Chapter 9
Conceptual Remarks and Policy Recommendations

 

This study has tried to examine and analyze current situations of child trafficking in the Mekong Subregion. The findings indicate in general that the phenomenon of child trafficking is complicated and encompasses numerous factors both in sending and receiving communities. This chapter will summarize an overview of the child trafficking situation and discuss the study’s conceptual findings. Recommendations for further development of programmes and strategies to prevent child trafficking and to reintegrate trafficked victims into their home communities will also be explored.
9.1 Overview of the Situation
The study results indicate that cross-frontier child trafficking in the six countries of the Maekong subregion has increasingly been a problem throughout the subregion. The number of victims has increased. Types of business which children are trafficked into have been various and unexpected of. Areas of procurement have expanded and reached small remote communities. Many well-defined trafficking routes have been established. Sending communities are more likely clustered in the bordering areas of the sending countries adjacent to the receiving countries. The routes and the extent of the problem differ by types of business children are trafficked into. The type of child trafficking most commonly found is abduction of girls into prostitution. Others are traffciking of children into begging gangs and other types of manual labour.
Exact number of child trafficked victims is not available. This is mainly because child trafficking involves illegal and clandestine activities and access to information in order to understand its reality and extent is not conveniently available. As a result, no systematic quantitative study is carried out, whether it be a micro and macro study and whether it be conducted in sending or receiving countries. It is also partly because the problem has not been fully recognized and addressed at an official level in many countries in the subregion. For example, although main factor determining the migration of ethnic minorities from Myanmar is clearly rooted to the country’s political unrest and economic hardship, the government of Myanmar still seems reluctant to perceive the problem and recognize that the majority of trafficked children are ethnic minorities whose home communities are in the Myanmar war-zone areas. Vietnam, Yunnan and Laos are in the early stages of studying the child trafficking problem. For Cambodia, a number of studies on child trafficking have been conducted and they indicate that many thousands of Vietnamese child prostitutes in Cambodia.
9.2 Conceptual Findings
(1) The Context of Trafficking
Poverty has been one of the most important factors that drives children out of their homes and into the workforce with promises for money and better lives. Children are naturally vulnerable and often become repeatedly victimized by child trafficking. The following figure reflects the conceptual findings which the author conclusively analyzed from research projects on combating child trafficking in the Maekong basin countries as well as from various studies on transnational migration she has earlier conducted.

Figure 9.1 : A Trafficking Continuum

Figure9.1: A Trafficking Continuum (4866 bytes)

a. Victims forced and/or kidnapped, and trafficked.
b. Victims are given false information, and trafficked into types of business other than promised. (Often found with victims from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.)
c. Victims realize the nature of the work, but not the work conditions. (Common among sex workers.)
d. Victims realize the nature of work and work conditions, but are not aware and/or are able to foresee the difficult situations they may encounter. (Victims are inexperienced and are given partial information.)
e. Labourers (could possibly be formerly trafficked) realize the nature of work and work conditions, but are not given alternative worksites.
f. Labourers (could possibly be formerly trafficked) realize the nature of work, work conditions, and are able to select their worksite.
The Trafficking Continuum shows that 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 (A). The least abusive method is at the opposite end of the line (F) where 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 from point A and moves to points further right on the line as their trafficking experiences are accumulated. The movement is usually from the most abusive form of trafficking to the least abusive form (from left to right or from point A to point F). The movement is also apparently made step by step, for example from point C to point D rather than from point C to E or F.
Although the people at points further right on the line are no longer children nor regarded as victims, they hold experiences from being at least once trafficked as a child. Furthermore, although these people are considered experienced in the trafficking world and have learned to survive in difficult circumstances, they could be trafficked all over again and their skills and experiences may not protect them. The reverse movement from right to left on the line as indicated is apparently made step by step as well. For example, a woman could voluntarily enter sex industry but was consequently left with no choices, and finally trafficked into types of work she did not anticipate (from point F to E, or from point E to D). 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.
According to recent studies, more trafficked victims are engaged in workforce voluntarily. It is often found that trafficked victims from the Maekong basin countries actually realize to some extent that they are brought out of their communities in search for employment in a foreign land. They usually have some idea of what they are brought into. Recently, victims are less likely to be forced or kidnapped. One trafficked victim (as shown in figure 9.1 by the woman symbol), could therefore appear at any point on the line and move left or right on the Trafficking Continuum line.
Studying trafficked victims’ biographies will provide interested people a whole picture and all-sided views of trafficking. A trafficking study that focuses only on trafficked children under the actual definition of children (persons under the age of 18 years old) may fail to completely allow one to understand trafficking and its impacts. For example, a professionally satisfied 25 year-old sex worker could have been forcefully trafficked into prostitution as a child and managed to finally end up as a voluntary sex worker. As discussed earlier, trafficked victims might have been trafficked as a child, grew up, have been repeatedly trafficked but to lesser degrees, and finally voluntarily enter the workforce on their own.
Other 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 and Laos, and low-income people including their children from Cambodia.
(2) The Root Causes of Trafficking
Trafficking in children has developed rapidly from a simple high profit underground human trade to a more complicated and more acceptable network business. Trafficking players have changed from conventional ones such as strangers, non-community-based procurers to recently groups like trafficked victims’ parents, community leaders, and authorities such as police and other law enforcement officers.
It is frequently claimed that lack of cheap labour, and children being obedient, quick learners, not being able to refuse all forms of abuses and violence are the reasons why children are being trafficked. It was also reported that child trafficking is the most profitable business that receives the least attention from generally all governments in the Maekong sub-region, as compared to other ‘underground’ businesses such as drug and weapon smuggling , and logging business.
Has an in-depth analytical questions regarding trafficking in children been asked, the answers to which why child trafficking, how it is well maintained, and how it is progressively developing, would be as follow.
(a) Gender Sensitivity Although vary in degrees, most countries in the Maekong sub-region share the male dominated culture. Thailand is one leading male dominated country in the sub-region. Sex worker patronage is commonly practiced among men in Thailand. It has become common in some areas geographically close to Thailand and in some cultures where their people have exposed to the Thai men culture. It was reported that such cultures have recently included some ethnic and hill tribe groups in Myanmar and Laos, and some populations in Cambodia, Vietnam and China. The male dominated cultures usually express their beliefs by providing different treatment for boys and girls. For example, in most countries in the sub-region, boys and girls are given unequal education opportunities. Especially regarding sex, boys and girls are given different sets of sex education and sex norms by parents and schools.
The gender insensitivity leads girls and women to being vulnerable subjects of trafficking. Schooling opportunity is necessary for adequate physical, emotional, and social development of a child. It is also important for the children’s future job placements and their space in a society. 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.
As previously mentioned, Thailand is the largest receiving country of girl children trafficked into sex business. Some cultures such as in border towns of Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, and in inner cities such as Kengtung in Shan State of Myanmar, and among ethnic groups such as Mon from Myanmar, have taken such male’s sex worker patronage culture and procured girls from their communities for prostitution. The tradition has been widely practiced and well received among men, and some women across the Maekong sub-region. The trafficking in girl children has therefore grown in the recent years and more girls are procured and used for sexual purposes. The gender insensitivity remains while girls are being more complicatedly exploited.
(b) 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. A girl has to learn to take care of younger siblings and perform household chores, and continue to do so in whatever possible ways throughout her life. 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.
Girls are often subjected to being trafficked more than boys, and they are usually trafficked into sex business more than other types of business. Paying gratitude to parents is a social value and culturally practical. It should not be, however, expected of daughters only. New perspectives where both boys and girls pay gratitude to their parents should be created and initiated. Several programs have been developed and implemented in the Maekong Subregion communities to eliminate trafficking in girl children. Some countries in the subregion like Thailand and Vietnam have also amended their regulations and set a heavy penalty against parents who directly and indirectly engage their children into prostitution.
(c) Materialism: It is evident that materialism has influenced the lives of people in the Maekong sub-region. From China and Vietnam, across Lao PDR and Cambodia, and onto Thailand and Myanmar, the general populations in the sub-region are affected by the rapid economic growth in Asia. Private sectors have put tremendous effort in advertising and marketing their products. Products are mass-produced. Advertisement to release the products takes place. Customers are usually persuaded and manipulated to purchase and consume. Signs of success have been newly constructed concrete furnished houses, electric appliances, automobiles, and fashionable clothing. Most communities in the Maekong Subregion favor easy money and convenient life, become less self-sustained, and depend rather heavily on external factors. The attitude among the general populations has been changed towards materialism. The people are nurtured by such attitude throughout most countries in the Maekong Subregion. Especially 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.
Last updated: 07 June 2000 Arrowback.gif (1004 bytes) arrow.gif (1001 bytes)

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