Thai Police Crack Down on Sex Slavery


2003-11-24
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Lao girl afraid to run from brothel

Thai police have launched a crackdown on human-trafficking gangs that run brothels across the country in a bid to break a vicious cycle of poverty, corruption, and under-age sex.

Among the teenagers rounded up by police in the Thai capital was a young girl from Laos, who told RFA she was forced by a gang to work as a prostitute.

"I always thought about running away from the men but was afraid of being arrested and jailed by Thai police because of my illegal alien status," she said after her arrest. "I don't know where to go and how to survive in Bangkok."

The Nov. 16 raid came amid growing pressure from human rights groups. But a Thai source, who declined to be named, said that "some very powerful people support the majority of the human traffickers, therefore in the past no one dared to disrupt their business."

But the source said a stronger political will now exists in Bangkok to address the problem of sex slavery in its brothels.

Sex slavery rings trafficking women and girls are frequently run by highly organized international crime syndicates. The problem has worsened in recent years in Southeast Asia, where an estimated 300,000 women and children are involved in the sex trade.

Many of the women working in Thailand's brothels are from poorer parts of the region — ; Laos, China, and the border regions between Thailand and Burma. Some have been sold by their families, some kidnapped, and others are seeking a way to make a living in the face of extreme economic hardship.

In a June 2003 report, Human Rights Watch criticized Laos as "weak on prevention, prosecution, and protection" in the area of human-trafficking. Laos "does not monitor its borders well, it fails to arrest and prosecute traffickers, and corruption remains a serious problem," the U.S.-based organization said.

"The steps taken towards victim protection are highly flawed: some victims have been punished for illegal border crossings and even sent to re-education seminars. A memorandum of understanding signed with Thailand addressing repatriation of Laos trafficking victims excludes children, despite child trafficking being a serious problem."

The State Department's most recent report on human rights around the world cited "rough estimates [indicating] that from 15,000 to 20,000 Lao girls and young women were trafficked annually for purposes of prostitution mostly to Thailand; a small number were trafficked to China and to the United States. Some young men were also victims."

"In recent years, highland minority women from the interior of the country had become the group most vulnerable to traffickers," it said.

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