We read a lot these days about human trafficking but what exactly does it mean?
Human trafficking differs from people smuggling in that the latter involves a person voluntarily requesting or engaging another individual to secretly transport them across an international border, usually because the smuggled person would be unable to gain entry to the country of his/her choice by legal means.
Though people smuggling is unlawful, there may be no coercion or deception involved, and after arriving at their destination, the smuggled person is usually free to find their own way.
The immigration laws of the destination country are infringed, but the rights of the smuggled person are not violated. Human trafficking on the other hand usually involves the rights of the trafficked person being infringed upon and often involves such person being forced to work for or provide services.
Human trafficking is estimated to be a $32 billion annual industry worldwide, and according to the United Nations about 2.5 million people around the world are caught up in this web at any one time.
It affects people of all backgrounds and people are trafficked for a number of different purposes. Men are trafficked into hard labour work, whereas women and young girls are typically trafficked into the commercial sex industry.
Thailand is described as “a source, destination and transit country for men women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking” by the United States State Department in a report published in 2015.
According to the United Nations the majority of people trafficked into Thailand come from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Southern China and that the nature of labour migration to Thailand creates vulnerabilities for those migrant workers without documentation, Thai language skills and a lack of understanding of their rights under Thai law.
Ethnic Thais are also trafficked usually from the poor areas of Thailand to urban or tourist areas and also internationally. Thai women are sent to work in sex and domestic industries in most regions of the world including Japan, USA, Australia, Europe, Middle East and South Africa.
Thailand does have laws in place to combat human trafficking.
This legislation is called the “Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act B.E 2551(2008)” and the law prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons, covering labour forms of trafficking and the trafficking of males, and prescribes severe penalties.
In fact in 2015 the scope of such penalties was increased to include the death penalty in certain instances. It also made trafficking in persons a crime prosecutable under the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
However Thailand has been criticised for not doing enough to combat human trafficking and in 2014 the United States State Department downgraded Thailand to a tier 3 status country. That meant that Thailand was designated as one of those nations whose government “does not fully comply with minimum human trafficking abatement efforts and who are not making significant efforts to comply with those standards.”
For its part the government of Thailand first of all vigorously disputed the downgrade in status. It has been at pains to point out the progress that has been made and the initiatives formulated since the intervention of the military in 2014.
The Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, has pledged zero tolerance for trafficking and vowed to eradicate it from Thailand. He has demanded greater cooperation and coordination from all government agencies and called on the private sector to do its part. Anyone failing to fight trafficking, or turning a blind eye to the problem, will face disciplinary and legal action.
The Thai government has taken significant steps in tackling this problem and it has to be acknowledged that arrests of influential persons, some connected to the police and the military, have taken place and prosecutions are currently underway. Procedures are in place in the courts to speed up the criminal process to ensure cases come to trial within 12 months, and specialist prosecutors are employed to deal specifically with these cases.
However it is alleged that corruption and complicity at the highest levels of the Thai government continue to impede investigatory and prosecutorial efforts as underscored by the flight in December 2015 of Thailand’s most senior human trafficking investigator to Australia, where he sought political asylum. Major General Paween Pongsirin says his investigations into human trafficking implicated senior figures in the Thai police and military and he now fears for his life. According to Pongsirin, “influential people (are) involved in human trafficking. There are some bad police and military who do these kind of things. Unfortunately, some are in positions of power.”
Human trafficking is a modern day expression for slavery.
We would all like to think that the evils of slavery were well and truly behind us, however the evidence clearly shows otherwise. In Thailand this is a crime that the government is undoubtedly taking seriously, however their efforts, would appear to be being hampered by what seems to be some areas of ingrained corruption within sections of the Thai hierarchy.
This government imposed upon themselves a mandate to tackle corruption at the highest levels and it still remains to be seen just how effective they can show themselves to be in this particular area. They appear to have the will and determination to address this serious problem, however one significant point of criticism in the 2015 US State Department report, highlighted the fact that the defamation laws in Thailand had the effect of silencing human rights advocates and investigative journalists from reporting perceived abuses.
The defamation laws in Thailand need to be reformed if an open and transparent attempt is to be made to address the problems of human trafficking and corruption. The basic tenet of any criminal law system, regardless of country, should be to convict the guilty and acquit the innocent, whilst at the same time protecting the rights of the accused by ensuring a fair trial process. I believe that the government of Thailand has the will to do this and it now needs to show the world that, it has the determination and commitment to make good on its promises.