As July 30 is the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, we would like to focus on the terrible reality of this crime in Thailand, with the purpose of raising awareness about the situation of victims of human trafficking in that country.
The United Nations defines trafficking in persons as “the transportation of persons by means of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or position of vulnerability for the purpose of exploitation”.
Tens of thousands of people are trafficked every year in Thailand
For years, Thailand has been singled out as the main hub of human trafficking in Asia. There are no precise figures, but the U.S. State Department estimates that at least tens of thousands of people fall victim to the country's human trafficking networks each year. In fact, the country received the worst possible rating in a U.S. government report for being a “source, destination and transit country for men, women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking”.
The European Union has also denounced the practices in the Asian country and imposed a “yellow card” on Thailand for violation of human rights and international law in the fishing sector, one of the main clients of these networks, along with prostitution, construction and domestic service. This card is a warning before imposing sanctions on the import into Europe of fishery products of Thai origin.
In May 2015, the discovery of several mass graves in southern Thailand, where more than 30 bodies were found, belonging to illegal immigrants who were being held by traffickers awaiting ransom payments from their families, caused great commotion.
The case of Samat Senasuk
A report in the newspaper El Confidencial revealed the heartbreaking story of Samat Senasuk. After the economic crisis of 2008 and losing his job as a security guard in an office building in Bangkok, Samat was enlisted on a fishing boat, most of the time against his will.
He had been offered good pay. However, the salary turned out to be 3,000 baht per month (US$80), one third of the legal minimum wage in Thailand. The money was also retained by the company until the end of a contract that lasted indefinitely.
To his meager salary, Senasuk also had to deduct the fee taken by the agent who had sold him, some 25,000 baht (US$667), and add the captain's beatings and the few hours of sleep - often no more than four hours a day - after endless days of collecting fish.
After waiting for the Ministry of Labor to finish reviewing his case so that he could collect the wages he was owed, Samat longed only to return home to his family, six years after being practically kidnapped on the fishing boat.
Slavery is a historical tradition in Thailand
Slavery and trafficking have existed for centuries in Thailand. In fact, slavery was legal until 1905, when the then King Rama V officially abolished it and the slaves were freed. Many women were legally bought and sexually exploited. However, the new regulation changed their situation little and most ended up in brothels, which, until 1960, were permitted. The passage of soldiers through the region during World War II and the Vietnam War fed the brothels and, with them, the networks of buying and selling people.
However, trafficking to fishing boats is more recent and began in the late 1990s, when a typhoon sank more than 200 boats with their entire crews, according to a report by the International Organization for Migration. More than 450 people died and 600 went missing. After the tragedy, Thais refused to return to work on the ships and the industry had to look to neighboring countries, mainly Myanmar and Cambodia, for hands to replace the locals.
Today, numerous reports and studies published by various NGOs and the International Labor Organization describe the fishing industry as a large trafficking network that uses the lack of control on ships operating in international waters to force its workers and prevent them from leaving their jobs.
A worldwide problem
Globally, one in every three victims detected is a child. The share of children among detected trafficking victims has tripled, while the share of boys has increased five times over the past 15 years.
In 2018 about 50,000 human trafficking victims were detected and reported by 148 countries. 50 per cent of detected victims were trafficked for sexual exploitation, while 38 per cent were exploited for forced labour.
Female victims continue to be the primary targets. Women make up 46% and girls 19% of all victims of trafficking.
By: Juan Carlos Ugarelli