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New law targets human trafficking

The Nation (30 November 1997)
New law targets human trafficking

AUTHORITIES and activists hope a new law will help emancipate victims of
human trafficking rings which have made the country's sex industry an
estimated Bt500 billion-per-year business and more lucrative than the
drug trade. 

The Measures in Prevention and Suppression of Trafficking in Women and
Children Act gives authorities the right to detain suspected victims for
factual clarification of their travel documents. 

Authorities will be able to detain suspected victims for as long as 10
days with the permission of provincial governors in outlying provinces
and the director-general of the Police Department in Bangkok. 

The law, however, does not let authorities detain suspected traffickers
accompanying the suspected victims. 

Under the law, signed by His Majesty the King on Nov 16 and effective as
of Nov 17, searches and examinations can take place at airports,
seaports, railway stations, bus stations, entertainment establishments,
factories and public places. 

According to Wanchai R, chairperson of the Coalition to Fight against
Child Exploitation, the law supplements other existing laws that deal
with crimes against women and children. 

Wanchai said the law marks a step forward in the suppression of human
trafficking at borders and points of entry. Combined with tip-offs about
traffickers from authorities in their countries of origin, he said, the
law could dampen the flesh trade considerably. 

Wanchai, who is also a deputy executive director at the Office of the
Attorney-General, said the law will allow authorities to take legal
action against conspirators who benefit from loopholes in the existing
laws to remain at large. 

Thailand has become a major destination for women and children from the
Mekong countries -- China, Burma, Laos and Cambodia -- who are lured into
the country's labour exploitation and sex industries. 

Illegal migrant workers are estimated to number over 700,000, with less
than half registered with Thai authorities. 

In a paper presented to a regional conference on the prevention of human
trafficking that ended on Friday, Wanchai quoted independent research
reports compiled in 1994 by the Thai Red Cross Society and Mahidol
University's Institute for Population and Social Research which stated
that most experts agreed that there were about 200,000 prostitutes
working in Thailand. 

The reports calculated that the annual illegal income generated by these
sex workers totalled between Bt450 and Bt540 billion -- more money than
is generated from drug trafficking. 

Wanchai noted that the sum was equal to between 50 to 60 per cent of the
government's 1995 budget. 

The majority of sex workers come from the North, the Northeast and hill
tribe villages. Some enter the trade voluntarily, but many are deceived
or forced into prostitution by trafficking rings. The trafficking of
women from the Mekong region, Russia and Eastern Europe is on the rise. 

Wanchai said traffickers have developed strategies to avoid tangling with
the law such as making their victims indebted to them and ensuring that
they are over 18. 

A 1996 study conducted at 40 commercial sex venues in Bangkok revealed
that none of the 40 had employed a new worker from the North in the
previous three years. The largest group of newcomers were women from
Burma's Shan State and minority people from the northwestern border

Wanchai said sex industry operators believed these women were more likely
to be submissive because they could not speak Thai and demanded less
money than Northern women. 

The conference, financed by the Mekong Regional Law Centre, Canadian
International Development Agencies and various Thai and foreign
government agencies, was aimed at developing bilateral and regional
cooperation in the prevention of human trafficking. 

By Kulachada Chaipipat