6.3 Illegal Migrant Children
The children in general workforce often receive treatment and work under the same conditions as adults. They receive wages at rates for women or lower. For example, in Thailand, a 13 year-old boy received 2.25 USD per day as his mother received for a daily work at a construction site. A girl as a domestic worker received 20-25 USD per month for a household in border areas and 40 USD for Bangkok. Migrant child labourers in small factories are also found working from morning to 8 pm at a salary of 15 USD per month.
(1) Migrant Children Who Work Together with Other Family Members
Children and their families under this category are usually found in agricultural work such as in sugar cane farm, rice field or rubber plantation. The children’s life style is often similar to what they were used to in their hometown. There are other fields of work such as work with fishery business and construction sites where children work along with other family members. Children younger than 10 years old were found picking up fish from boat for sale while their mother and older siblings sort for bigger and more valuable fish, carrying heavy loads of fish, or keeping a fish stand nearby. Girls around the ages of 13-15 years old were found working with their mothers and older sisters at fishery factories. Children working with their family are in different life condition compared to children who live alone and have to try to make their ends meet on their own. The children living with their family still have family support and only work to help increase family income, not to totally take the responsibility for the whole household.
(2) Migrant Children Who Work Away from their Family on their Own
Sometimes children ages 12-18 years old have to move away from their family to where jobs are available. Besides work in agriculture, factory and construction site, child labour is also needed for domestic work, small child care work, and other service work such as at restaurants and gas stations. Some types of work the children undertake may lead the children to being physically abused, overworked, and sexually harassed, especially when working in a household or at a food store where alcoholic drinks are sold.

Luai, Norda and Norpae’s story:
Karen girls aged 12, 14, 16 years old from a border village in Myanmar.

We did sewing work. They said they would pay 15 USD per month. When we arrived at the shop, there were 23 other people, only 4 adults. We worked from 6-7 am until some days as late as 3 pm. They gave us fried rice for breakfast. For lunch and dinner, they gave us rice and a little bit of food to eat it with, sometimes a small bowl of chili souse. After meals, we continued the work right away with no time to rest. We couldn’t go anywhere or buy any snack for ourselves. It had to be 5 of us for this limited gallons of water for showering. There was one person who could speak Thai. She heard that the owner would take us to work in Bangkok. So she escaped to find someone to help us out.... Then the rest of us were beaten up so badly and they threatened that if we ever think of escaping again, they would beat us to death.

(Interviewed on August 24, 1997)

6.4 Exploitation and Violence the Children Encounter
Migrant children in child labour force face difficulty as illegal immigrants on top of the difficulty with work situations in general. The children have to hide from authorities. Once faced with a problem, they are usually left with no support from family or community.
(1) Endless Debt:
Some agents or employers sell their employees to other employers to get the agent fee back. For example, an agent fee for getting one Laotian girl for a domestic work is 250 USD per person. An employer may want his money back therefore he sells the girl to another employer after she is no longer needed. Many children are subject to this type of human trade without even realizing it. What usually happens as a consequence is the children are again in debt with their new employers and have to start working and not getting paid in order to pay back the new debt all over again.

Fai’s story: A Palong hill tribe girl from Keng Tung,
Shan State, Myanmar.
She migrated to Thailand when she was 7 years old
and enforced into sex work at the age of 15.
She is now 20 years old. Fai works at a sex establishment
in a province in central Thailand.

At the time, I was young and stupid. I went with my friend to do sex work in Chaingmai. I had no idea about broker’s fee whatsoever. After I paid off all of the debt, my employer started paying me regularly. A year had gone by and the business was getting worse and worse. Police came to our place quite often. Finally the brothel owner decided to close the brothel. Four of my friends were sold to Bangkok for 5,000 USD. I myself was taken to Prae. There, my new employer said I was in debt with him for 600 USD. It was 500 USD for what he bought me for and 100 USD for travel costs. I worked there to pay off this debt and got nothing for 2 years. I was not allowed to go out at all. I had to ask somebody else to buy something for me from tips I got from my customers. I didn’t understand why I was sold like that from the first place. After the debt was paid off, police arrested girls at the brothel and I was sent to the border. My employer waited for me at the border and brought me back here. When we arrived at the brothel, he said I owed him another 150 USD for taking me back to the brothel. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I took the risk and fled. My friend introduced me to work here. The owner here is good and not cheating.

(Interviewed on January 20, 1998)

Wage cheating: is also a problem that child migrant labourers largely experience. In the worse incidence, the children may work without pay as a case of 24 girl migrants reported on Bangkok Post Newspaper that all 14 Burman and 10 Khmer girls aged 14-25 who were rescued from a sewing factory in Bangkok, had been working for three to four months (November 5, 1997). Some business owners tell to their children labourers that they have a bank account for each worker and will deposit their salary into each one’s account. The children are told that they could withdraw their money when they are in real need of it. These owners then end up not paying the accumulated salary and usually give no explanations. It is a practice in Cambodia that brothel owners keep all the money the girls get from selling sex and only divide the profits and expenses at the end of each month. If girls want to buy something or want money for the treatment of their diseases, they have to borrow money. These debts would have an increasing accumulative profits while the owners keep and control the whole sum of money that the girls earn daily. The dependence on money created a difficult consequence for the girls that they could not go somewhere outside the brothels.
(2) Overwork:
In many circumstances, children labourers are overworked, undernourished, and not rested as they should be. Most children are forced to work more than 10 hours per day, receive little food and low pay. As documented by the case of girl labourers, 6 Laotian plus 1 Burman (aged 16 and pregnant), and some Thais, were rescued from a small garment factory in Bangkok where they were locked in and forced to work everyday with no day off (Daily News, October 9, 1997). Children with beggar gangs start their work generally from morning to 10-11 pm at night. Girls in sex businesses which open for service at night time usually get little rest because of their work hours at night and their having to spend daytime doing personal necessities such as cleaning and laundry.

Ali and Mahindor’s story: Indian Burmese boys
ages 7 and 10 years old.
Story told by a person giving refuge to the children
after they ran away from a beggar gang.

These 2 children start working from very early in the morning until very late at night at big bus stops. They set up a goal of 8-10 USD per day. If they can not make it, they are beaten up. If they reached the goal, they are still beaten for other reason, less but still beaten to scare other kids away. Everyone living in this house has to go out and beg, except for the owner who stays to count the money. The food they have for the children was bad. They buy cheap and almost bad food from a market and cook for the children. If it wasn’t this bad, the kids would not run away like this. They ran to a Burmese Roti man and asked for help.
Furthermore, some employers persuade children to take drugs so that they would able to work longer hours or to work even if they are not well. Although one can say that dealing drugs is a personal agenda a child can choose to say yes or no to it, and the environment around a child plays an important part in the child’s decision-making, it is reported that some business owners especially ones in the sex business and fishery business actually encourage and sell drugs--amphetamine to their labourers as it keeps the children at work for longer hours. Some Khmer beggars also forced to take amphetamine. An owner of a sex establishment stated that he could make more money from selling amphetamine to the women than receiving his half from a woman’s service rate. A girl reported that she could not take more than 5 customers due to pain she has during intercourse. With amphetamine, she is able to do so.
(3) Hazardous Work:
Some children work in areas in which even adults are at high risk of accident themselves. It is certain that children, especially under the age of 15 years old have higher chances of failing to protect themselves from such risk-taking kinds of work. They may loose a part of their body permanently and employers will take the most responsibility as covering their immediate and primary health care after an accident.

Mo’s story: A 15 year-old Mon boy from Shan State, Myanmar.
Mo was interviewed at a public hospital.

They asked for ‘agent fee’ from me for 300 USD. It took me 5 days from home to here. I was first at a construction site, worked for 5 months but was not paid at all. They said they would give me 3 USD per day. Adults get 3.75 USD. The agent then moved me to this lumber factory. They said they would pay 2.75 per day. There are 4 of us staying in one room. They pay me here. I help them out with errands too. I was just able to pay the agent 100 USD and my thumb was cut off. My employer took me here and never showed up again. The doctor said I could go home now but I don’t know what to do. I don’t have the money to pay for the hospital fees. I don’t even know my way back. I don’t have my thumb anymore. I don’t know how I am going to work now.

(Interviewed on November 9, 1997)

Some children are put to work in toxic environments which badly affect their health. For example, migrant child labourers who work in the production units for the sieving of aluminum, their whole bodies are usually covered with sand and aluminum dust. Their bodies would absorb aluminium every day until to the stage when their bodies are polluted and could not resist to it anymore. They are finally at high risks of getting aluminium related sickness.
(4) Subject to Verbally and Physically Abused
Children are found to be subject to these abuses more than adults under the same circumstances. As can be seen from a case of a 14 year old Laotian girl who was forced to toil in a restaurant from 3.00 a.m. to 11.00 p.m. daily. Her boss punished her by hitting with a pan at her head and mouth, having her body doused with hot water, being pinched, and etc. She was severely injured at last. She was later on rescued by a Thai NGO working on child rights’ issues. She told the NGOs staff that she had thought about killing the employers’ young daughter when she was alone with that kid (Wiroonrapun and Patano 1997:47). Being locked in the workplace or strictly controlled is a common type of physically abused that many child labourers are treated by employers.
One among the girls said that even the visit of a friend in another brothel could cause troubles. Even they dared not have a talk with the neighbouring brothel's girls. If there was a girl who escaped, the accusation would fall on the remaining. This happened regularly and became more and more numerous, though there were not many escaped cases and the consequences were cruel beatings if they were returned. One girl said that the owner told her she was not allowed to go outside because the police may arrest and beat her. She didn’t have any personal paper. If the girls stayed at the brothels, they were protected against trouble with the police.

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

(5) Sexually Harassed, Unwanted Pregnancy and Abortion:
Mostly happen to girls more than boys. Children in sex business face with this violence as a fact. Migrant children in other types of work who are also at risk are girls in domestic work, restaurants, and in small factories, and drug-addicted girls and boys in begging and soliciting business. Some children are sexually harassed when they were as young as 5-6 years old. Some girls who were victims of sexual harassment and abuse ended up getting pregnant and having to have abortion. Abortion service is however not easily accessible for these children, especially when they do not have money. Consequently, they turn to unsafe abortion services which put them at great risk of unsuccessful abortion, severe bleeding and death.

Saengdee’s story: A 16 year-old Shan girl from Tachilek,
Shan State, Myanmar.

They took me into town and said the travel cost was 87.5 USD. The next day a man picked me up. I thought he would take me to a restaurant but he took me to a hotel and raped me. Then ’mama’ gave me 112.5 USD but took back 87.5 USD for the travel cost. I got 25 USD. The next morning I was picked up by an older man, and on, and on for 5 men altogether. I found out that the first man gave 112.5 USD to mama, then 25 USD each for the second, third and forth man. The last man gave to her 17.5 USD. I never saw any of that money except for the first 25 USD. When I got here, mama took 500 USD advance from the owner. The owner bought a new mattress, 3 shirts, and a gold necklace for me without even asking me and I didn’t even want them. He wrote everything down and said I owed him. The shirt was 25 USD each. I have to pay all those back. I don’t want to work anymore..(cry).. I can’t even save for my family back home.

(Interviewed many times, the latest one was on November 20, 1998)

The problem of unwanted pregnancy and abortion is more likely to be a problem of migrant sex worker as they often lack information and access to contraceptive methods. In indirect sex establishments, girls tend to trust that their ‘boy friend’ or regular customer will take the responsibility as a father. It therefore takes longer for them to make a decision regarding abortion. This sometimes leads to the need for more complicated and expensive abortion service. In some cases, girls want to have an abortion but are not able to find a place that offers the service and have no one to turn to ask. They consequently have to continue their pregnancy while working. There was a case of a girl from Myanmar who continued her work until she was 7 months pregnant and went home to give birth because she did not know where to go for an abortion service.
(6) Violence from State Authorities:
Commonly, migrant children start paying their way into the workforce from agents on and all the way to authorities such as police. Part of the agent fee at the beginning of their journey is also to be paid for police fee. Once they start working, part of their monthly income is also taken for monthly police fee. Besides the fees described, children may also be faced with threats to send them back or to physical harm if the children don’t pay some extra money the authorities request occasionally. Sometimes police arrest migrant children doing work in other types of business and send them into sex business themselves. Some girls are sexually abused while waiting at police stations for further legal decisions. Children under such situations are found not able to protect themselves or claim their rights at all.

Non’s story: A Tai-Lue from Tachilek, Shan State.
Non started sex work when she was 16 years old.

I pay police fee every month. It used to be 5 USD per month. Now it’s 10 USD. There are so many groups of police. Why do they have to go after us like dogs and cats? Every time they arrest us, we all have to pay something. Last time immigration police came. Even the cook and a cleaner had to come out forward. They wanted 125 USD per person. Papa had to pay close to 2,500 USD then. He asked us to help him...50 USD per person...deduct it from our account. We agreed. It was better than being jailed and sent to border. If so, I wouldn’t know how to get back.

(Interviewed many times, the latest one was on November 20, 1998)

(7) Violence from Customers:
Customers here refer to men who purchase sex. Most of them are drunk and take everything out on sex labourers. The children must face verbal and physical abuse and must fulfill all sorts of sexual desires a customer may have. Some girls at traditional massage places may be raped when they refuse to offer sex service to a customer. It is also likely that girls who refuse sex because the customer refuses condom use are finally forced to have sex with that customer. In this study, it was found a case of a girl who was severely injured by the customer. She had to be hospitalized for 2 months. Girls who offer sex service right at the sex establishment are often at much less risk of violence since their friends and brothel staff can give a hand when it comes to crisis. Girls who are taken for outside service are at more risk of being smuggled, cheated or gang raped by their customers.
(8) High Risk of STDs and AIDS Infection:
Many sex establishments still have the policy which requires the sex labourers to have sex with all customers even if a customer refuses condom use. This policy along with the women’s little knowledge and awareness of HIV infection, lack of self-esteem and high loyalty for their regular customers, have led them into HIV infection from the very beginning of their sex work. The idea of ‘open virginity’ is also harmful for the girls since customers believe that the girls are free from HIV infection and therefore do not want to use condoms. On the other way around, the girls are put at high risk of infection from these customers. An obstacle in language and communication barriers have been important factors which kept public health authorities away from migrant sex labourers. The sex labourers therefore have little information on infection prevention. As documented in the Yunnan study that women and girls from Yunnan who were sold to be sex labourers in Thailand are often forced to take pills to postpone their menstruation so that they can have more clients. The epidemic of HIV/AIDS also puts them among one of the most high-risk groups, because they usually have barely no choice or techniques to persuade their clients to use condoms when they have sex with them. As a result, many of them returned home with HIV in her blood, even though in Thailand, HIV test as a preventive method has been widely practised but the result is usually kept away from the women. This is interpreted by the women as no news is good news and therefore are not concerned about infection prevention.
In Cambodia, most sex labourers suffer from a combination of many illness, headaches, skin irritations, discharge, sores and warts, syphilis, gonorrhoea and other STDs and HIV/AIDS. Other practices, designed to market girls as virgins and thus make more money to the owner of establishment, exacerbate the health risks the girls face. Some brothel owners insert a mixture into the girl’s vagina which dries it out and makes it feel ‘tight’ during intercourse. This has led to the risk that the vagina lining will tear during having sex (Kin Sean and Barr 1997:9-10). This practice is also a common trick used in the Thai sex trade. Some girls are forced to have an operation designed to reconstruct the hymen and then cause bleeding during intercourse. Both of these more money making tricks, significantly put the women’s at high risk of STDs and HIV/AIDS infection. So it is not surprising that the rate of HIV infection among the sex labourers is generally high, and particularly high among the migrant prostitutes.
6.5 A Slavery-Like Practice Child Migrant Labourers Encounter
Once procured or lured or deceived into the workforce whether begging or sex business or others, usually before the children reach their destinations, most of them have already accumulated a huge ‘debt’ which some of them may never be able to pay off. For most of the time, they have no other alternative but to obey the directions of the agent or, the gangsters, or the employer, or the owner of the brothels. And as they are migrant children, they are often threatened to be transferred to the police, who might then put them in the detention centres and send them back afterwards, which is mostly unexpected to happen to them. So that children have become slaves and have to constantly pay back endless debts their agents or employers claim. Some children are sold along from one agent to another or from one employer to another. Kin Seam and Barr (1997:8-9) stressed that in this situation, children are seen as ‘a piece of property’ or ‘goods’. The property must be therefore productive to recuperate the capital investment. This practice reflects that migrant children are working under a regime of ‘debt bondage’ or ‘bonded labour,’ as defined by international law. They are treated like slaves according to the international recognition on exploitation of child labour.
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