Thailand Law Journal 2014 Spring Issue 1 Volume 17

Protecting Vulnerable Children in Thailand

By Ian Werrett*


Asylum seekers, refugees and stateless people are among the most vulnerable groups of people and children are recognised as being in need of special protection. Neighbouring Burma has provided a steady and substantial influx of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless people into Thailand. Asylum seekers and refugees from other countries, and stateless people not originating from Burma, also reside in Thailand. The children among these groups are highly vulnerable to trafficking.

Thailand has signed up to numerous international treaties with provisions that directly relate to these children. Regional law concerning rights exist in soft law only. There is also, however, a regional memorandum of understanding to combat trafficking. Furthermore Thailand has created memorandums of understanding with neighbouring nations and an Agreement with Vietnam concerning trafficking.

The rights of asylum seeking, refugee and stateless children are numerous, as too are measures to prevent, and protect them from, trafficking under international, regional and bilateral law relevant to Thailand. Domestic law in Thailand however does not meet its international, regional and bi-lateral obligations.

Individuals who have lived with or worked with asylum seeking, refugee and stateless children in Thailand, present in this study, what life is like for these children. These individuals assert that the Thai Government offers no support for these children and that corrupt officials are involved in the trafficking process.

Through documentary analysis and empirical research this study will demonstrate that Thailand is failing to meet its international, regional and bi-lateral obligations. Asylum seeking, refugee and stateless children in Thailand are denied many of their rights and are not afforded the measures of protection from trafficking set out in international, regional and bilateral law.


1 Topic of study

The target populations, vulnerable children, for the purpose of this study relates to children who are asylum seekers, refugees or stateless in Thailand. This study is concerned with the understanding of the target population's rights as well as exploring their protection from becoming victims of trafficking and the protection offered if they become identified victims of trafficking.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that children are entitled to special care and assistance.1 Asylum seekers, refugees, stateless people and trafficking victims are all recognised as needing special protection under international law.2 According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) these groups of children are denied some of their basic rights in
Thailand,3 and are among those defined as most vulnerable to human trafficking.4

This study will seek to establish the provisions regarding the rights, protection from trafficking and protection of identified trafficking victims afforded to the target populations under international, regional and bi-lateral law, followed by examining the domestic legislation enacting these provisions. Finally empirical research will present the views of those who have worked with or lived with the target populations. Articles have been written about some of these populations in Thailand5 but have not specifically addressed all three as this study will attempt. Previous scholarly papers have focused on the communities as a
whole, occasionally looking at impact on the children.6 This study will seek to collate information on the three groups and focus on the most vulnerable among them, the children.7

This chapter will provide a background of the situation in Thailand, define terms for the purpose of this study and present the relevant law.

2 Situation in Thailand

Neighbouring Burma, widely accused of human rights abuses since a coup in 19628 drew concern from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in 2013 for: arbitrary detention, forced displacement, land confiscations, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as violations of international humanitarian law.9 There has been a long running influx of asylum seekers from Burma into Thailand.10

In 2013 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that there were 13,943 asylum seekers and 82,460 refugees in Thailand.11 This makes Thailand the second largest host nation of asylum seekers and refugees in SE Asia, behind Malaysia, hosting more than the remaining 8 ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries combined.12 Only 2,430 asylum seekers and 1,480 refugees in Thailand are estimated not to originate from Burma. These individuals comprise over 30 different nationalities.13 Many children travel unaccompanied14 and thus need greater protection.15

The Burma Citizenship Law 1982 asserts that the State may decide whether any ethnic group is national or not.16 Ethnic groups not recognised as national cannot be citizens by birth.17 Six ethnic groups were reportedly denied recognition in the 2014 census,18 meaning that many people fleeing into Thailand from Burma are stateless.19 Long term urban asylum seekers and refugees in Thailand have lost connections with their countries of origin and are now considered stateless.20 Potentially half of Thailand's northern hill tribe people, including the Akna, Lanu, Lisu, Yao, Shan, Hmong and Karen ethnic communities may lack citizenship.21 The UNHCR asserts there are 506,197 stateless people in Thailand,22 the second highest in the region behind Burma,23 and far higher than the other ASEAN nations.24 NGO estimates place the number even higher at between 2 – 3.5 million stateless people in Thailand.25 The number of stateless children is difficult to ascertain, border towns such as Mae Sot and Ranong have been estimated to contain close to 100,000 stateless children.26

Thailand's economically prosperous sex industry places a high demand for women and girls to be trafficked into the sex trade.27 There is also a demand for individuals to be trafficked in for labour purposes.28 Those without proper documentation, such as asylum seekers, refugees and stateless people are all identified as being vulnerable to trafficking.29 In 2011 the International Organization for Migration (IOM) stated that Thailand was the fourth highest destination country that victims were trafficked into.30 Although Thai nationals and nationals of other countries may also be subjected to trafficking within Thailand,31 this study will focus on asylum seekers, refugees and stateless children.

Before describing the relevant law, key terms will be defined for the purpose of this study.

[1]  [2]  [3]  [4]  [5]  [6]  [7]  [8]  [9]  [10]

[11]   [12]  [13]  [14]  [15]  [16]  [17]  [18]  [19]

1 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) art 25(2)
2 Evident in the relevant treaties: Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (adopted 28 July 1951,
entered into force 22 April 1954) 189 UNTS 137 (Refugee Convention), Convention Relating to the Status of
Stateless Persons (adopted 28 September 1954, entered into force 6 June 1960) 360 UNTS 117 (Stateless
Convention), Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and
Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (adopted 15
November 2000, entered into force 25 December 2003) 2237 UNTS 319 (Trafficking Protocol)
3 UNICEF, 'Thailand' <> accessed 05 June 2014
4 UNHCR, 'About Refugees' <
option=com_content&view=article&id=179&Itemid=54> accessed 05 June 2014, UNODC, 'People
vulnerable to human trafficking (PVHT)' <
to-human-trafficking.html> accessed 05 June 2014
5 For example: Christa Foster Crawford, 'Cultural, economic and legal factors underlying trafficking in Thailand and their impact on women and girls from Burma' [2006] Cardozo Journal of Law & Gender 821, Su-Ann Oh and Marc van der Stouwe, 'Education, Diversity, and Inclusion in Burmese Refugee Camps in Thailand' [2008] Comparative Education Review 589
6 For example: Heather Montgomery, 'Buying Innocence: child-sex tourists in Thailand' [2008] Third World Quarterly 903
7 UNHCR, 'About Refugees' (n4), UNODC, 'People vulnerable to human trafficking (PVHT)' (n4)
8 Justin Wintle Perfect Hostage: Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma and the Generals (Arrow 2007), The Burma Campaign UK, 'Human Rights' <> accessed 06 June 2014, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 'Burma-Country of Concern'
accessed 06 June 2014
9 UNHRC Res 22/14 (10 April 2013) UN Doc A/HRC/RES/22/14 4
10 U.S. Department of State, 'Burmese Refugees in Thailand'
<> accessed 06 June 2014,
UNHCR, 'Thailand' <> accessed 06 June 2014
11 UNHCR, 'Thailand' (n10)
12 Recognised by the UNHCR in mid-2013 Malaysia hosts 14,286 asylum seekers and 91,398 refugees. The remaining 8 ASEAN nations combined, by mid-2013 UNHCR data, only host 8,262 asylum seekers and 2,292 refugees. Information available via: UNHCR, 'South-East Asia' <> accessed 06 June 2014
13 UNHCR, 'Thailand' (n10)
14 On file with author, 'Interview #1' (November 2009 Kuala Lumpur) Karen Individual, UNHCR, Thailand
(UNHCR Global Appeal 2014-2015) Viewable at: <> accessed 06 June
2014 3
15 UNHCR, Guidelines on Policies and Procedures in dealing with Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum
(February 1997) 1,2
16 Burma Citizenship Law (Pyithu Hluttaw Law No. 4) (1982) art 4
17 Ibid art 5
18 Yen Snaing, 'Burma's Ethnic Minorities Decry Census, Jostle for Advantage' (The Irrawaddy, 10 February 2014)
<> accessed 17 April 2014, Joshua
Lipes, 'Myanmar Will Not Recognize Rohingyas on Upcoming Census' (Radio Free Asia, 13 March 2014)
<> accessed 17 April 2014, Democratic Voice of
Burma, 'DVB Debate: Burma's national identity' (DVB, 19 February 2014) <
dvb-debate-burmas-national-identity-myanmar/37411> accessed 17 April 2014
19 UNHCR, 'Thailand' (n10)
20 Ibid
21 The International Observatory on Statelessness, 'Thailand' <>
accessed 06 June 2014
22 UNHCR, 'Thailand' (n10)
23 UNHCR asserts there are 808,075 stateless people in Burma: UNHCR, 'South-East Asia' (n12)
24 UNHCR asserts 3rd highest to be 40,001 stateless people in Malaysia: UNHCR, 'South-East Asia' (n12)
25 The International Observatory on Statelessness, 'Thailand' (n21), The Thailand Project, 'Statelessness in
Thailand' <> accessed 06 June 2014
26 The International Observatory on Statelessness, 'Thailand' (n21)


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