Child workers often overlooked in trafficking: NGOs

Child workers often overlooked in trafficking: NGOs
The authorities focused more on the registration of workers and fishing vessels, but did not crack down on the whole cycle of corruption and unregulated work in fishing industries that have dominated human trafficking and forced labour for more than three decades.

Recent measures taken by the government might have pleased the United States as it dealt with the TIP report, but they failed to tackle the human trafficking problem at its root - corruption by state officials, social workers said yesterday. Moreover, the issues of child labour and forced labour were not highlighted enough, they said.

The government intended for the report to show to the US the benefits of its upgraded efforts in Trafficking in Persons (TIP) - and to European Union regulators on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing - but the report was not meant to solve the entire problem, Sompong Srakaew said.

Sompong is head of the Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN).

"The authorities are just trying to show that they are seriously tackling the issue - but the truth is the problem is much more complicated. There are many officers involved in the human trafficking operation and authorities are not able to capture the main mastermind," he said.

Measures 'not that effective'

The government's measures to tackle human trafficking in the fishery industries were also not really effective.

They focused more on the registration of workers and fishing vessels, but did not crack down on the whole cycle of corruption and unregulated work in fishing industries that have dominated human trafficking and forced labour for more than three decades, he said.

"The problem is the fishing industry owners who are the most powerful people in the local area. Some are local politicians and have a friendly relationship with the police," he said.

The familiar story was told by Witanatat Rutanabaleepong, head of Mirror Foundation's Anti-Child Beggar Campaign. He said the intense inspection and arrest of illegal immigrants and child beggars successfully relieved human trafficking in this area, but the root of the problem was still untouched.

"Since January, 112 cases of child beggars were reported to us and 80 per cent were from poor families in Cambodia. It showed that the human trafficking among children is not really solved. The authorities' operation was just a short-term solution," Witanatat said.

The government needed to implement the long-term plan by suppressing the entire human trafficking network at the border and coordinating with Cambodia to solve poverty and unemployment.

This was the main inspiration leading Cambodian parents to sell their children for a human trafficking network, he said.

For this report, The Nation observed the human trafficking activities with volunteers from LPN in Samut Sakhon, the hub of the fishing industry in Thailand.

They found that even after the recent intensive crackdown on human trafficking - which resulted in the reduction of victims in the offshore fishery sector - the presence of human trafficking-related problems, such as child and forced labour, remained.

'They now come from Myanmar'

Patima Tungpreechayakul, another LPN operative, said some seafood factories still used forced labour provided by the agents directly from Myanmar.

The agents were profiting by collecting transportation fees from the workers and commission from the business owners.

The workers often laboured longer than permitted by the law without a day off. They were not allowed to leave the factory compound. Patima said some of the forced workers managed to escape to seek help from her office.

Child labour is still among the biggest problems in the province. Children working at the seafood market and small seafood factories were also spotted during the observation.

The latest report on child labour by LPN discovered 101 child labourers who were examined by researchers.

Most worked for long days in an unpleasant environment - some for up to 14 or 15 hours a day. Ninety per cent had never been to school.

"Though child labour wasn't the key focus of the TIP inspectors, this matter is still very important as this too is a human-trafficking crime and a violation of human rights, hence it needs to be solved urgently," Sompong said.

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