A common scene in Thailand: a Western man, buying a young Thai girl forced by poverty and oppression into prostitution.
As most of you know, Asia's Hope is committed to providing long-term, loving care -- in safe, family environments -- to orphaned children in Southeast Asia. These children are at extremely high risk of sexual and economic exploitation.
In Thailand, we work exclusively with ethnic minority "hill tribe" children. This excerpt from a report from ECPAT, a UK-based child advocacy organization sheds some light on the dangers facing the children we are working to protect.
While there is a general reduction in the number of Thai children in the sex industry this is not true for all children. The northern hill tribe children are especially vulnerable to internal trafficking due to state policies that discriminate against them in education and citizenship and thus expose them to poverty and disadvantage.
The reasons why and how children are commercially sexually exploited are numerous and include:
- Poverty: A third of the population lives on less than US$2 a day and in the agricultural northeast one in six people lives on less than US$1 a day.
- Ethnic hill tribe children: There are approximately 800,000 to 900,000 hill tribe people living in the border region of northern Thailand. They suffer from disproportionate levels of poverty in relation to the general population and most of them lack citizenship cards. This means that they do not have access to health care or primary school, which limits their further education or employment opportunities. This discrimination makes the children and women especially vulnerable to trafficking and other forms of sexual abuse.
- Trafficked children: Many children are trafficked into or within the country through criminal networks, acquaintances, former trafficking victims and border police and immigration officials who transport them to brothels across Thailand. Because foreign children are unable to speak the Thai language and are often considered illegal immigrants, they are particularly vulnerable to physical abuse and exploitation.
- Sense of duty: According to traditional customs the first duty of a girl is to support her family in any way she can. Due to this sense of duty and to pay off family debts, many girls have been forced into prostitution and some have even ‘married’ their abusers.