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An Uphill Battle: Child Trafficking Survivors in Thailand Struggle for Justice

An interview with the ECPAT Foundation

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Growing up in an environment rife with child sexual exploitation and trafficking, Bee (not her real name) narrowly escaped a fate of trafficking at just thirteen years old.

Determined to break free from this dangerous path, Bee sought help from a local support organisation, ultimately finding refuge at a child protection shelter in Chiang Rai, Thailand. 

For over eight years, the ECPAT Foundation, an ECPAT member in Thailand, has partnered with this shelter to empower staff and the youth under their care. Bee and her fellow residents have embarked on a remarkable journey, transforming from trafficking survivors and at-risk youth into advocates for change. Through workshops and training programmes, they have reclaimed their dignity, amplified their voices, and are spreading their knowledge about preventing child sexual exploitation to their peers. 

Now seventeen, Bee is thriving in high school—far from home, but closer to a bright and promising future. 

By ensuring that no one is left behind in the fight against trafficking, all children, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, or background, will be protected from trafficking and empowered to reach their fullest potential—just like Bee.  

On World Day Against Trafficking in Persons 2023, the ECPAT Foundation takes us on a poignant journey through the lives of child trafficking survivors in Thailand, shedding light on their uphill battles in pursuit of justice and support. 

What is the current situation of child trafficking in Thailand and the region?

In East and Southeast Asia, home to approximately five hundred million children aged 0-17, children are vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation for sexual purposes, both within their home countries and abroad. 

The rise of technology has exacerbated the problem, with perpetrators shifting to online platforms to groom, recruit, and exploit vulnerable children. Previously confined to the tourism and entertainment sectors, children are now at risk of trafficking in their homes, schools, and any place that technology reaches. 

Perpetrators have also employed new tactics, enticing children with false promises of modelling opportunities, gaming rewards, and romantic relationships via fake social media profiles.

What are the factors that increase children’s vulnerability to trafficking in Thailand? 

In Thailand, economic and social factors like poverty, migration, statelessness, and refugee status play a significant role in increasing children’s vulnerability to trafficking.  

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, many families were pushed deeper into hardship, forcing children to leave school and seek employment. Tragically, some children were coerced by their own families into the horrific world of child sexual exploitation as a means to survive. 

Harmful gender norms and stereotypes also continue to put children at risk, even impeding their access to support services. Children and young people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (diverse-SOGIE) are especially vulnerable to being trafficked for sexual exploitation. In many cases, the fear of stigmatisation also discourages them from seeking help or reporting cases. 

The theme for World Day Against Trafficking in Persons 2023 is “Reach all trafficked persons, leave no one behind”. How do you think child survivors of trafficking have been left behind in Thailand? 

“Children are treated as mere objects, rather than individuals with rights, agency, and the right to participate in shaping their lives and the services they receive.” 

For countless child survivors in Thailand, the journey to justice and support is an uphill battle. The under-reporting of crimes, low prosecution rates, and absence of child-friendly services continues to hamper their recovery and reintegration. 

In the justice system, child survivors are often forced to endure repetitive and traumatic questioning, victim-blaming language, and, in some cases, made to confront their perpetrators. 

What needs to be done to ensure that no child survivor of trafficking is left behind? 

“Preventing and responding to child trafficking requires a collective effort from all members of society, not just the government. This includes caregivers, adults who work with children, and the children themselves.” 

It is crucial for everyone to be educated on how to recognise the signs of child trafficking and where to report suspected cases. Caregivers and adults who work with children should receive training on safeguarding measures. Additionally, children need access to educational and awareness-raising programs to understand the dangers of trafficking and how to keep themselves safe. 

By taking these proactive steps, we can work together to ensure no child is left behind in the fight against child trafficking. 

About ECPAT Foundation  

The ECPAT Foundation began as a pilot project of ECPAT International that focused on the sexual exploitation of children situated in the North of Thailand. It was registered as a local non-governmental organisation in 1999. The vision of the ECPAT Foundation is the realisation of the rights of all children to live free from exploitation and abuse. ECPAT Foundation’s mission is to promote collaboration and engagement with key stakeholders from government, civil society organisations and the private sector to protect children. 

The ECPAT Foundation advocates the implementation and monitoring of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its protocols and engages with networks of human rights and child protection agencies at a national and local level. The foundation supports children and young people who have survived exploitation or are still at risk by encouraging them to participate as key actors to protect themselves and other children in similar situations. The ECPAT Foundation also works to promote the “Child Safe Organisations” framework to local child NGOs and government-run shelters to aid in the development of child protection policy and procedures as well as “the Code of Conduct on Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism”. 

Learn more about human and child trafficking:

Human trafficking and its impact on women, girls, and children 

Summary paper on the sale and trafficking of children for sexual purposes