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Children flee poverty for better li

Bangkok Post (24 November 1997)
Children flee poverty for better life
Estimated 100,000 are working illegally

Poona Antaseeda

The badly performing Thai economy has done nothing to stop foreign
children coming to Thailand to work - in fact war and poverty in
neighbouring countries has increased the number.

Sanphasit Koompraphant, director of the Centre for the Protection of
Children's Rights, said the children were desperate for a better life and
were so poor they were barely touched by the recession.

Employers, he said, could take advantage of the children by cheating them
out of their wages or calling the police to arrest them before they were

"Thailand is the Bangkok of our neighbouring countries. Children from
every country in the Mekong region - China, Burma, Laos, Vietnam, and
Cambodia - pour in. They even come from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan,"
said Mr Sanphasit.

He said the highest daily wage children could earn in Burma was the
equivalent of 15 baht. In Thailand they could earn up to 50 baht.

"Most children risk working in Thailand, even though it is hard, because
in their country it is even harder. If they had 10,000-20,000 baht back
home they could live comfortably for years," he said.

Kusol Sunthorntada, a researcher at Mahidol University's Institute for
Population and Social Research, said in Burma and Cambodia children were
used to build roads and pipelines without pay. Others were conscripted.

Research carried out by Prof Kusol and Prof U-maporn Patrawanich showed
that foreign child labourers worked, like alien adults, for up to 10
hours a day and 28 days a month. 

Many worked as petrol pump attendants, in restaurants, and resorts, as
maids and sales representatives, in the flesh trade and in the fisheries

Office of Police Immigration figures show that between 1994 and 1997 most
illegal immigrants were children aged 11-15.

Cambodian children were top of the list over the last two years. Last
year, 47 percent of such children were Cambodian, up from 33 percent in
1995. In 1994, most of the children were Laotians, at 60 percent. 

Surveys made by the Social Welfare Department from October 1995 to May
1996 found that 36 percent of beggars nationwide were alien children,
chiefly coming from Burma, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Thais only
accounted for 17 percent. 

Prof Kusol said 30 percent of alien children did not want to be

"They want to be granted Thai identification so they can work or live in
Thailand. Some have used fake ID cards and try to speak Thai," said the

It is estimated that apart from the 740,000 adult labourers registered
with the Interior Ministry there are about 100,000 alien child workers.
Academics concerned with alien labour estimate that there are about one
million such workers in Thailand, of which 20 percent are children. 

Prof Kusol said Burmese children and minorities such as the Tai Yai, Mon,
and Karen worked in Chiang Rai, Kanchanaburi, Samut Sakhon, Mae Hong Son
and Bangkok.

Those from Laos ended up in Bangkok and surrounding provinces or in the
big cities. Most Cambodians were beggars operating in big cities,
Bangkok, and working as cheap labour in border provinces such as Surin,
Sa Kaew, Buri Ram and Prachin Buri.

And the Chinese tended to end up working in the sex trade and as sales
representatives. Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants were also beggars. 

The research carried out by Kesorn Chunya, of the THAI Coordinating
Committee on Migrant Children, and Ratjai Adjayutpokin, with Child
Workers in Asia, found that 80 percent of Cambodian migrant children did
not want to return home. 

"Returning to Cambodia means starvation due to war and poverty. In
Thailand, they have options and even if they are jailed they at least
have food to eat," said Mrs Kesorn.

She added that most Cambodian migrant children left school having only
completed grade three or four. Some could not even write their names,
said Ms Ratjai.