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Child trafficking requires action in Lao PDR

Young people need opportunities, “a dream for a bright future at home”

VIENTIANE, LAOS, 26 October 2004 – Child trafficking is an important problem for Lao PDR which requires urgent action, according to the first national study on the subject released today by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare and UNICEF. 

The study, entitled ‘Broken Promises, Shattered Dreams’, found cases of child trafficking from each of the seventeen provinces surveyed, from the far north to the far south of the country. Trafficking occurs both internally and across borders, particularly to Thailand.

While approximately one-third of global trafficking in women and children occurs in or from East Asia, and the Mekong sub-region in particular, it is only now that the extent of the problem in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is being grasped. ‘Broken Promises, Shattered Dreams’ is a qualitative study based on interviews with 253 victims of trafficking, their families and key informants.  The study found that most trafficking victims (60 percent) are girls aged between12 and 18 years, and that 35 percent of these girls end up in forced prostitution. A significant proportion of trafficking victims come from non-Lao ethnic backgrounds.

“Combating the exploitation and abuse of Lao children is a priority which we will work towards as a matter of urgency” said an official from the Social Welfare Department at the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. “Action is being taken to protect children through strengthened policy, law enforcement, and recovery and reintegration of trafficking victims.”

‘Broken Promises, Shattered Dreams’ notes that the Lao PDR is particularly susceptible to trafficking as it is one of the world’s least developed countries situated at the center of a fast developing region.  Fifty-five percent of the population is 18 years old or younger, employment opportunities are limited and literacy rates are low.  For many young people in Lao PDR, movement across borders – or to the country’s urban capitals – seems to provide the best prospects to improve livelihoods.  The study interviews reveal that children aspire to what they perceive as the more modern, glamorous lifestyle they see on Thai television which is widely watched in much of the country. 

“Child trafficking is a criminal act that violates the fundamental rights of the most vulnerable children” said Desiree Jongsma, Acting UNICEF Representative in Lao PDR.  “We commend the Government for bringing this sensitive issue to light, and are particularly heartened by the National Assembly’s recent adoption of a new law on the Development and Protection of Women, which includes a chapter on trafficking.”

Jongsma added: “This study has a deeper lesson to teach us:  we can only counter the lure of the traffickers by creating real opportunities for children and young people here in Lao PDR. If they believe they can realize their dreams for a bright future at home, they will no longer feel compelled to leave their communities for distant cities or neighbouring countries.”
        
The new study describes the types of exploitation trafficking victims from Lao PDR are subjected to:

  • Domestic Service. A large percentage of trafficking victims to Thailand find themselves locked up in private homes, as domestic servants. Victims surveyed experienced some of the most extreme cases of violence and abuse. 
  • Commercial sexual exploitation.  Sexual exploitation is a major aspect of trafficking, and the physical appearance of the girls is a major factor in assessing their value as a commodity.  
    Trafficking victims may be kept in brothels, and forced prostitution is often combined with work in the entertainment industry, particularly beer shops, bars and nightclubs.
  • Factory work.  Much of the internal trafficking within Lao PDR involves factory work in the nation’s urban centers, with most trafficking victims having to work long hours with little if any compensation for over-time.

Traffickers are usually familiar to their victims, often from the same, or nearby villages. They use this familiarity with the victims to build trust, making empty promises of lucrative work to persuade them to leave home. 

The Government of Lao PDR is undertaking new initiatives to combat trafficking in collaboration with partners, with UNICEF supporting the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare in the following areas:

  • Support for trafficked victims.  The Lao Women’s Union runs psycho-social counselling in Vientiane and plans to expand the service to almost every province.
  • Social work.  UNICEF supports training for Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare staff notably on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and family tracing.
  • Child protection networks. Community networks exist in 75 villages to monitor children vulnerable to a range of hazards, including trafficking.
  • Youth prevention A package of communication materials is being produced employing Lao youth personalities to convey anti-trafficking, drugs and HIV AIDS prevention messages.

UNICEF Laos projects to combat child trafficking are supported by the Government of Italy, the German National Committee for UNICEF and the Government of Japan through the UN Human Security Trust Fund.

For more information, please contact:

Ruth Landy, UNICEF Communication, Mobile 856 20 551 9681, rlandy@unicef.org
Amanda Bissex, UNICEF Child Protection, Mobile 856 20 550 7815, abissex@unicef.org


 

 

 

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25 October 2004: Music video on the problem of child trafficking in Lao PDR (locally produced in Lao with UNICEF support)

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25 October 2004: Listen to an interview on child trafficking in Lao PDR with UNICEF Child Protection Officer Amanda Bissex

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