|A group of children at a primary school in Chiang Rai, Thailand, taking part in a play highlighting the dangers of child trafficking.|
By Rob McBride
CHIANG RAI, Thailand, 17 April 2006 – Sometimes they smiled and sometimes they looked grim, but at all times the young children of this primary school in Northern Thailand remained captivated by the drama.
Played out on the stage before them was an important life lesson in the dangers of talking to strangers. With one young actor playing the part of predator, several others were lured away to the big city with promises of fame and fortune, only to end up trafficked into virtual slavery.
“There is one part in the story where a girl wants to become a movie star, but she ends up in child labour instead,” explained Sawitri Nantang, 11.
“If a stranger asks me for directions to somewhere, I will tell them to ask an adult,” said Sawitri’s classmate, Suthiwat Sukhacharoen, also 11. “And if the same person asks me to go with them, I will refuse.”
Along with the play, the schoolchildren also heard a lecture about the dangers posed by traffickers – a real threat in this economically deprived agricultural area, where children are particularly vulnerable.
Rescued from exploitation
School visits like this one are arranged by the local Center for Girls, a non-governmental organization supported by UNICEF and committed to fighting child exploitation, abuse and trafficking. “I want the children to know that trafficking doesn’t only lead into prostitution, but can also take them into child labour or organized begging,” said Center for Girls President Natnaree Luangmoi.
|© UNICEF video/2006|
|UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah speaks to a young girl rescued from sexual exploitation during a recent visit to the Baan Kredtakarn Protection and Occupational Development Centre for Girls, in Bangkok.|
Initiatives to tackle trafficking play a vital role in Thailand, which finds itself a source country, a destination and a transit point for the trafficking of women and children between Southeast Asia and the rest of the world.
“This part of Thailand is the source and the transiting area for people coming from Lao, Myanmar and China,” noted Ms. Luangmoi. Along with Thais from this region, she said, they are trafficked to places such as Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan Province of China.
The Thai Government estimates that between 20,000 and 30,000 children under 18 are in the commercial sex industry in Thailand. Some of those rescued from sexual exploitation or forced labour find themselves being cared for in the Baan Kredtakarn Protection and Occupational Development Centre for Girls, in Bangkok.
Run by the Thai authorities, the Baan Kredtakarn centre has been providing shelter and assistance for women and girls for more than 40 years. For those who have been trafficked from neighbouring countries, it also organizes repatriation back to their families and home communities.
“The worst violation of the human rights of children is trafficking,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah, who recently visited the centre to highlight the continuing problem of trafficking in this region. “Because when children are trafficked they have no access to services. And the most important thing is, we don’t know the number of children who are trafficked. It is of great concern to us.”
Ms. Salah took particular note of the facility’s provision of psycho-social counselling services for trafficking victims, including children.
“I feel that there is hope,” she said. “I feel that the children playing here – that we are giving them back their childhood.”