BANGKOK (TrustLaw) – Thailand is a source, destination and transit country for tens of thousands of men, women and children who are subjected to forced labour and sexual abuse, according to the U.S. State Department.
Fleeing economic hardship and/or political repression in their home countries, these people – the majority from Myanmar – end up in employment conditions that amount to slavery, rights groups say. Verbal and physical abuse, debt bondage, docked pay and withholding of travel documents are common.
TrustLaw spoke to a young, female victim of trafficking, from Myawaddy, an area along the Thai-Myanmar border in Myanmar:
“I came to Thailand three years ago, before I turned 15. My brother was working at a meatball factory here in Mahachai [in Samut Sakan province next to Bangkok] and he suggested I come and work here too.
So I quit school at seventh standard even though my teachers and my grandmother didn’t want me to. I’d been living with my grandmother because my mother was jailed when I was five, accused of selling illicit drugs. My grandmother is now 84, does not work and has little money.
I thought there is no point going to school when you have no money and that I should start working to help her. The school fees weren’t expensive but I cannot afford tuition outside the classroom like others and make donations to school events and activities. Who’s going to give us that money?
I crossed the river from Myawaddy to Mae Sot in the afternoon and met a contact there. I left Mae Sot in a pick-up truck with eight others from Myanmar at one in the morning. We took a rest during the day and continued again at five in the evening and got to Mahachai at 11 at night.
We were all crammed in the covered overhead space of the truck above the driver’s seat. The back was kept empty in case the police wanted to inspect it.
The work at the factory was exhausting. There were no fixed hours. Sometimes we’d work 12 hours a day, sometimes 10. There were no rest days. The workers, less than 100 people, were almost all from Myanmar.
I was supposed to get 4,000 baht ($135) a month plus overtime of 10 baht per hour but I rarely got overtime pay, the full 4,000 baht or got paid regularly at the end of the month.
I got free lodging but we were not allowed to leave because workers used to run away from the harsh conditions and the abusive behaviour of the factory owner who sometimes kick the men.
After a month or so, the owner and his wife stopped us from contacting our families. And when we were ill, they wouldn’t let us go to see the doctors or take days off. They make us take medicine and continue working.
It cost the owner 16,500 baht ($560) for my travel costs. After I paid him back in six months, I told him I wanted to leave but he wouldn’t allow me to go. He threatened me with the police and he knows them very well, so I was scared and continued to stay for another 18 months.
I ran away from the place a number of times because I couldn’t take it. The first time I ran away, I went to Pattani near the Malaysian border to work on fish processing. It was paid by the kilo so the more you can process, the more money you get. My pay ranged from 600 baht to 1,000 baht a week.
It wasn’t a good job and my mother, who was out of jail by then, borrowed money from my aunt who had also been working at the factory so I went back to the factory to pay back that debt. I didn’t tell my mother the conditions we were working and living in.
The last time I ran away was a few months ago. My brother is still there. I haven’t spoken to him since.
I then went home because I heard my grandmother was unwell but came back after a week. There is no job and no money there. But I won’t go back to the meatball factory.
I’m now working at a factory that makes electronic parts. I do 12-hour shifts from eight in the morning or evening. I get 215 baht ($7.30) a day and 40 baht ($1.35) an hour for overtime. I only work 6 days and I speak to my mother every two or three days. It’s much better here.
I’m renting a one-room flat near the factory with three other girls around my age. I have documentation to work in Thailand but I’m not sure it’s real so I don’t go anywhere in case I meet the police.
My mother came here to live with me and make money but she’s now 51 and getting old. I didn’t want her to live in these conditions. So I sent her back. It cost me 15,000 baht to go home and about the same for my mother. It will take me a while to pay these debts back.
Of course I want to go back to school but how can I when we’re having difficulty making a living?”