Economic Crisis Fueling Child Labor, Trafficking
By Saw Yan Naing
December 18, 2007
The economic crisis and instability in Burma is driving waves of Burmese children into hard labor, begging and the sex trade, claims exiled Burmese rights groups.
To mark the fourth anniversary of the international Day Against Child Trafficking on December 12, Mae Sot-based organization Burma Anti-Child Trafficking and the Burmese Migrant Workers’ Education Committee organized a campaign in the Thai border town of Mae Sot against the trafficking of children and warning against the hardships of child labor.
|Hard labor or kindergarten? Burmese children working on an underground plumbing system in Myawaddy. [Photo: goodgolly]|
The two groups called for the protection of children’s rights in an event that was attended by some 2,000 children, parents and teachers.
Nang Muu, coordinator of the Burma ACT told The Irrawaddy: “The amount of Burmese children trafficked increases year after year. It is because of the economic crisis and the social problems that parents believe the word of traffickers.”
Often, parents of children and teenagers in Burma are persuaded by businessmen, relatives and friends to send their children abroad—usually to Thailand, China, India, Malaysia or Indonesia—to seek jobs with better salaries than exist in Burma, according to a member of Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association, a Mae Sot-based migrant rights group.
Migrant “street children” in Thailand feature in no official statistics and NGOs can only hazard a guess at their true number—20,000 is a generally accepted figure.
A 2005 report released by Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University highlighted the vulnerability of migrant street kids. Children were found at shopping malls, weekend markets, train and bus stations, slum districts and bar areas, said the report.
Burma ACT has documented about 70 cases of child trafficking in 2007 and helped to send four trafficked children from Mae Sot back to their homes in cooperation with other rights groups, said Nang Muu.
Meanwhile, the results of child trafficking has had a huge impact on the education of many Burmese migrant children, forcing the children into hard labor in factories, sweat shops and even into the sex trade, according to Burmese migrant education groups.
Many victims under the age of 18 have become street beggars and sex workers instead of studying at school, said Paw Ray, the chairperson of the BMWEC, which operates nearly 50 schools for children of Burmese migrant workers in Mae Sot.
|Kids jostle for the job of carrying a stranger’s groceries in Mae Sot. [Photo: The Irrawaddy]|
Paw Ray, who is also a director of Hsar Thu Lay School in Mae Sot— a learning centre for orphans, refugees and Burmese migrant children—said, “Children are our future. We should take care of them and protect them. We should let them express their feelings freely.”
Due to the difficulties of daily survival, some parents are forcing their children to work and some children are even sold by their parents, said Paw Ray.
Meanwhile, Penpisut Jaisanit, a Rajabhat University researcher who conducted a study around northern Thailand’s border with Burma’s Shan State, said most child laborers were ethnic children from Burma.
“We found that the ethnic children were forced to beg by their parents, especially in Mae Sai. If they cannot collect enough money they are punished. Some girls under the age of 15 work in ‘entertainment centers’ and are sexually harassed at an age when they should be in school,” said Penpisut.
“We should not sit back and watch. Rights groups should cooperate and try to stamp out the trafficking of children and highlight the issue,” urged Paw Ray, adding: “The Burmese regime is responsible for this.”
However, Thailand’s Minister of Labor, Somsak Thepsutin, has indicated that it would be another ten years before the worst forms of child labor are eradicated in Thailand.
Burmese child laborers were unearthed in six of Thailand’s provinces, from Chiang Rai in the north to Songkhla in the south, said researcher Penpisut Jaisanit.
Ne Oo, the secretary of the BMWEC, tells the parents that if their children don’t receive an education they will have hard lives: “It’s difficult for us to help those [migrant families] with their daily survival. We explain to them the comparison between the lives of educated people and uneducated people,” he said.
Ne Oo added that many children lack the interest in education and said he had noted some 40 Burmese street kids coming every day to collect plastic and rubbish under the bridge linking Burma’s Myawaddy town and Thailand’s Mae Sot. “They [migrant children] don’t get pocket money if they attend school. If they collect plastic and sell it, they earn at least 20 baht per day. So, they prefer to keep working as street children,” he said.
Meanwhile, a Rangoon resident told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the amount of street children in the former capital is now increasing. “Many children aged between 4 and 13 are begging on the streets. Some young children are carrying babies and begging. Some street children look for plastic in the rubbish bins and dumps and some go fishing every day for their daily survival,” she said.
The Rangoon resident added: “If we are sitting and eating in a shop, they [child beggars] come to us and wait for money. They will wait until we have finished eating.”
Ne Oo concluded: “We try to explain to the parents of these children. We told them that the life of an uneducated person is hard. How can they expect their children to survive in the future?”
A PIME missionary’s Christmas among Bangkok’s street children
Foster homes to help raise the children and protect then from the violence and temptations of the city, trying to maintain ties with their parents so they may come back and take on their responsibility. In the north, efforts are made to find land for the families of the Lahu tribe, who fled the Laos civil war of 1975.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – “It was only days ago that the mother of three children being cared for in the ‘St Dominic’ foster home called me to say she is ready to take her three children because: she loves her children and the families economic situation has improved’”. It is one of the cases with a happy ending, but many others unfortunately have the opposite outcome, as told by father Adriano Pelosin – a PIME missionary who has spent over 20 years in Thailand – in a Christmas letter sent together with Father Raffaele Manenti, also of PIME, to all those who have sent donations or made distance adoptions.
“As I write – continues the missionary – I open today’s paper, the Bangkok Post and I read statistics regarding the level of violence in Thailand in 2006: 519 acts of violence and 8 violent deaths every day. Over 35% of the cases take place in the home, 29% among the young, between 15 and 29. We – he adds – work in the shanty towns and slums where most of our children now in the foster homes come from and where we provide poor children through scholarships and formational activities. It seems like a waste of time. Yesterday, Sunday November 18th, I went to a prison-reformatory to visit 4 boys. Two were arrested for smoking marijuana and sniffing glue, another because he violently beat a person and the last one because he made an n underage girl pregnant. Our foster-homes aim to be an answer to the problems which afflict so many abandoned children. At the same time we keep contact with the parents and relatives of our children so that maybe, we can reach a point where the parents can take on the responsibility for their children again”.
“At the beginning of each semester, May and November, we meet with all of the parents of the children we are helping with scholarships so that they can cooperate in their children’s education: so that their children do not fall into the trap of the city’s many temptations: easy sex, prostitution, drugs, violence and various diseases, above all AIDS. We try to make both parents and children aware”.
But not only the shanty towns of the capital. “I went to visit the villages of Mae Put and Suksawan Kampeng Pet province for three days, where we have many adopted children, and where – writes the missionary to benefactors – through your donations, we are buying rice paddies for families from the Lahu tribe, who as you know, fled civil war in Laos in 1975 and are still today without land to live a dignified life. Thanks to your help we have bought land for 52 families, 78 remain. Lahu rapidly grow in numbers; they have many children and can marry from the age of 16 or 18. This time I would ask those of you who can for a special sacrifice, so that we can speed up land purchase and in doing so give this tribe a little stability”.
“I will also give you the good news – the letter continues – that another three young Thais are in Italy to study psychology and education science and thus they are now four. Our hope is that within a few years they will return to Thailand to help us teach our abandoned children”. The PIME missionaries are supported in this endeavour by the University of Padova. “They continue to help us carry out our work by sending two psychologists each year to flank the work of our assistants and educate our children. We would like to thank the Psychologists Without Borders Association organised by prof. Luciano Gamberini in collaboration with Ramhampeng University Bangkok”.
“The other good news – concludes the letter – is that on February 17th 2008 the House of the Angels will be blessed, where disabled children will find a home under the direction of Maria Angela Bertelli of the Saveriane missionaries of Parma”.
On Sunday, most bars in Pattaya were closed for business due to the start of Buddhist Lent and restrictions on selling Alcoholic Beverages. Many bar workers and owners took the opportunity to take a well earned break. This was not the case with the team from Secrets Bar, Restaurant and Hotel located in Soi 14 off Walking Street. They decided to spend the day at the Redempotorist Street Kids Home in Nongprue and invited nearly 200 kids from the Home and the Baan Jing Jai Orphanage for a day of fun and games. This was followed with a nice meal and entertainment including a magician and prize giveaways. We commend the actions of Secrets and if you would like to make a donation to the Street Kids Home or arrange a similar party you can contact them direct on 038 249 824.
Major rethink for dealing with street kids discussed in City Hall Meeting.
Khun Wootisuk, Deputy Mayor of Pattaya chaired this Thursday Morning meeting at Pattaya City Hall to discuss homeless children who can often be seen on the streets of Pattaya. This brainstorming session required delegates to offer further suggestions of how to combat this problem. Previous schemes to rehabilitate the street kids have not been too successful and new ideas are needed. What did come from the meeting was that it is important to educate these children and teach them skills to allow them a good chance for successful reintegration into Society. A “boot camp” style program which has taken place in the past was not successful and many returned to the streets soon after the program was completed. Further meetings are planned on this subject over the coming months.
Further plans to assist street kids in Pattaya.
At Pattaya City Hall on Tuesday Morning, Khun Wootisuk, Deputy Mayor of Pattaya chaired this important meeting to discuss further plans to deal with the persistent problem of homeless young people who, despite previous projects, remain on the streets. Joining the Deputy Mayor at the Meeting were representatives from the Tourist Police, Traffic Police and Immigration Police who are keen to assist in dealing with this problem. A further project will be initiated shortly which will involve setting up a rehabilitation center for the homeless kids who will receive education and will learn skills which will assist them in gaining employment.
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."
Thursday, July 27, 2006
A new shelter for homeless children was officially opened in Patong, Phuket district, in a ceremony presided over by Vice Governor of Phuket, Mr. Vorapot Ratasima on behalf of Phuket Governor, Mr. Udomsak Uswarangkura.
The “Children’s Happy Home” project is a joint initiative funded by Holiday Inn Resort Phuket, AIG Private Bank and OVB Holding AG, Germany and operated by World Vision Foundation Thailand. The aim of the new shelter is to provide a safe environment for homeless children as they commence a new life away from the streets. It houses up to 30 street children between the ages of 11 – 16 in dormitory style accommodation as well as housing the staff on site. The Home is accessible 24 hours a day to innocent victims of abuse, neglect, abandonment and homelessness, as well as runaways and those facing family crisis. Equipped with modern facilities and run by staff trained in the rehabilitation and counseling of street children, the home will offer a happy environment for children to play, learn and relax in safety. The Children’s Happy Home project was initiated by The Holiday Inn Resort Phuket which donated 9.7 million Baht to sponsor the building of the home from charitable funds raised by the resort in the aftermath of the Tsunami tragedy in 2004. An additional 500,000 Baht, provided by AIG Private Bank enabled the acquisition of a new building for the project’s expansion.
A further sponsor, OVB Holding AG, Germany, will ensure the necessary funds to pay for the day-to-day running of the home. The Holiday Inn Resort Phuket also intends to remain closely involved in the future funding of the project. The project is operated by World Vision Foundation Thailand which has over forty years experience of implementing such projects in Thailand.
Presiding over the opening ceremony, Phuket Governor, Mr. Udomsak Uswarangkura, commented: “I have closely followed the work of World Vision since the foundation started working here in Thailand. I feel assured that the foundation is reliable, accountable, and has the requisite expertise to manage such an important project in a responsible and sustainable way.
“The Children’s Happy Home project will be of great benefit to the street children in Phuket who deserve a better way of life and a real chance for future happiness. It’s good to see the NGO & private sector working together and supporting the Government’s aim to achieve a better community for all.”
Chusak Wuthiwaropas, the National Director for World Vision Foundation Thailand, said: “World Vision Thailand started working in Phuket in 2002 with the Street Children Protection Program partnering with government and other organizations. The initial project was ‘Patong Beach School’ a drop in center that provides assistance and educational support for street children to this day. It has become a safe haven for children and adults alike. World Vision would like to thank The Holiday Inn Resort Phuket, OVB Holding AG, Germany, and AIG Private Bank Ltd for the generous support that has enabled us to help these street children find a better life.”
Commenting on their involvement to make the Children’s Happy Home a reality, Mr Wolfgang Meusburger, General Manager for Holiday Inn Resort Phuket said: “As a successful hotel operating in Phuket, we felt it was our responsibility to give something back to the community. Happy House is a project which we believe will make a real difference to the future of the street children, helping them to escape from daily abuse and misery, and giving them the life skills and foundation for a better future.”
Michael Frahnert, CEO of OVB Holding AG, Germany, said: “OVB has been involved in several community projects, and over the years, our management and staff have devoted valuable time and money to non-profit causes, to improve the lives of those in less fortunate circumstances, and provide them with opportunities which enable them to help themselves.”
Niklaus Siegrist, a member of the Management Board of AIG Private Bank, added: “The people in Phuket have undergone tremendous hardship in the recent past, and the ones that suffered the most are the children. It is therefore a pleasure for us to be involved in this project, in helping them to rebuild their lives.”
Michael Verikios – Thursday, July 27, 2006"
Street kids find refuge and hope in Pattaya
by Weena Kowitwanij
Run by Sister Woranuch Pranomjit, the Redemptorist centre is home to more than 150 children and teenagers. Thanks to it, they get food and shelter but also an education for the future.
Pattaya (AsiaNews) – More than a 150 kids have found a refuge in the Redemptorist Street Kids Home in Pattaya, a tourist resort area well known for its nightlife in Chonbury province. The youth centre is run by Sister Woranuch Pranomjit.
“These kids have had no luck,” the Sister said. “They should be the responsibility of their families and society. They should be helped to build a better future for themselves and develop their physical and mental skills to become honest and respectable citizens. This is why we hold ethics classes every day in the centre.”
“We gave them shelter and send them 18 different local schools based on their aptitudes,” she added. “A bus takes them to each every day.
“We do this for them,” she explained, “until they complete their education to enable them to build a professional future and become self-sufficient. Currently, two of our kids have gone to university. When they graduate, if they want, they can go back to their families.”
“Food, a roof over the head and health are the kids’ priorities,” noted Suchart Suthinak, a psychologist who works with the centre, “then comes a better quality of life through professional training.”
For him “it is important that the children and teenagers work [with the centre] and participate in their own development; otherwise, they might go back to what they were doing outside the centre”.
“Many kids come from Bangkok and arrive with a lot of problems, but in Pattaya they can survive,” Suthinak said. “They come with family problems, after fights, or are involved in sex, prostitution, law-breaking, drugs, HIV infections, pregnancies, abortions; problems caused by society’s and the authorities’ neglect.”
Yet, for Suwannee Sap-paem, who teaches at the centre, “it doesn’t matter how well they are at the centre, this ‘home’ cannot replace the love they might have had from their families”.
“I have been living at the Redemptoris home for 13 years,” said a girl. “My parents split up and my mom’s new husband is very stern. Quarrels are frequent. I left home and found a job at a Pattaya club. Here I had some problems with some of the other employees and so I decided to come to the centre and meet Suthinak. Now I am studying to become a hairdresser and hope I can make a living with this trade.”
The Redemptoris Street Kids Home was founded in 1989 and now houses more than 150 children, aged 5 to 19 years.
Thai street children sniff glue at a road construction site in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 4, 2001. The number of homeless children is on the rise since the collapse of the country’s economy in 1997. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)