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No Home Too Far

By Sroy Nika
The Rasmei Kampuchea
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Poor family and hard living conditions force children to find jobs far from home

Speaking to journalists at a shelter in Bankgok, Vita, a 14-year-old Cambodian girl from Battambang Province, was asked many questions. She was not allowed to talk about the past which maker her sad. But she wanted her story to be told. She raised her eyes and said, “I was trafficked to Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand. I worked as a rose seller at a night club from 6pm to 3 or 4 in the morning. After three year, I was arrested by Thai police and they sent me to this center.” Vita spoke with a soft voice and hook her head. “I never thought that I would be trafficked from my home town to work in Thailand. It’s my bad luck.”

Child trafficking is a crime involving the movement of children and their exploitation. The International Labor Organization (ILO) says, “It’s a pernicious violation of children’s right that reduces child victims to commodities to be bought, sold, transported, and resold for sexual exploitation, domestic service and street begging.”

Because of poverty in rural areas, many children have been trafficked by middlemen outside their hometown to find better jobs. Some of them follow their families to work in Thailand.

When Southeast Asians want to look for a job in another country, Thailand is their top pick. It is easy for all people to look for a job, not only adults or children who live near the border. Most migrant children were trafficked to earn money to support their family life.

Vasant Sathorn, director of the Office of Foreign Worker Administration in the Department of Employment said 80,000 children under 18 years migrate to work in Thailand every year because of poverty. The department has not policy to deal with all those children right now. But, in the near future, the Ministry of Labor will address the issue, he said.

Although there are not reliable numbers, in the past, some children have been arrested and sent back to their home countries. Other have been sent to the Rehabilitation Center based in Bangkok, Vasant added.

The Kredtrakarn Protection and Occuptaion Development Center has two places – one for girl san done for boys – for rehabilitation children who have been trafficked to work in Thailand. In all, there are 700 children at Kredtrakarn; 245 from Thailand were trafficked to work in Bangkok, then arrested and sent to the Home for Girls and Home for Boys. The other children are Burmese, Lao, Cambodian, and Vietnamese.

Most of the girls sent to the Home for Girls were trafficked to work as factory workers, housemaids, garland and rose sellers, and especially sex workers. Some of them also followed their parents to be beggars on the street.
“It’s not easy to enrol the girls at the center,” Napa Sethakorn, director of the Bureau an Anti-trafficking of Women and Children Home for Girls, said with a strong face. The cases can be referred by governmental organisations, non-governmental organisations, or the girls’ guardians. The girls are given information on the center’s background and available services upon their arrival.

Napas said recently that 208 girls stay at the center: 47 Burmese, 138 Laos, 17 Cambodians, and six Vietnamese.

Upon arrival, social workers interview the girls and provide counselling. They gather information about the girls, assessing their physical and psycho-social conditions and needs, and conduct case conferences with agencies concerned to develop an individualized plan of assistance.

“It’s very complicated,” said Vita, the Cambodian girl. “I was asked many questions like, ‘How old are you? Where is your hometown? Are your parents still alive?’ Sometimes I think so long, just for answer,” she said with her wrinkled eyebrow. “I was allowed to stay in the center after finishing the answers… I have stayed in the center three months and can speak a little Thai language.” She continued, “In the center there are many girls from different countries. I was given vocational training.”

Napa mentioned that nine training courses are offered for the girls who stay in the center: dress making, beauty treatments, barbering, weaving, wickerwork, arts and crafts, cooking, batik painting and traditional Thai massage. The courses are provided based on available local resources and market demand.

The length of the girls’ stay depends on relations among NGOs and international organizations to find victims’ families or their hometowns. Some girls have stayed 3-4 years, others 9-10 months before being sent back to their homes. Every year, 15-20 girls are sent back home to four different countries, depending on whether or not they want to go.

Napa strongly added that before they are repatriated, all the children who complete their vocational training will be referred to local agencies, either NGOs or international organizations, to conduct a family tracing and assess family and community readiness.

Ni, a 14-year-old Burmese girl who was sent to stay in the Home for Girls nine months ago, said she is learning arts and crafts. “It’s very difficult to study, but I think this skill will make it easy to find money in my country when I go back.”

Before she stayed here, she used to live in Myawaddy, Burma, which is a border town in Western Thailand. At that time, a Burmese broker sold her to a Thai woman. Her mother took 2,000 baht from her sale. Ni then went to Bangkok as forced labor.

Many boys have similar stories. Sophal, a 16-year-old Cambodian from Kampong Thom Province was trafficked to work in Ranong Province, then arrested and sent to the Home for Boys.

“I want to study my mother tongue (Khmer) better than English, if I have a chance. I have stayed in this center for two months; it feels like two years.” Sophal said sadly. “I was trafficked as a pineapple picker to a large field in Ranong.” The field boss didn’t pay him, so, “I decided to call two other boys to go back home with me,” Sophal recalled. “In early morning, we moved from Ranong for two days without eating until we arrived in Chon Buri. When we were hungry, we decided to ask for some food. Suddenly the Thai authorities saw us, then caught us sand sent us the Home for Boys in March 2005.”

The director of reception for the Home for Boys, Ladda Beujatachak, said 157 boys stay in the center: six Burmese, 14 Laos, 25 Cambodians and 112 Vietnamese. Most were trafficked to work as construction workers, poultry farmers, garland sellers, and beggars. The Home for Boys covers four basic needs: accommodation, food, medicine, and clothes, Ladda added.

Primary education shall be arranged for the child as deemed appropriate. Also provided are a classroom for child development, a library, vocational training and skill development activities such as barber service, batik painting, drawing, pottery and magic tricks.

“It’s not easy to control the boys who are beggars on the street and thief children,” Ladda said with a smile.

Some of the boys who stay in the center respect the law and are easy to control, but a small number are very difficult because they don’t follow the law. Sometimes they want to escape from the center.

“I will run if the condition is unchanged because I miss my family,” a Burmese boy named Jamu said with confidence. “I am going to wait for the next three months or four months before going back home… I worked as a beggar in Bangkok for two years before I was arrested.” As a beggar, his owner told him the amount of money he had to beg.

Most girls want to return home, but some are afraid of being sold and trafficked again.

A Lao girl named Dao said, “I am staying six months in the center, learning to weave baskets.” She came to Thailand with a Lao broker to find money to support her family because they were poor.

Dao worked as a maid for three years at a two-storey house in Bang Khen District. She was never paid a salary and her employer hurt her and her two friends badly. The three Lao girls had come to Thailand together. Dao was patient for three years and hoped to earn a lot of money as the employer told her she would. But her employer had lied to her.

Dao said that the employer would pay her after five months but nothing happened; still nothing, after one more year; then another. She waited and waited until three years but she never got any money.

Dao decided to escape from that house along and went to the police. After that, the police helped her two friends and they were taken to the Home for Girls.

Most of the children at the homes really want to go home. Vita, the Cambodian girl, showed the hope in her mind, even though this is her second stay in the center.

“Although I can stay here with good conditions, I got a lot of vocational training, but I miss my family. I want to go back home.”

Copyright 2009 IMMF.