HONG KONG—Children in East Asia are routinely trafficked internationally and forced into sex work and domestic labor, as well as being made to work in factories in their own countries instead of going to school, according to a U.S. government report.
And while a series of child- and forced-labor scandals have surfaced in China recently, including that of the "brick kiln" children, trafficked minors are also to be found in some of the region's most developed economies.
"The problem with those children working is that those children are not getting an education," Sandra Polaski, deputy undersecretary for international affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB), said in an interview.
"It means when they grow up they are going to be too poor to be able to feed their own families, and they’ll have to send their own children to work," she added.
According to a recent set of reports published by the U.S. Department of Labor, children—especially girls—are trafficked internationally among Malaysia, China, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and Singapore.
Better laws sought
Children, according to ILAB, are also required to work in certain industries in their own countries and are taken away from parents who are too poor to put up much resistance.
Polaski called for better rights for adults in developing countries so that they will be better able to protect their children's futures.
"If the children in those countries have to go to work because their families are too poor to feed them, the solution is to pass better laws," Polaski said.
"[Also] to have better law enforcement and have better rights for the adults, so that they can make at least an adequate living so that they can feed their children," she added.
"If we don’t interfere with this vicious cycle of lowering the possibilities of those children because they have never been educated ... we’ll be facing these same problems 20 years from now, 40 years from now," Polaski said.
She called on governments and the private sector to use ILAB information about which products had been made with child labor to revise their supply chain and purchasing policies.
"We think shining a spotlight on this will put a lot more pressure on them to act," Polaski said.
Boys trafficked for fishing
The ILAB report said that girls were primarily trafficked both internationally and internally for commercial sexual exploitation and forced domestic service, whereas boys were often trafficked internally to work on fishing platforms.
It also said it had received reports of children being trafficked to work in organized begging rings.
Children in Burma have reported being forced to work as porters and roadbuilders by government and ethnic minority troops in the Karen border region conflict.
ILAB said child labor had also been used in rice harvesting, rubber plantations, sugarcane, and teak.
In Cambodia, children were known to work in rubber, brick factories, salt manufacture, and on shrimp farms, while underage Chinese youngsters were employed to make bricks, cotton, electronics, fireworks, textiles, and toys.
"There are still people living in poverty in China, and those people are vulnerable," Polaski said.
"There are unscrupulous businessmen and labor contractors that exploit that vulnerability."
Meanwhile, children in Thailand were found working in the sex trade, rubber plantations, shrimp farms, textiles and sugarcane, ILAB said, noting that many of the children used may have been trafficked from elsewhere in the region, including China, Laos, Burma, and Cambodia.
"Congress felt that in order to address the problem of child labor and forced labor, the public and the global community needed more information about where the child labor and forced labor was occurring, [and in] which countries, which products," Polaski said.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Xi Wang. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.