregion. Evidence suggests that before 1970, this practice did not exist in Yunnan, Laos, Cambodia an`] Myanmar. Until now in Myanmar and Laos, little is known about commercial sex sector and a number of sex workers. Only indirect sources of data can be used to indicate a number of prostitutes in some areas in the No countries. For example, according to an interview with staff of an international NGO in Yangon, it is estimated that, the number of sex workers and sex establishments in Tachilek, a Myanmar-Thailand border province, is 200 persons and 30 places. The World Health Organization estimated that in 1994, 400,000 people were HIV infected in Myanmar, hence it is believed that numbers of domestic prostitutes and intravenous drug users have increased substantially in Myanmar (NCGUB 1996). In Laos, unpublished data from the National AIDS Committee of Laos reflected a number of about 2,000 bar workers in Vientiane.
Previously, the Governments of Myanmar and Laos seemed to deny that women and children trafficking was a problem of their countries. The authorities in Myanmar also renounce the realities of a trafficking problem across borders in Myanmar as implied by an official acknowledgment of only 243 children and women trafficking from Myanmar to other countries,3 among whom 95 were officially repatriated by the Thai authorities in 1993 (Union of Myanmar 1997). In the very recent regional workshop on transnational migration in ASEAN countries in May 1998, Myanmar is considered a receiving country in the region according to the statements made by the Burmese delegates (IPSR 1998). The presence of several hundred thousands of migrants from Myanmar in Thailand with a large number currently engaging in prostitution, is also denied in the meeting. This is probably due to the fact that a majority of trafficked children and women from Myanmar into sex trade in Thailand were ethnic minorities, and about 30 per cent were ethnic Burmans (Archvanitkul and Koetsawang 1997). This is unlike the case of Lao PDR that a problem of cross-border trafficking is officially acknowledged, especially with regard to an increasing number of young girls under 15 years of age being lured into prostitution in Thailand (Lao PDR 1997).
In Yunnan Province, trafficking children into prostitution first began in the early 1980s. At the beginning, the trafficking took place mostly in the remote mountainous areas where the local people lived under utter poverty status. Because of the great need for women in the interior parts, which resulted from the shortage of young women according to the one-child family policy, young women and girls were tricked into marriage. Endless complaints from families losing their wives and children were reported to the Women'sWomen's Federations. After being trafficked, not all of them got married with those from the receiving regions as they agreed to be, as some were forced into prostitution simply because there was no other alternative. From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, the trafficking in women and children surged to its peak.
A follow-up study on the case of Yunnan's women repatriated from Thailand suggested that around 1,500 women from Yunnan were trafficked into sex business in Thailand, but an officer in Yunnan gave a number of 3,000 women missing from Yunnan in 1991 alone (Mahathanobon 1996). The Yunnan country study stresses that trafficking seems lo be disappearing in the recent years. Less complaints are currently being filed to the Public Security Departments and the Women's Federations at various governmental levels, and not even heard of in those areas which used to suffer a lot from the trafficking, people talk more about voluntary migration, instead of being forced.
Different sources of data showed different proportions and numbers of child prostitutes in Vietnam and Cambodia. According to General Statistical Office of Vietnam, there were 200,000 prostitutes in the country with 10.5 per cent child prostitutes. The statistical Office in Ho Chi Minh City pointed out an increasing trend of child prostitutes from 5.2 per cent in 1990 to 20.8 per cent in 1995. Another source, however, showed that the proportion risen up from 10 per cent in 1990 to 15 per cent in 1997, and the number of child victims was approximately 20,000 (UNICEF 1997). In Cambodia, a few recent surveys conducted in 1996 revealed differences in the total number of prostitutes throughout the country, ranging from 15,000 to 80,000, with between 15-30 per cent being child prostitutes. During the presence of UNTAC (the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia) in 1992, around 20,000 prostitutes worked in Phnom Penh. The latest estimate puts the number of sex workers in Phnom Penh between 7,000-15,000. It is widely agreed that the age of sex workers in Cambodia has noticeably decreased in the last few years, and sex workers under 13 years old are not uncommon (Kim Sean and Barr 1997).
The majority of cross-border trafficked cases in Vietnam were transported to Cambodia. For instance, in 'Spray Park', one red light area in Phnom Penh, a number of Vietnamese women in each of 50 Brothels varied from 17 to 50. On average, there were around 1,000 Vietnamese prostitutes in this area. Their age ranged from 13 to 22 years old. Some of them were sold, and some were willing to work. In this report, the author estimated that there were about 3,000 Vietnamese prostitutes in Phnom Penh (Huynh Kiem Tien, 1997). But UNICEF (1997) reported the total number of 6,000 Vietnamese prostitutes in Cambodia. A recent survey covering 22 provinces and 64 districts conducted by the Human Right and the Receiving Camplaints Committee indicated a number of 14,725 prostitutes in the survey areas with 15.5 per cent children aged 9-15. Among the 2,291 child prostitutes, 78 per cent were Vietnamese and 22 per cent were Cambodian (Center for the Protection of the Rights of the Child in Cambodia 1997).
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. It is obvious that the decrease of Thai girls trafficked into prostitution is mainly because the supply areas of girls trafficking into prostitution have been expanded across borders to neighbouring countries since the early 1990s (Archavanitkul 1994). 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 from Myanmar entering prostitution in Thailand yearly (Asia Watch 1994; Archavanitkul and Koetsawang 1997a). The second majority is found to be girls from Yunnan. The trafficked girls from Myanmar and Yunnan are brought and sold to the sex establishments almost throughout the country while trafficked girls from Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia are largely lured into brothels or indirect commercial sex business in bordering provinces. A study of Laotian prostitutes in two provinces sharing border with Laos - Nongkai and Mukdaharn provinces- found that most Laotian were forced to work and they largely worked in small brothels. Their ages ranged from 14 to 35 years old with the duration of work varied from 8 months up to 20 years, indicating that trafficking of Laotian women and girls into prostitution in Thailand have long been established (Nantachukra cited in Trakullertsathien, Bangkok Post, 3 May 1997).
In a survey of 'Cambodian and Vietnamese Sex Workers along the ThaiCambodiar' Border' conducted in late 1996 indicated that one district in Trad province which borders with Cambodia, is the main receiving area where trafficked Cambodian and Vietnamese girls were brought into, at least eight sex establishments did not have Thai prostitutes at all. Among 120 foreign prostitutes, 100 were Vietnamese, and the rest were Cambodian. But in one fishery village, the number of Cambodian women was outnumber Vietnamese (GAATW, IOM, and CWDA 1997:9).
3 The statement made by an officer from Immigration and Population Department of Myanmar in the Regional Conference on 'Illegal Labor Movements: The Case of Trafficking in Women and ' Children, Organised by Mekong Regional Law Center, Thailand. November 25-28 1997.
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