Slavery is a thing of the past, right?
Free the Slaves organisation estimates that there are between
21 and 36 million people enslaved today,
more than at any other period in history.
Almost a quarter are sold for sex.
The majority of these are women, but boys and young men are victims too.
In Thailand there are over 450,000 slaves.
Most of the females are in the sex industry and most of the males are in the fishing industry.
The majority of victims come from backgrounds of poverty.
Another term for ‘slavery’ is ‘trafficking’.
This is simply a broader term that also includes other forms of exploitation.
Free the Slaves defines slavery as:
Someone being forced to work without pay,
under the threat of violence,
and being unable to walk away
The Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand
In recent years Thailand has seen a huge economic growth, but some areas in the north are still very underdeveloped. This is the home of the ‘Hill Tribes’; different groups of people originally from countries surrounding Thailand. While the families may have lived in the area for 15 generations, they are still not seen as Thai citizens.
Because of this they receive little help from the Thai government with resources for farming, health care and education. 88% of the poorest people in Thailand come from these regions. Extreme poverty and desperation creates a perfect situation for traffickers to exploit.
Who are the slaves?
In each village is a brothel, which acts like a bank. Families can take out a loan in exchange for their daughters working there. Girls as young as 12 drop out of school and are forced by their families into the local brothels.
Occasionally the girls are taken to cities or other areas, but many stay within their home villages. Local men use the brothels, very few foreigners do. The people involved do not feel there is anything wrong with this; it has become a normal way of life for them.
If a girl drops out of school to go to work in the fields, to care for a sick family member, or the family cannot afford the transport to her school any more (usually happens at age 12, when she has to move to a school up to 100km away), then there is a large chance she will be trafficked.
So: poverty + lack of medical access + lack of access to education + lack of alternatives = a girl sold into slavery by her family.
What is being done about it?
Slavery is illegal in Thailand, but there is a lot of corruption within the government and the police; human traffickers can bribe local officials. The laws are not adequate and are often changing, which confuses police and officials.
But do not give up hope! There are many charities and non-government organisations which do fantastic work with victims or potential victims. Some provide shelters and education for girls who are at risk; some help the communities by providing medical care and education; some are special Intel organisations, who work with the Thai police to raid human trafficking rings. At all levels people are working to make a difference.
There is also a lot of pressure from outside Thailand. The US government recently reduced Thailand to Tier 3 in the Trafficking in Persons Report: those ‘’countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.’’ (From the US Department of State website.)
So far the Thai government has made some steps forward, but a lot more needs to be done.
For more information on different forms of slavery in Thailand, and slavery around the world please visit: The Global Slavery Index