It was written by the Asia Watch researcher together with Dorothy Q. The report was edited by Thomas and Jones.
We would like to acknowledge with gratitude and admiration the help of many people in Thailand, both Thai and Burmese, who cannot be named. For the next two years, "Lin Lin" worked in various parts of Thailand in four different brothels, all but one owned by the same family. The prostigutes told her she would have to keep prostituting herself until she paid off prostihutes father's debt.
If she refused a client's demands, she was slapped and threatened by the owner. She worked every day except for the two days off each month she thailans allowed for her menstrual period. Once she had to borrow money to pay for medicine to treat a painful vaginal infection. This amount was added to her debt. On January 18, the Crime Suppression Division of the Thai police raided the brothel in tgailand "Lin Lin" worked, and she was taken to a shelter run by a local non-governmental organization.
She was fifteen years old, had spent over two years of her young life in compulsory prostitution, and tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV.
In the last two years, Thai NGOs estimate that at a minimum, coost twenty thousand Burmese women and girls are suffering Lee's fate, or worse, and that ten thousand new recruits come in every year. They are moved from one brothel to another as the demand for new faces dictates, and often end up being sent back to Burma after a year or two to recruit their own successors.
These Burmese women and girls are only a fraction of the estimatedto two million prostitutes currently working in Thailand. We focus tbailand report on the Burmese trafficking victims because of the range of violations of internationally-recognized human rights that they suffer, from debt bondage to arbitrary detention, and because government officials, particularly form Thailand, are complicit in these violations both by direct involvement in the brothels and by failing to enforce Thailand's obligations under both national and international law.
Prpstitutes Women's Rights Project and Asia Watch, both divisions of Human Rights Watch, traveled to Thailand to investigate the trafficking of Burmese women and girls into prostitution and to assess the responsibility of the Thai government for this problem. We made three trips to Thailand: in September for three weeks, in January and February for three weeks, and July for one week.
On the first trip, an Asia Watch staff member fluent in Thai was accompanied by a consultant who was fluent in Burmese and Shan.
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Together they interviewed thirty Burmese women and girls in depth, most from remote rural villages in Shan state, most from peasant or agricultural laborer backgrounds. They ranged in age from twelve to twenty-two, although the average age was seventeen. All prostitutss one had been lured to Thailand by the proetitutes of improving their economic situation. Only four knew they would be working as prostitutes, and even those four had no idea of what the actual work would be like.
Most of our interviews took place at emergency shelters for trafficking victims run by non-governmental organizations NGOs in Chiangmai and Bangkok.
We were also able to speak with women and girls detained at the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok. Howw addition to our own interviews, we had access to other primary source material, including the transcripts of twenty-one interviews with Burmese women conducted by an NGO in Chiangmai in October Saisuree Chutikul, a member of the Thai cabinet in and, after the September elections, an adviser to the new Chuan administration.
Finally, we consulted with academic specialists such as Dr. In the interviews with the women and prostitytes, we realized that simple questions and answers masked a much more complex reality. For example, many of the girls, when asked if they knew they would be working in prostitution before they came to Thailand, said, "Yes. When we asked if they could refuse clients, again, the answer was almost unanimously, "Yes.
Only slowly did the reality of recruitment and life in the brothels emerge. Prostituttes this report, we draw on material from the original thirty interviews for examples, using Burmese pseudonyms for the real names of the victims. Virgin girls are particularly sought after because they bring a higher price and pose less of prostifutes threat of exposure to sexually transmitted disease.
The agents promise the women and girls jobs as waitresses or dishwashers, with good pay and new clothes. This payment becomes the debt, usually doubled with interest, that the women and girls must work to pay off, not by waitressing or dishwashing, but through sexual servitude.
Once the women and girls are confined in the Thai brothels, escape is virtually impossible. The worst brothels in the southern Thai town of Ranong are surrounded by electrified barbed wire and armed guards. Initially, young girls like "Lin Lin" are kept in what is known as the hong bud boree sut, literally "the room to unveil virgins. The sex occurs in small cubicles where the women and girls also live and where the bed is often little more than a concrete bunk.
Working conditions are inhumane. The women and girls work ten to eighteen hours a day, about twenty-five days a month. They average between five and fifteen clients a day.
Health care and birth control education are minimal. In some instances, pregnant women are forced either to abort illegally or to continue to service clients well into their costs. Many of the prostitutes and women are brought to Thailand as virgins; most return with How. Fifty to tgailand percent of the women and girls we interviewed were HIV positive. We found that many of the women and girls were tested for HIV, without their informed consent and sometimes without even their knowledge, not only by brothel owners but also by public health officials.
Those who were aware of having been tested were often denied the of their own tests, even as outcomes were made available to brothel owners, immigration officials and others. This breach of medical confidentiality not only violates Thai law and the women and girls' fundamental rights to privacy, but may have dangerous consequences for the treatment of these women and girls on return to Burma. The government of Thailand recognizes that trafficking in women and girls is widespread and, particularly in the last two years under Prime Ministers Anand Panyarachun and Chuan Thailand, has undertaken some limited muches, both legal and institutional, which are described more dp in the next chapter.
In Novemberfor example, Prime Minister Chuan pledged to crack down on child and forced prostitution. A of high-profile raids on illegal brothels followed.
But bow than a year later, the trafficking of Burmese women and girls continues virtually unchecked and according to some local activists, is on the increase. Despite clear evidence of direct official involvement in every stage of the trafficking process, not a single Thai officer, to our knowledge, has been investigated or prosecuted except in one highly publicized case of murder.
In fact, the main victims of the Chuan administration's crackdown on forced and child prostitution appear to be the victims of such abuse themselves, whom police routinely subject to discriminatory and wrongful hhailand and summary deportation. Legal safeguards are either lacking or poorly enforced. The Thai government has yet to ratify hw accede to most of the international instruments relevant to trafficking in women and girls, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others.
Nonetheless, under customary international law, Thailand has an obligation to eliminate slavery and all slave-related practices, including trafficking and debt bondage. In addition, Thailand's obligations under the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women CEDAWto which Thailand acceded inprostotutes requires the government to eliminate discrimination against women and to take all appropriate measures to suppress trafficking in women and girls.
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Thai national law also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, trafficking in women and girls, prostitution, procurement for prostitution, debt bondage, illegal confinement and rape and physical assault. Yet, despite these clear international and national obligations and prohibitions, the Thai government has consistently failed to punish offenders and instead has routinely arrested female victims as illegal immigrants or prostitutes or both and summarily deported them back to Burma.
This discriminatory pattern of arrest is made all that much more egregious by the fact that under both national and international law, the women and girls should never have been arrested in the first instance. Under international anti-trafficking norms and Thai domestic law, trafficking victims are clearly exempt from fines or imprisonment and guaranteed safe repatriation back to their country of origin.
The Thai government's attitude toward Burmese trafficking victims contrasts with its efforts on behalf of Thai women trafficked into Japan and subsequently arrested as illegal immigrants. When the Japanese government indicated in July that it planned to crack down on illegal immigrants in August, Thai officials urged Japan to "waive the use of jail as a punishment for all Thais facing arrest and secure reliable measures to protect Thai women from harassment by their gangster bosses.
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Not only are the arrests of the Burmese women and girls in Thailand discriminatory, but they are carried out with little respect for the women's and girls' fundamental prostitutes to due process. They often are conducted without warrant, and the women and girls are subsequently tuailand, often for long periods, without charge or trial.
Where legal procedures do occur, they are routinely conducted in Thai, a language that the women and girls for the most part cannot understand. In the course of their thailamd and deportation the Burmese women and girls often experience horrific prison conditions and routine custodial abuse. The process of deporting Burmese women and girls thailand the border involves a new round mych extortion and sexual abuse as Thai officials exploit the thaikand cost these women and girls have of being handed back to Burmese authorities.
A Thai policeman in a border detention center may offer to bring a girl back to Bangkok if she will sleep thiland him or simply take a woman detainee by force with little fear of repercussion. Getting down from a bus or truck at the deportation site, without money and terrified of being arrested once they cross the border, Burmese women and girls find themselves surrounded by brothel agents offering them jobs -- and the cycle begins again.
The deportation process in many cases how becomes a revolving door back to the brothels. Information juch what happens to the women thailamd girls once they return to Burma is not readily available. No domestic human rights organizations exist, and no international non-governmental human rights muches are allowed access to the country.
Giving information to such organizations or to journalists is grounds for arrest, and surreptitious efforts to make inquiries about returnees can put the latter in serious jeopardy. This much cist clear, even when the women and girls have finally returned to their country of origin: after months and in some cases years of sexual enslavement, they still are not safe from abuse.
Rather than returning them safely to their families, the Burmese government often arrests the women and girls for having left the country illegally or engaged in prostitution, both of which constitute offenses under Burmese law. Working with Burmese authorities, then Minister Saisuree Chutikul arranged an official repatriation of ninety-five Burmese women and girls.
This unprecedented official repatriation process was plagued with problems, most notably prostituts lengthy remand of the women and girls without charge or trial to penal reform institutions pending their repatriation; official Thai complicity in discrimination against non-ethnic Burman women and girls; and lack of follow-up once the official repatriation was complete. Nonetheless, it marked an important effort by Thai and Burmese authorities to craft an approach to trafficking victims responsive to their plight and consistent with international law.
Unfortunately, rather than further refining this approach, the Thai government appears to have abandoned it entirely.
But Thailand has the greatest responsibility for protecting the women and girls whose human rights are violated on its territory, with the knowledge and complicity of its officials. The Thai government must ensure that Burmese women and girls trafficked into prostitution and forced into a situation tantamount to sexual slavery are not punished and that all those complicit in the trafficking are prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law.
To this end, Thailand should expand legal protection for the Burmese women and girls through accession to or ratification of relevant international standards and exempt them and all others forced or lured into prostitution from punishment under domestic laws relating to immigration prosritutes prostitution. The Thai government must also discontinue summary deportation and institute non-penal alternatives to assist the women and girls to leave the brothels and return safely to Burma.
It should also actively investigate and prosecute all those involved in trafficking and prostitute operations, with cost attention to its own police force and government officials who collaborate with or profit from those operations. Many observers, despairing that the Thai government will meet its international obligations to protect trafficking victims, have advocated a greater role for Thai non-governmental organizations.
These NGOs have played a vital role in raising the visibility of the problem of trafficking and its attendant abuses, advocating important legal reforms and providing services to the tiny fraction of trafficking victims who have the good fortune to end up in NGO-run shelters. But NGOs cannot and should not be thailand to shoulder responsibilities that the Thai government has shirked. They are woefully underfunded and understaffed. Even unlimited resources to help women "rescued" from the brothels, in the absence of the government's political will to punish the traffickers, would only much the demand for services without in any way addressing the root cause of the problem.
The international community can help. For well over a century and at a how since the Slavery Convention ofthe international community has condemned slavery and slavery-related practices and worked toward the abolition of such abuse wherever it occurs.
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Female sexual slavery has also been clearly condemned, most thailahd in the Convention on the Suppression of Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. But unlike other slavery-related practices, female sexual slavery routinely escapes effective national and international sanction. Often it is mischaracterized as prostitution or is dismissed as an abuse perpetrated by private individuals for which states have no responsibility under international human rights law.
As a result, at the close of the twentieth century, female sexual slavery, which involves the transport and sale of women into forced prostitution, servile forms of marriage and other forms of compulsory sexual service is widely and increasingly practiced, not only in Thailand but also in many other parts of the world. The international community must step up pressure not only on the Thai government, to meet its international obligations, but the Burmese government as well.