BANGKOK—Highlighting the rising human trafficking problem in Southeast Asia, police in Thailand rescued 13 girls from Laos who were forced into prostitution and arrested four suspects involved in a syndicate smuggling underage girls.
Another victim, also from Laos, was believed to have been tortured to death, police said. The girl’s body was removed from a hospital morgue and cremated in an attempt by the mastermind of the ring to destroy evidence.
“This crime in punishable by death … It is a very serious crime,” Thai police officer Suraseth Hakphan said, commenting on the incident this week.
Most of the girls were working at a karaoke bar in Thailand’s Lop Buri province, police said.
Five women who were believed to have smuggled the victims from Laos and pushed them into prostitution managed to escape the police dragnet.
Police are looking for the five, all from Laos, as well as several others involved in the smuggling racket.
“Authorities in Laos are taking a serious view of this problem as it involves our nationals,” said an official of the embassy of Laos in Bangkok.
One of the rescued girls was freed from another karaoke bar in Prachinburi province, after police pried open the padlock of a crammed room she was living in.
Lao trafficking to Thailand
Human trafficking from Laos is a serious problem.
Most of the girls trafficked from the tiny Southeast Asian state end up in Thailand.
According to an official of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to Laos, some 35 percent of Lao nationals trafficked to Thailand end up in prostitution, a report in the Lao state-run Vientiane Times said last year.
Another 32 percent end up in forced labor, 17 percent work in factories, and 4 percent work on fishing boats, the report said.
About 200,000 to 450,000 people are trafficked annually in the Greater Mekong sub-region, which includes southern China, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, the countries joined by the Mekong River, the official said.
A U.S. State Department global report on human trafficking this year said many Laotians, particularly women, pay broker fees to obtain jobs in Thailand, normally ranging from U.S. $70 to U.S. $200, but are subsequently subjected to conditions of sexual servitude and forced labor once they arrive in the neighboring country.
Lao men are subjected to conditions of forced labor in the Thai fishing and construction industry, while a small number of Lao women and girls reportedly were also trafficked to China to become brides for Chinese men, the report said.
Laos is also increasingly a transit country for Vietnamese, Chinese, and Burmese women who are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in Thailand, according to the report.
Reported by Bounchanh Mouangkham for RFA’s Lao service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.