The owner rented out a girl or woman for 2,000 baht to 2,500 baht (about $64 - $80), depending on her beauty, for a night or unlimited sex.101 She could also be rented out for 600 baht (about $20) for 1-2 hours. The girls and women got half of everything, the owner, the rest. Special prices were required for virgins, like 13 year-old Mae, whom the DSI found when they raided the brothel.102 Mae’s first client paid the owner 50,000 baht for the price of her virginity.103 Mae was allowed to keep only 15,000. If a girl or woman was not chosen by a client for one night, or did not want to work, then the owner charged her for her food and keep.
The girls and women worked every day, except when they got their periods. The owner collected free condoms, from Thailand’s Ministry of Health’s campaign, which he made the girls use. The owner wanted the girls to use the condoms because if they got sick, then they could no longer work.104
When they were finally rescued, one of the three friends, Kae, had a particularly disturbing story to tell. One night, a customer paid the owner 2500 baht for her for the evening. After having sex with him seven times she told the customer that she could not have any more sex. Angry, the customer went back to Kae’s owner, complained, and demanded his money back as the owner had promised him unlimited sex. The owner beat Kae for denying the customer an eighth round of sex.105
If the girls or women wanted to go outside the karaoke bar, she had to be back within 20 minutes. If she arrived late, the owner would charge her 500 baht (about $18).106
The girls were also not allowed to have mobile phones. However, one day, Pare got lucky - her evening customer had pity on her and let her borrow his mobile phone to call home.107 Pare phoned her mother for help and gave her the owner’s phone number. The mother then called the owner, who replied that the girls owed him 40,000 baht each (about $1,280) in fees for their passports and travel arrangements. They were victims of debt bondage.108
Her mother promptly wrote a letter to AAT, who contacted the Lao Embassy and the DSI headquarters in Bangkok for assistance. After receiving permission from the DSI’s director general, Police Major Jatuporn sent spies to the bar.109 The spies confirmed that the karaoke bar was in fact a prostitution den, and Khun Jatuporn’s team requested a search warrant from the court and traveled down to Narathiwat Province to investigate in December of 2011.110 The DSI also had support from the Thai military because the Narathiwat province is a place of insurgency.111 AAT-Bangkok and representatives from the MSDHS joined the investigation.
In addition to Pare’s false passport identifying her as a 21 year-old adult, Khun Jatuporn found the owner’s record book, which recorded all of the debt that each girl had accrued over her months with him. Pare herself was 120,960 baht (about $3,868) in debt to the owner.112 In addition to paying the owner for her keep if she was not rented out for an evening, each girl also had to pay two more fines each month: 1,000 baht (about $32) to the local police to not arrest them for prostitution, an evident sign of the local police’s corruption and second, 1,100 baht (about $35) to immigration officers, as a tourist visa is only good for one month, unless the officers are paid off.113 The brokers had told the girls to not run away because the police would arrest them. Unfortunately, the brokers’ warnings were not empty threats, because the local police have close connections to the traffickers and may very well return girls who try to run away. The girls are then often beaten and fined more heavily.
In addition to Pare, Kae, and Ploy, the DSI rescued forty-one Laotian women from the Karaoke bar. Only twenty were identified as trafficking victims. The other twenty-one, in their interview with law enforcement officers, were not identified as trafficking victims because they said that they wanted to work in the brothel and had documents stating that they were over 18.114
The DSI arrested the owner, who owned two bars across the street from one another, and his daughter, who managed them. The three girls stayed in a government shelter for two to three months while they testified against their offenders. The DSI requested that the court process be expedited, as they usually do.115
The owner and his daughter were sentenced to 119 years by a Thai court, but their sentence was reduced to 50 years because they confessed their guilt.116 They are currently both serving their time behind bars. The public prosecutor also filed a charge of compensation for them which comes from the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Fund and the offender.117 The girls received money from the Fund in the form of their food, shelter, medical care, legal aid, education, and occupational training while they stayed at the government shelter, and also for their travel back to their families when they were repatriated.118 However, they did not receive any money from the offender as he apparently had no money left when he was arrested.119
One year later, in December of 2012, the DSI arrested the Laotian broker who has been detained in Bangkok for the past six months. The public prosecutor, along with help from the DSI, needed more witness interviews to prosecute the broker. The DSI was able to contact Kae and Ploy to serve as witnesses.120 Kae and Ploy were cooperative with the DSI officers in their recent 2013 interviews, trusting them since they were the same people who rescued them.121 Both girls were in a three-month rehabilitation program at the Lao’s Women Union in Vientiane, where they receive occupational training: Kae learned to style hair and Ploy learned to sew.122 The DSI informed the prosecutor that the victims would like compensation, and the judge will decide if they receive compensation for this case from the Lao broker or from the Anti-TIP fund.123 One senior DSI investigator who has been with the girls since the beginning said that this case made him very happy because it has been a successful one - these girls, along with sixteen others, were rescued; their offenders were charged, convicted, and sentenced to prison; and at least three of the rescued victims are living normal lives.124
B. Myanmar Victims of Forced Labor
In December 2012, a Myanmar broker offered six men from her village outside of Yangon work in a factory in Myawaddy, a southern city in Myanmar bordering Thailand.125 Thee months later, in February 2013, she offered ten more men from her village work in the same factory. The youngest was seventeen years old and the eldest was thirty-six.
When the men neared Myawaddy city, they were told to follow a man who was carrying a sword through the forest. He took them across the Myanmar-Thailand border to Kanchanaburi, Thailand where they were met by their trafficker, the broker’s mother. She took their passports, told them that they each owed her 15,000 baht (about $482) for travel expenses, and sent them to work. For every 15 days of work, she gave them 100 baht (about $3.20). The 100 baht was not even their “pay” because they were supposed to pay it back to her with 20% interest. The living conditions were deplorable: sixteen men in a small room with no beds or mattresses.126 The working conditions themselves were not as bad as the men worked a typical eight to nine hour working days in compliance with Thailand’s labor law, but were unpaid.127 The working conditions were decent because factory owners generally abide by the labor law regulations as factories can be easily inspected by government officials.128
The men were not physically forced to stay at the factory, but they were too scared of their trafficker, the police, and immigration officials to leave. Without passports or any ID documentation and no money, they had little mobility. The men were victims of debt bondage, because they were kept in bondage by making it impossible for them to pay off their real, imposed, or imagined debts.129
In March, two of the men managed to escape and travel the 500km back to Myanmar. Once they reached Yangon, they contacted the Myanmar Police Force, who arrested the broker, the trafficker’s daughter. When the trafficker found out that her daughter had been arrested in Myanmar, she ordered her gang to beat two of the men who were brother-in-laws of the men who had escaped with sticks.130 They now have scars. The other twelve men who remained under her guard were threatened to not escape because they saw two of their peers tortured.
On May 30, after gathering more evidence, a team from Thailand’s DSI raided the corn factory and arrested the trafficker. They rescued the fourteen other men, who are now staying at a shelter for male trafficking victims in Patumthani. At the shelter, the men can still work to earn money as construction day laborers. They earn about 300 baht per day, significantly more than the 200 baht per month they were paid in Kanchanaburi. And now, their daily pay is theirs to keep.131 The DSI requested to expedite the men’s case (as the DSI does with all of their cases), so they should be repatriated to Myanmar within six months time, instead of the two years it can take with a non-expedited trafficking case.132
The broker, the trafficker’s daughter, is currently in jail in Myanmar, and the trafficker has been at the Central Women Correctional Institution in Bangkok since May 30, 2013. The trafficker’s sentence will depend on a variety of factors, like the evidence presented and the judge, but a trafficker is liable for four to ten years imprisonment for each victim trafficked.133
The last decade has seen an increased awareness of human trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. Thanks to the persistent work of NGOs and accountability by the United Nations and the United State’s TIP reports, human trafficking has been pushed to the forefront of the Thai Government’s agenda. In response, the Thai government has passed legislation to specifically address human trafficking and has also amended its existing laws to provide special provisions for children.
Despite the laws and policies, government officials from many different sections of the government recognize that implementation is not yet adequate. Implementation is necessary to effectively fight human trafficking and help victims. To help implement these laws, the DSI should be given considerably more staff members and their regional offices should be expanded so that they can have more authority over trafficking cases; RTP officers should have to attend consistent, quarterly training workshops on trafficking; the MSDHS and the DSI and RTP law enforcement teams should freely exchange information and work together throughout the process and, as part of this effort, a national database which collects all trafficking statistics from various agencies should be created; the Child Protection Act should be redrafted to include specific legal procedures; and Thailand’s law enforcement agencies should continue to sign agency specific MOUs with neighboring countries’ law enforcement agencies.
In addition to these more specific suggestions, the government as a whole should continue to adopt a victim-centered approach to fight trafficking effectively. A victim-centered approach means that at every step in the legal process, victims are informed of their options, allowed to choose among their options, and supported by the government and NGOs in their chosen option. If the Thai government follows the recommendations laid out in Part I of the paper, which gave recommendations for the government’s anti-trafficking bodies, and Part II, which gives recommendations for the government’s existing laws and policies concerning anti-trafficking, Thailand will put itself in a good position to be upgraded from Tier 3 in the next 2015 TIP Report.
A first thanks to Ajarn Pisawat Sukonthapan, who took me on as the Mekong Region Law Center’s summer intern. In hierarchical Thailand, it is only thanks to Ajarn Pisawat’s well-regarded reputation among high-ranking government officers, NGO directors, and professors that I was able to see so much of Thailand as an insider. A second thanks to Jake Lucci, who provided helpful edits and a welcome relief as a fellow American, but one who could be mistaken for native Thai when he spoke. Thank you also to the Berkeley Law Public Interest/Public Sector Summer Fellowship Program, more familiarly known as the Edley Grant, which funded my research.
Thank you to all of the Thai people I met who took care of the “fàlang,” a full-time job. A special thanks to Khun Saowanee of the MSDHS, for allowing me to attend the official meeting between Thailand and Cambodia to sign the revised MOU, and for assigning me Khun Patcharee, a caring mentor, at the MSDHS. Thank you to Khun Paisith of the DSI and his team, especially P’Ng, P’Thiep, P’Duke, P’Ake, P’Kae, and P’Pom. Their endless patient translating and welcome as their “sis” would be hard to match. Thank you to the staff of the DEPDC and the Jakartas – Sompop, Dusadee, Kaesai, and Toy, and their adopted children, who included me as part of their family at the Swimming Home for five days.
Thank you to the Katona-Aptes for opening up their home in the heart of Bangkok to me for the summer, making my adjustment to the bustling Bangkok a seamless one.
Thank you to everyone whom I met along the way, particularly Michelle Seabourn, Rachel Turner, the Grayheks, and the women from the Burma Freedom Rangers, for sharing your stories with me. May your work continue to be lead by the Spirit to His glory.
Thailand was on the U.S. TIP Report’s Tier 2 Watch List for four consecutive years since 2010 and was downgraded to Tier 3 in June 2014. A country ranked Tier 2 Watch List for two consecutive years that would otherwise be ranked on the Tier 2 Watch List for a third year is downgraded to Tier 3 in that third year. The Secretary of State is authorized to waive this automatic downgrade for two consecutive years, after which the country must either be moved up to Tier 2 or down to Tier 3. In 2014, Thailand was downgraded to Tier 3, where it remained for 2015. Tier 3 countries are subject to economic sanctions; the President can waive sanctions if U.S. assistance would help the country combat trafficking.
The paper contains data from the summer of 2013, before Thailand’s downgrade to Tier 3. The author’s opinion was that Thailand should be moved up to Tier 2 for the 2014 TIP Report because of the government’s improved response to the overwhelming problem of trafficking, acute in Thailand since it serves as an origin, destination, and transit country. Despite Thailand’s downgrade to Tier 3, the author hopes that this paper will highlight the strengths and areas needing improvement for the Thai government, so that Thailand can put itself in a position to be upgraded to Tier 2 for the 2016 TIP Report.
The governmental bodies which work alongside NGOs and Thailand’s laws addressing trafficking are outlined below. This paper focuses on victims who have been trafficked to Thailand as a destination country. It is important to remember that Thailand also serves as an origin country for victims, mostly hill tribe children from the northern parts of Thailand, and as a transit country for victims from North Korea, China, Viet Nam, Bangladesh, and Myanmar destined for third countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Russia, South Korea, the United States, and countries in Western Europe.