Authorities rescued a migrant worker from Myanmar who had allegedly been held against her will and forced to work for a Thai family with no pay for 13 years, according to the Department of Special Investigations.
The woman, now 26, was forced to work at a house in Bangkok since the age of 13, officials said.
Acting on a tip from the Labor Protection Network Foundation, police officers went to the house on Dec. 5 and freed the woman, who may well have been trafficked into domestic work for the Thai family as she was still of primary school age when her alleged enslavement began.
The case of this migrant worker, who is receiving counseling and other assistance, has highlighted the plight of many foreign workers in Thailand where numerous migrants from neighboring nations end up becoming victims of forced labor.
Migrant children and women from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos are especially susceptible to being exploited as domestic helpers by unscrupulous employers in Thailand, experts say.
In addition, many girls and young women from these countries also become victims of sexual exploitation. Last year Thai authorities rescued 72 children from commercial sexual exploitation, but experts say the actual number of victims is much higher.
Many migrant boys and young men, meanwhile, become virtual slaves in labor-intensive sectors such as commercial fishing, which has been notorious for subjecting migrant workers to hazardous and grueling work with little or no pay for months or even years.
Child labor also remains an acute problem among young migrants, many of whom “are subjected to the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking,” the United States Department of Labor explains.
“Children, some as young as age 12, also participate for remuneration in Muay Thai competitions, an area of hazardous work in which there is evidence of serious head injuries.
“Enforcement of child labor laws remains a challenge due to an insufficient number of inspectors and resources to physically inspect remote workplaces in informal sectors.”
Earlier this year the U.S. Department of State downgraded Thailand from a Tier 2 country to a Tier 2 Watchlist nation in a global report on human trafficking because the Southeast Asian nation’s government “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”
In its 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, the US agency expressed concerns about a lack of meaningful action by Thai authorities, noting that last year they “initiated significantly fewer trafficking investigations, prosecuted fewer suspects and convicted fewer traffickers than in 2019.”
The report’s authors highlighted persistent allegations that migrant workers have been tricked or coerced into forced labor in many industries in Thailand, yet the country’s military-allied government continues to downplay the extent of the problem.
Some Thai experts have faulted the government for “backsliding” on efforts to roll back both human trafficking and forced labor — two separate if interlinked issues that often get confused by Thai law enforcement authorities to the detriment of effective enforcement.
“Without an effective investigation process on the ground, there are fewer cases being sent to court,” Vitit Muntarbhorn, a professor emeritus at the faculty of law of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, noted in an op-ed in September.
“The ultimate lesson may be that before the country passes a new law, the authorities should think hard about how it will be interpreted (or misinterpreted),” Vitit added.
This story first appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.