Women increasingly appear to be taking part in the illicit drug trade in Laos, as drug lords find they make good smugglers because they blend into their surroundings, RFA’s Laos Service has learned.
Exact numbers are difficult to come by, but a local police official tells RFA that Lao authorities have noticed a sharp increase in the number of women arrested for drug offenses.
In central Laos’ Bolikhamsay province alone, police have arrested about 100 women on drug charges, a Lao law enforcement official told RFA on condition of anonymity.
“Women become drug traffickers because they seem to go about their business unobserved,” the official said. “There are women involved in many more drug cases this year, with around 100 women arrested in drug cases. Most of them were retailers.”
The surge in women drug traffickers had gone largely unnoticed until recently as they go about their business in Laos without raising suspicion. Most of those arrested are between 30 years old and 50 years old, and come from ethnic minority communities in Laos, and many are pregnant, the official said.
The women are often forced to become drug mules by their circumstances, the official told RFA.
“It is difficult to help women stay out of the illegal drug business because they come from poor families, so they get used as drug smugglers and traffickers,” the official said.
In addition, more women from Laos are arrested in Thailand than from other ASEAN countries. According to the Thai government, the number of Lao female prisoners now stands at 1,352 while female Burmese and Cambodian prisoners stand at 581 and 552, respectively.
Phone calls to Lieutenant Colonel Bouakhaua Rattanavongsa, a vice chief at the Bolikhamsay province police headquarters, were not returned.
Amphetamine use up
Though Laos is infamous as one side of the “Golden Triangle” well-known for its opium production, the women arrested were picked up mostly for amphetamine trafficking.
According to the U.N’s 2016 World Drug Report, Laos and Myanmar account for the vast majority of opium poppy cultivation in Southeast Asia. But opium is now getting a competitor as the U.N. found a fourfold increase in seizures in the region of amphetamine-type stimulants and methamphetamine, which goes by the nickname “ice” in Asia.
“Between 2009 and 2014, methamphetamine seizures reported in East and Southeast Asia almost quadrupled,” the U.N. wrote in its report.
The increase comes as Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith is pushing his country’s citizens to join in the fight against illicit drugs.
In June, Thongloun put a torch to a cache of drugs seized by authorities, setting ablaze more than 4.3 million tablets of amphetamine-type tablets, 2,000 pounds of dry cannabis, 4.2 pounds of methamphetamines, and 310 pounds of chemicals used for mixing and producing drugs.
He has called the drug trade “an obstacle to national social and economic development, and an important source of crime and corruption, not to mention a tremendous loss for drug victims and their families.”
Reported by RFA's Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Brooks Boliek