The boys recently trapped in the cave in Chiang Rai near the Friends of Thai Daughters’ Sunflower Houses in Northern Thailand garnered worldwide media attention and sympathy. Their story not only captivated us but also brought attention to the number one risk factor for human trafficking: statelessness. It turns out, three of the trapped boys and their coach were stateless. They came from indigenous, minority hill tribe communities along the Thai-Burmese border and lacked documentation proving their existence. Once this became known and given the media spotlight, the Thai government decided to grant them Thai citizenship. In doing so, the boys and their coach now have a much lower risk of being trafficked, will receive state services, have access to banks and more opportunities for education and travel.
July 30 is World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. Human trafficking occurs around the world with an estimated 45.8 million people trafficked as part of a massive industry with annual profits of $150 billion. In fact, slavery is more common now then during the African slave trade of the 15th-19th centuries when an estimated 11 million humans were sold into slavery. Complicating this: human lives are cheap. A slave costs less than $100 versus the estimated tens of thousands, in today’s dollars, during the African Slave Trade.
Asia Pacific is home to the largest estimated number of trafficked people at over 30 million and over 400,000 in Thailand. An estimated 500,000 people in Thailand are stateless, many from indigenous hill tribes living along Thailand’s borders with Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia. The average age a child is forced into prostitution is 13. Perhaps coincidentally, the average educational attainment in Thailand is ninth grade, just as girls reach puberty and trafficking risk is high. In addition to statelessness, trafficking risk factors include abandonment, abject poverty, abuse, illiteracy, and the presence of trafficking nearby.
Each year, only $350 million is spent to combat human trafficking leaving much of the work to non-profit organizations like Boothbay-based Friends of Thai Daughters (FTD). FTD not only focuses on eliminating trafficking risks for its “Daughters,” it has eliminated trafficking in 75 percent of its Daughters’ villages. The villages located in Chiang Rai are home to indigenous hill tribes along the Burmese and Lao borders. FTD provides its program through college and emotional support and mentoring beyond college, breaking the cycle of poverty completely for its “Daughters” and often their families. Mid-coast Maine has generously supported FTD’s program since its inception in 2005 making this work possible.
For more information about human trafficking, FTD or its upcoming fundraising events in Maine on Aug. 3 and Oct. 6, please visit friendsofthaidaughters.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.