Thailand needs to set up ”open houses” in border areas to assist street children who have entered Thailand from neighbouring countries, an academic said yesterday. Sompong Chitradub, an education lecturer at Chulalongkorn University who conducted a study on street children in border areas, said their number has increased significantly. These children crossed into Thailand largely from Burma, Cambodia and Laos, said Mr Sompong, who put their total number at about 20,000.
”We also found that many have become victims of child traffickers, who reaped benefits from child labour and beggars. The youngest child victim ever found was three years old,” he said.
His study was part of a project to map out a plan to assist poor and disadvantaged children. The project is spearheaded by the Institute for Population and Social Research at Mahidol University. The plan focuses on three groups _ street children, poor children, and orphans and children affected by HIV/Aids.
One proposed strategy for tackling the problem of street children was to establish drop-in houses on the borders to help them adjust and prepare themselves for a new life. Home schools would also be set up to accept them.
”The first two drop-in houses should be located in Chiang Rai in the North and Sa Kaeo in the East, as both are major gateways through which migrant children enter Thailand,” said Mr Sompong.
According to the study, some Karen and Akha children travelled from Mae Sai to Muang district of Chiang Rai, passing through Chiang Mai before heading for Bangkok. They earned a living between Bangkok and Pattaya.
”The children would stay in Pattaya for weeks in a temporary house arranged for them by sex-trade operators. There were about 200 to 300 foreigners who were regular clients of these street children,” Mr Sompong said.
Under the project, it would cost the state about 30,000 baht per head per year to assist street children.
Mr Sompong also proposed that a special committee be set up to supervise issues concerning street children and to direct the implementation of the plan. The panel should comprise social workers, state officials, academics, journalists and private sector representatives.
Setting up open houses was also considered an effective solution to other problems, including those of orphans and poor children.
”There should be such places for children to turn to when they have problems,” said Chuenruthai Kanchanajitra of Mahidol University’s Institute for Population and Social Research, who conducted a study on orphans and HIV-affected children. The entire paper will be presented to the National Economic and Social Development Board for opinion gathering on Oct 2. The final draft will be sent for consideration by the strategic committee solving the problems of poor and disadvantaged children, chaired by Education Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng. Once approved, it will be adopted as a three-year plan to be implemented between 2006 and 2008."