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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 April, 2004, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
Thailand's cycle of trafficking
By Caroline Irby

Girls previously working in brothels in Cambodia learn to sew at a safe home
Many aid organisations try to teach girls new skills
In a bakery in Northern Thailand, young girls are being taught to make cakes.

The bakery is just one of many initiatives designed to help young people deemed vulnerable to being trafficked into prostitution.

The US State Department has called human trafficking "the emerging human rights issue of the 21st century", and many organisations have sprung up in response to the problem.

But despite their best efforts, 60% of the Thai women "rescued" by these organisations end up back in brothels.

I haven't come across a happily-ever-after case
Ben Svasti, Trafcord programme coordinator
To disrupt the trade seems practically impossible, and the scant returns from counter-trafficking initiatives can be frustratingly slim.

Trafcord, an organisation formed with US support in 2002, is attempting to tackle human trafficking in northern Thailand, near the Burmese border.

But local advocacy groups complain that the brothel raids organised by Trafcord net more Burmese women voluntarily engaged in prostitution than victims of coerced sexual labour.

Ben Svasti, programme coordinator for Trafcord, admits it can be difficult to differentiate between women who have been victims of trafficking and those who are there of their own volition.

"It's a very imperfect operation," he said. "I haven't come across a happily-ever-after case.

"As time passes, poverty pushes the child or young woman to go out and work again. Success depends on where you end your story."

Breaking the cycle

Five hundred miles south, at Thailand's border with Cambodia, the IOM (International Organisation for Migration) is endeavouring to send home a dozen Cambodian children trafficked into Bangkok.

The children know each other well - they lived on the streets of Bangkok together, selling noodles, flowers and sweets for a local man's profit.

All have made the journey at least twice before, having been resold to traffickers once they reached home. This time they will be taken into care.

Acknowledging the difficulties of breaking the trafficking cycle, the IOM recently launched a campaign to address trafficking from a pre-emptive angle.

Young girls 'rescued' in a brothel raid are returned to Svae Pak, Cambodia
60% of girls who are 'rescued' return to prostitution
An animated film, Shattered Dreams, tells the story of a young girl who leaves her village for the city, where her life becomes a nightmare when she is forced into prostitution.

The film has been translated into several languages and will be shown in Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Laos, Vietnam and China.

Children trafficked to work in factories in Bangkok have already watched the film, and 90% said they would not have come to Bangkok had they been aware of the situation depicted in the video.

Demand and supply

But while measures to raise awareness have proved effective in the past, the incidence of trafficking itself has not diminished - its source has just shifted.

Demand for cheap labour and prostitution remains, and if one potential source of recruits dries up, agents simply look elsewhere.

Mr Svasti estimates that 90% of trafficked sex workers in northern Thailand today are from Burma. He says this pattern will not change until the situation in Burma improves.

Pierre Legros, director of the Cambodian counter-trafficking organisation Afesip, says the cycle of trafficking can only be broken by new laws.

To this end, he has challenged a young British lawyer, Aarti Kapoor, to write a model law addressing trafficking.

United Nations protocol and US legislation currently provide the framework that organisations campaigning against trafficking refer to, but Ms Kapoor says these are only a reflection of basic minimum standards.

"Our starting point," she says, are "the maximum standards".

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20 Aug 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Hotelier acts on child prostitution
19 Feb 03  |  Asia-Pacific


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