Last Updated: Friday, 08 December 2017, 11:58 GMT

2015 Trafficking in Persons Report - Thailand

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 27 July 2015
Cite as United States Department of State, 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report - Thailand, 27 July 2015, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/55b73b9131.html [accessed 11 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

THAILAND: Tier 3

Thailand is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. There are an estimated three to four million migrant workers in Thailand, most from Thailand's neighboring countries – Burma, Laos, and Cambodia. In addition to Thai victims of trafficking, some of these migrant workers are also believed to be forced, coerced, or defrauded into labor or sex trafficking. There are reports that some of those labor trafficking victims are exploited in commercial fishing, fishing-related industries, factories, and domestic work. Some migrant workers who are trafficking victims are deported without proper screening due to inconsistencies in the victim identification process. Some victims are forced into street begging. Sex trafficking remains a significant problem in Thailand's extensive sex trade – often in business establishments that cater to demand for commercial sex.

Many trafficking victims from Burma, Cambodia, Laos, China, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, and India migrate willingly to Thailand seeking employment, often with the assistance of relatives and community members or informal recruitment networks. Registered and unregistered labor brokers serve as intermediaries between job-seekers and employers; some collaborate with employers and, at times, with corrupt law enforcement officials. Some migrant workers incur exorbitant debts, both in Thailand and in countries of origin, to obtain employment and are subjected to debt bondage. Traffickers, including labor brokers of Thai and foreign nationalities, bring foreign victims into Thailand. Brokers and employers reportedly continued to confiscate identification documents. Thai, Burmese, Cambodian, and Indonesian men are subjected to forced labor on Thai fishing boats; some men remain at sea for several years, are paid very little or irregularly, work as much as 18 to 20 hours per day for seven days a week, or are threatened and physically beaten. Some victims of trafficking in the fishing sector were unable to return home due to isolated workplaces, unpaid wages, and the lack of legitimate identity documents or safe means to travel back to their home country. Women, men, boys, and girls from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Burma are subjected to sex trafficking in Thailand. Thailand is also a transit country for victims from China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Burma subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor in countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Russia, South Korea, the United States, and countries in Western Europe.

Thai nationals have been subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking in Thailand and in countries in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, including Israel. Thai men and women who migrate for low-skilled contract work or agricultural labor are sometimes subjected to conditions of forced labor and debt bondage, and Thai brokers are involved in some of the transactions. Some Thai workers are deceived into incurring exorbitant debts to pay broker and recruitment fees, sometimes using family-owned land as collateral, making them vulnerable to exploitation. Some Thai men are subjected to forced labor on Thai fishing boats that travel throughout Southeast Asia and beyond. Some parents or brokers force children from Thailand – as well as Cambodia and Burma – to sell flowers, beg, or work in domestic service in urban areas. Girls from Thailand, Burma, and Laos, some of whom have false documents, are victims of sex trafficking in brothels, massage parlors, bars, karaoke lounges, hotel rooms, and private residences. Local NGOs report an increasing use of social media to recruit children into sex trafficking and women who may be subjected to sex trafficking. Members of ethnic minorities, stateless persons, and highland persons in Thailand experience abuses indicative of trafficking. Reports indicate separatist groups in southern Thailand continue to recruit and use children to commit acts of arson or serve as scouts.

Some Thai officials are complicit in trafficking crimes and corruption continues to undermine anti-trafficking efforts. In some instances, corrupt officials on both sides of land borders accept payment from smugglers involved in the movement of migrants between Thailand and neighboring countries including Malaysia, Laos, Burma, and Cambodia; some of these migrants subsequently become trafficking victims. Media sources in 2013 reported corrupt Thai civilian and military officials profited from selling Rohingya asylum seekers from Burma and Bangladesh into forced labor on fishing vessels. Some Thai police removed Rohingya men from detention facilities in Thailand and sold them to brokers that transported them to southern Thailand; some were forced to work as cooks and guards in camps or sold into forced labor on farms or in shipping companies. Credible reports indicate some corrupt officials protect brothels and other commercial sex venues from raids and inspections; collude with traffickers; use information from victim interviews to weaken cases; and engage in commercial sex acts with child trafficking victims. Due to lack of trust in government officials, and lack of awareness of their rights, migrant workers, especially those who are undocumented, are fearful of reporting trafficking crimes.

The Government of Thailand does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, and is not making significant efforts to do so. Thailand investigated and prosecuted some cases against corrupt officials involved in trafficking but trafficking-related corruption continued to impede progress in combating trafficking. Data collection methods began to improve with the implementation of a new database system. The government decreased the numbers of investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and victims identified in 2014. The government increased prevention efforts – including the establishment of a new prime minister-level anti-trafficking committee and passage of ministerial regulations that increased the minimum age of workers in agriculture and on fishing vessels and required mandatory employment contracts, a minimum wage, rest hours, and holidays. The government also passed amendments to its 2008 trafficking law to increase penalties for traffickers and protect whistleblowers. The government passed a new Fisheries Act to replace a 1946 law, which requires better registration and monitoring of vessels and inspection of workers' documents and working conditions. Senior government officials repeatedly expressed their strong commitment to combating trafficking. However, the prosecution of journalists and advocates for exposing traffickers, and statements discouraging media reporting on trafficking crimes undermined some efforts to identify and assist victims and apprehend traffickers. In some provinces, the government made some efforts to screen Rohingya migrants for trafficking indicators and worked with NGOs to assist sex trafficking victims; however there is still a lack of available interpreters for trafficking victims. The government also did not proactively identify many trafficking victims among fishing workers, or irregular migrants.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THAILAND:

Prosecute officials allegedly complicit in trafficking, and convict and punish those found guilty; increase efforts to identify, prosecute and convict traffickers, including those who subject victims to sex trafficking, debt bondage, or forced labor in Thailand's commercial and export oriented sectors; increase understanding of labor trafficking and debt bondage indicators among labor inspectors and law enforcement; designate prosecutors who specialize in human trafficking cases; significantly increase efforts to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations, particularly migrants, deportees, refugees, persons in prostitution, and stateless people; increase training for marine police and navy to detect and stop human trafficking at sea; improve the consistency for victim identification, screening, and interview procedures, and prioritize the rights and safety of potential victims; investigate and improve labor recruitment practices for migrant workers; process and approve all legal status applications at the national, district, and provincial level in a timely manner; continue to increase the availability of interpretation services across government agencies with responsibilities for protecting foreign migrants, refugees, and victims of trafficking; enhance government capacity to implement laws and regulations by providing effective training, especially at state and local levels, and increasing staff dedicated to implement the law; cease prosecuting criminal defamation cases against researchers or journalists who report on human trafficking; establish an environment conducive to robust civil society participation in all facets of human trafficking; allow adult trafficking victims to travel, work, and reside outside shelters in accordance with provisions in Thailand's anti-trafficking law; increase incentives for victims to cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases, including by providing legal alternatives to the deportation of foreign trafficking victims to countries in which they would face retribution or hardship; develop additional specialized services for child sex trafficking victims and ensure their cases progress quickly; increase anti-trafficking awareness efforts directed at employers and clients of the sex trade, including sex tourists; make efforts to decrease the demand for exploitive labor; continue to increase regional cooperation on anti-trafficking efforts; and improve migrant workers' rights, legal status, and labor migration policies to minimize the risk of trafficking.

PROSECUTION

The government sustained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2008 anti-trafficking law criminally prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties ranging from four to 10 years' imprisonment which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. In March 2015, the government amended the law to impose harsher penalties on human traffickers (up to life imprisonment and a maximum fine of 400,000 baht ($13,333)) and protect whistleblowers. The new laws also give authorities power to temporarily halt operations and immediately suspend licenses of businesses found involved in human trafficking.

The government reported investigating 280 trafficking cases (compared with 674 in 2013), prosecuting 155 traffickers (483 in 2013) and convicting 151 traffickers (225 in 2013). Despite the prevalence of forced labor in Thailand, the government reported only 58 investigations (154 in 2013) involving suspected cases of forced labor and prosecuted only 27 traffickers of forced labor (109 in 2013). Twenty traffickers received prison sentences greater than seven years, and the majority of convicted offenders received sentences of more than two years' imprisonment. The Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) reported that 107 money laundering cases associated with suspected human trafficking are under investigation. In one case the AMLO seized two million baht ($62,500), and in another case it seized 30 million baht ($1 million); these cases remained pending in court.

The government investigated ship owners, captains, and brokers for labor trafficking in the commercial fishing industry in four cases related to Ambon Island, each with multiple perpetrators, and identified 32 Thai fishermen who were forced to work on Thai fishing vessels in Indonesia. In the first case, four arrests were made and the case remained pending in court; other cases were in the investigation phase. The government reported investigations involving Rohingya asylum seekers believed to be victims of trafficking are still ongoing. Judges awarded 4.6 million baht ($141,000) to the plaintiffs in the case of a fourteen-year-old Karen girl who was kidnapped and forced to work as a housemaid and subjected to assault resulting in serious physical injuries; both offenders absconded when released on bail and remained missing at the end of the reporting period. The government reported investigating some criminal networks involving traffickers that subjected victims to sex and labor trafficking; investigations were ongoing at the end of the reporting year. Two perpetrators were sentenced to 4.5 and six years in prison in a 2013 case involving 12 Burmese victims of forced labor. A case involving Thai female sex trafficking victims identified in South Africa in 2013 and a separate case involving forced labor of Thai masseuses recruited to work in South Africa did not result in prosecutions or convictions.

The government continued to provide training to thousands of public officials on trafficking victim identification and the provisions of the anti-trafficking law and reported multiple cooperative international investigations. Challenges with collaboration between police and prosecutors, and frequent personnel changes among law enforcement, prosecutors, and multidisciplinary team members limited the success of prosecution efforts. The government initiated the process to establish a new data collection system that could improve interagency information sharing. More formalized interagency coordination occurred in 2014, including expanded use of multidisciplinary teams. The justice system increased the speed at which it resolved criminal cases for most cases, though some trafficking cases continued to take three years or longer to reach completion. In 2014, courts rendered verdicts in 118 human trafficking cases, including human trafficking cases that were filed prior to 2014. Results showed 90 cases were completed in less than one year, 27 cases took one to two years to reach a verdict, and one case took two to three years. Some suspected offenders fled the country or intimidated victims after judges granted bail, further contributing to a climate of impunity for trafficking crimes. The Office of the Judiciary announced new measures in December 2014 requiring that the verdicts in all human trafficking cases be rendered preferably within six months and prioritizing court procedures related to human trafficking, such as the use of videoconference for testimonies of witnesses outside Thailand and the use of professional translators in court.

The government made some efforts to address official complicity, but corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes continued to impede anti-trafficking efforts. The government reported investigating and arresting several officials allegedly involved in sex or labor trafficking; most of these cases remained pending prosecution or resulted in officers being removed to inactive posts with no criminal penalties. The criminal court, however, sentenced a senior police medical doctor to eight years', plus an additional 33 months' imprisonment on human trafficking and other related charges; however, he was released on bail. The government reported committing extra resources to fighting corruption and publicly encouraged people to report official complicity; it did not make consistent efforts to proactively investigate, or enforce existing laws and regulations available to combat trafficking-related corruption. The Thai Navy's 2013 defamation lawsuit against two journalists for reporting on trafficking crimes remained pending. The prime minister's public comments in late March 2015 discouraged reporting on trafficking in the fishing sector. Fear of defamation suits or retaliation also likely discouraged journalists from reporting and law enforcement officials from pursuing trafficking cases. New whistleblower laws were passed and are intended to help better protect ordinary citizens and police from frivolous lawsuits.

PROTECTION

The government sustained efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) reported providing assistance to 303 victims at government shelters (compared with 681 in 2013), including 67 Thai victims (305 in 2013) and 236 foreign victims (373 in 2013); 195 were victims of forced labor and the rest were exploited in sex trafficking. Authorities identified an additional 72 Thai victims subjected to sex or labor trafficking overseas; these victims were processed at a government center upon arrival at the Bangkok airport, and most returned to their home communities. The government reported using procedures to screen for victims among vulnerable populations, but proactive screening efforts remained inadequate and require greater consistency. The government deployed multidisciplinary teams in some cases to interview women and children in prostitution, Thai workers, some Rohingya asylum seekers, Bangladeshi migrants identified during raids or onboard fishing vessels, and other vulnerable populations to screen for indications of trafficking. The government continued to screen for trafficking indicators among fishermen returning to Thailand. Interviews were often brief and conducted in open environments where brokers sometimes were present in the same room. Interpretation services for potential victims remained limited, and poor understanding of trafficking indicators by front-line officers, as well as the lack of private spaces to screen potential victims, may have led to many trafficking victims not being identified.

Quality of victim screening varied depending on the area and the understanding of multidisciplinary team officials. NGOs reported that in some cases, well-trained, designated mobile multidisciplinary teams were very effective in interviewing potential victims and could be good models to be used in areas where local officials have limited experience and understanding of human trafficking. As one example, in the north, NGOs partnered with police to conduct victim-focused multidisciplinary team interviews and are jointly setting up a facility for child victim interviews, with multidisciplinary interview capability. Some law enforcement officers, however, continued to assert that physical detention or confinement was an essential element to confirm trafficking and failed to recognize debt bondage (exploitive debt) or manipulation of undocumented migrants' fear of deportation as non-physical forms of coercion. Officials sometimes failed to acknowledge cases of debt bondage, and the denial of the certification of such cases at times occurred over the objection of social service providers. Investigators and multidisciplinary teams may also have failed to recognize signs of forced labor and bonded labor in cases where victims originally consented to work, but were deceived about working conditions and subjected to trafficking conditions. Many victims, particularly undocumented migrants who feared legal consequences from interacting with authorities, were hesitant to self-identify. The Thai government continued to refer victims to one of nine regional trafficking shelters run by the MSDHS, where they reportedly received counseling, basic legal assistance, and medical care. Navy personnel, marine police, and labor inspectors reportedly lacked adequate training, clear mandates, and resources to effectively inspect for forced labor on fishing vessels. The government did not provide adequate interpretation services or private spaces to screen potential trafficking victims, severely limiting the effectiveness of such efforts, especially for Rohingya victims. Some front-line immigration officers reportedly deported potential labor and sex trafficking victims. There were reports some personnel in a Thai embassy overseas may have been hesitant to respond to a request to assist Thai victims in that country.

Although two-thirds of identified victims were children, the government had limited specialized services for child sex trafficking victims. The government disbanded the Women and Child Centers within Royal Thai Police (RTP) in late 2014. NGOs reported experienced investigators devoted to child cases were not as readily available to cooperate in the identification and protection of child victims. However, police maintained effective cooperation in child sex trafficking cases involving foreign perpetrators. Judicial officials did not always follow procedures to ensure the safety of witnesses; victims, including children, were at times forced to testify in front of alleged perpetrators or disclose personal information such as their address, which put them at serious risk of retaliation. The Supreme Court issued additional formal guidance in December 2014 to correct procedural problems. NGOs reported concerns over the lack of appropriate options for foreign children whose families were complicit in their trafficking or who could not be identified.

The government issued 57 six-month work permits and visas (compared with 128 in 2013), renewable for the duration of court cases to work temporarily in Thailand during the course of legal proceedings. Among adult female victims who received these permits, some were not allowed to work due to the government's assessment it would be unsafe or unhealthy for them to do so. Women without work permits were typically required to stay in government shelters and could not leave the premises unattended until Thai authorities were ready to repatriate them. There were reports that victims, including those allowed to work, were only given a copy of their identity documents and work permits, while the original documents were kept by government officials. The government disbursed 3.7 million baht ($117,000) from its anti-trafficking fund to 463 victims (525 in 2013). The government filed petitions on behalf of 57 victims (48 in 2013) and received civil compensation of 8.6 million baht ($269,000). A 2005 cabinet resolution established stateless trafficking victims in Thailand could be given residency status on a case-by-case basis; however, the Thai government had yet to report granting residency status to a foreign or stateless trafficking victim for nine consecutive years. Thai law protects victims from being prosecuted for acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking; however, the serious flaws in the Thai government's victim identification procedures and its aggressive efforts to arrest and deport immigration violators increased victims' risk of being re-victimized and treated as criminals. Unidentified victims were likely among the migrants who were subjected to government citations for lack of proper documentation during the year and were detained in sometimes-overcrowded immigration detention facilities. The government did not provide legal alternatives to victims who faced retribution or hardship upon return to their home countries; foreign victims were systematically repatriated if they were unwilling to testify or following the conclusion of legal proceedings.

PREVENTION

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The government increased funding significantly to combat human trafficking. It conducted campaigns through the use of radio, television, billboards, and handouts to raise public awareness of the dangers of human trafficking throughout the country. Nonetheless, awareness efforts in many areas continued to concentrate on Thai populations and did not adequately reach out to migrant populations, who are also vulnerable to trafficking. In addition, advocates expressed concerns that ongoing cases against an anti-trafficking advocate, in retaliation for his research documenting alleged trafficking violations in a food processing factory in Thailand, had the effect of silencing other human rights advocates. The criminal defamation lawsuit filed by the Thai Navy against two journalists in 2013 for reporting on trafficking of ethnic Rohingya in Thailand continued in 2014. These developments did not foster a climate conducive to preventing trafficking, identifying victims, and apprehending traffickers.

The prime minister chaired a new committee to combat trafficking in persons and established new subcommittees to address trafficking issues, inviting more ministries to be involved in this effort, and acknowledged human trafficking as a national priority. The Ministry of Labor established centers in 10 provinces to provide information and services to Thai workers seeking employment overseas; however, the Department of Employment remained ineffective in regulating the excessive fees incurred by these workers in order to obtain employment abroad or in Thailand, which made them vulnerable to debt bondage or exploitative working and living conditions. The government registered and offered work permits to 1.6 million migrant workers in an attempt to regularize their legal status in Thailand. National verification by origin countries (Burma, Cambodia, and Laos) still remained pending at the end of the reporting year. The government did not make efforts to regulate service providers or employment service agencies that provided service to migrant workers. Due to proactive efforts by some officials, 900 hill tribe members received citizenship. While national-level officials seemed to have a greater understanding that statelessness may be a risk factor for trafficking, this understanding had not necessarily become a standard at the municipal and regional levels. Government labor inspections of 392 worksites led to identification of labor violations in 32 worksites but not to cases of labor trafficking. The government acknowledged the labor shortage was due in large part to some workers' unwillingness to work in the fishing industry due to poor working and living conditions; the government made efforts to improve these conditions by passing new labor laws that increased the minimum age in the fishing industry to 18 years old, guaranteed minimum wage, and required employment contracts, rest periods, and holidays. The government amended the 68-year-old Fishery Act, which led to registering fishing boats and workers and conducting more multidisciplinary team inspections onboard vessels to monitor labor conditions. Weak law enforcement, inadequate human and financial resources, lack of systematic data linkage among relevant agencies, and fragmented coordination among regulatory agencies in the fishing industry contributed to overall impunity for exploitative labor practices in this sector.

In 2014, the government revoked the licenses of one labor recruitment agency, suspended the license of one agency, filed criminal charges against three companies, and investigated 156 illegal brokers/agents that sent Thai workers abroad. In an effort to prevent child sex tourism, the government denied entry to 98 known foreign sex offenders and launched a public awareness campaign warning tourists of the strict penalties for engaging in sex with minors. The government reported operating a surveillance network on child sex tourism by training business operators in high-risk areas to identify and report cases to the police. The government took steps to decrease the demand for commercial sex acts, including investigating cases against 772 individuals accused of procuring or soliciting prostitution; it is unclear how many resulted in prosecutions or convictions in 2014. The government also made progress towards finalizing legislation that criminalizes the possession of child pornography. The government, however, did not report on efforts to decrease the demand for forced labor. The government briefed diplomats on human trafficking before their departure to overseas posts.

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