A middle-aged woman was riding her motorbike roaming the streets of Nongki village. Everything about her appearance looked ordinary and did not illicit any suspicions. She looked around. Suddenly, her eyes fixed on one small house near a barren farmland.
The woman drove to the house and greeted the young girl who was sitting at the front of the house alone. She asked the young girl questions that are typically asked among the people in this area.
“Do you want a new cell phone?” “Do you want to live in a bigger and nicer house?”
The young girl was surprised by the lady’s questions and remained silent.
“If you are interested in these things, I can give them all to you. All you have to do is come work with me. You will earn a lot of money so that you can have pretty clothes to wear and you will have a nice car to drive. It is a very easy job. C’mon. Trust me and come with me.”
“No, thank you,” replied the young girl, Supattra, a 14-year-old Compassion-assisted child. This situation is repeated over and over.
Nongki is a town in northeastern Thailand. It is very close to some of the major cities in Thailand including the capital city of Bangkok and Pattaya. It is no surprise that Nongki has quickly transformed from an agriculture town to one that increasingly resembles surrounding nearby cities like Bangkok and Pattaya.
“One of the significant issues in Nongki is prostitution,” says Ratchaya, director of the Thai Children Development Center.
“Prostitution has crept up silently in our community and has become a very significant source of income over the past three years. There are so many nightclubs, pubs and restaurants that have opened up here, and it is increasing. These places are targeted toward and service the local men who work at the factories or as daily workers in this area.”
“Marriages between Thai women and Westerners working in Bangkok and Pattaya have become increasingly common. It is becoming a major problem, and our center is deeply concerned.
“There are too many cases of poor, working Thai women becoming rich suddenly. They ride in nice cars and build big houses over their small former shelters. These women’s rapid rise to wealth has resulted in influencing young girls from this area to follow these women in their professional footsteps to pursue material wealth.”
A common problem is older Western men moving to Thailand and taking young women as wives. They move to Thailand in their retirement because of the low cost of living, and meet young Thai girls in a club, who become their companion or wife. The Westerner gets a companion, and the girl gets money.
Another problem is the gangs that seek to lure girls into prostitution. It is very easy for gangs to seduce and persuade young girls to drop out of school to work at night in local bars or pubs.
The gangs approach poor, young girls from the early age of 12 or 13, who do not live with their parents. They lure these young girls by talking about the significant amount of money they will earn so that they can buy the luxuries they desire.
Being born and raised in a poor family often makes young children feel they are unworthy, and frequently causes their self-confidence to diminish. They respond to their feelings of worthlessness by turning to material things to reaffirm their identities and self-worth in society.
About half of the young girls from the Thai Children Development Center do not live with their parents, who work in factories in big cities. Often they stay with an extended relative such as an aunt or grandmother. This creates a gap or distance between the young children and their caregivers. Ratchaya says,
“It’s the center’s duty to vaccinate our children and warn them about the seduction and danger of prostitution. We cannot stay calm while these issues are corrupting and ruining our community. It is harming our children. We have to take action.”
The child development center has always emphasized the importance of social awareness both locally and nationally. The center leaders read the news to the children, updating them on what is going on in Thailand every Saturday before the children attend their activities. It helps the children gain a wider perspective of what is going on and what steps they need to take to be prepared to protect themselves and make better choices for their lives.
“We know that many of our children struggle with low self-esteem, so we encourage and teach them that the value of their life does not depend upon how much they have or the amount of money they earn. Rather, we encourage the children to stay grounded in dignity and to do what is right.”
Chonticha, a sponsored child, says,
“A lot of my friends want to have pretty clothes or nice shoes from the latest fashions they see in magazines. They ask money from their parents to buy those things or work in restaurants at night in order to earn more money, which causes them to drop out of school.
“I feel really sorry for them. Before they decide to quit school, I tell them to think twice about their decision and try to stop them. I have learned from the center that when young girls ended up working in a restaurant and neglecting their education, it often leads them into a life of prostitution.
“I want them to come back to study. I asked a friend of mine who quit her school if she was happy and she said no. She has many things she wanted but they mean nothing to her now.”
And Supattra agrees.
“I will not let myself get involved in a risky situation like prostitution because I don’t want to degrade myself. I know that my body is worth more than material things. It is not worth it to trade myself in order to get the latest cell phone or a big house. If someday I ever chose the wrong path, I know I would lose everything, including my pride.”
Compassion Thailand realizes that child trafficking is a crucial issue that needs to be resolved immediately. We’ve worked with International Justice Mission, and they conducted training sessions and workshops on “Child Rights and Child Protection” for all 220 child development centers in Thailand in 2008.
The training taught the staff who work directly with children how to prevent children from being abused and how to protect them from being taken advantage of.
At the workshops, they discussed the common problems of children who are vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, trafficking, sexual abuse, domestic violence and lack of citizenship.
They wanted to reinforce the knowledge and skills of the staff to help uphold children’s rights. The workshops were a success. Those who attended gained a deeper understanding about these issues and were able to use the information to write plans on how to protect registered children at their centers.
They created a Child Abuse Protection Network for every center, linking with organizations that can provide help in child protection and child abuse situations. Most important, they now know what to do and who to contact if something happens to any of the children.
Sai Tan Rak Child Development Center is located in the city of Phitsanulok, in an area with a high rate of prostitution. Often, groups look for young girls who hang around an area in the park at night. They persuade and take these young girls into the evil prostitution cycle.
After the center staff attended a training workshop, they brought back useful materials and information to regularly conduct activities for young girls to fight the prostitution. Valia, the center director, says,
“The center teaches young women about sexuality, virginity and how to protect themselves from a risky situation.
“Whenever we learn that our children are in a risky situation, we personally talk to them and do everything to help them from making unwise choices.
“I see changes in them after we train and talk to them. Groups of registered young girls who used to hang around the park at night are decreasing. Girls who are who are vulnerable of being exploited come and tell me that they will not go to the park at night again because they are scared and they don’t want to be victims.”
Jenjira, a sponsored child, says,
“My village is in a danger zone for prostitution. I see too many young girls being lured into prostitution because they desire more money, but they go into it without knowing the consequences.
“Attending the center has been very good and helpful for me because the center teaches me, and now I know how to protect myself from this prostitution.
“If someone were ever to try and persuade me to become a prostitute, I would tell my family or the center staff at the church because they always have good advice and would help me out.”
Parents also play an important role in a child’s life.
At Sai Tan Rak, parents often do not have time to educate or teach their children. They are busy working to earn money day and night. Some parents are not even aware of the prevalence of prostitution in their area. It is the center’s responsibility to inform the parents of the children about relevant issues such as prostitution that could affect their child or children, so that even busy parents can keep an eye on their offspring.
The center staff members regularly visit the children’s homes to raise awareness and have personal time with the parents. If the center knows that a child is vulnerable to trafficking, they will visit quite often.
Unlike the parents of children in Sai Tan Rak, some parents of children in the Thai Children Development Center actually encourage their children to work at a restaurant in Bangkok or Pattaya because working there earns them a lot of money.
“We cannot talk openly to parents about this issue. We made the mistake of doing so in the past and do not want this to happen again. Instead we teach, talk, play videos and give materials for the children to address this issue,” explains Ratchaya.
In the past, if the center learned that a young girl was involved in prostitution, the staff would make several attempts to visit and talk to the parents at home to try and explain the devastating effects prostitution can have on the life of a young girl, and help the child get out of the situation.
Then a few weeks later, the child’s mother would come and ask to take her child from the center. Unfortunately, this would result in the child dropping out of school and working at night.
Some parents work in Bangkok or Pattaya and request that their child stay with them during the summer, when the children are out of school. Even though it may only be two or three months, it can change a child’s life if they are exposed to the world of prostitution.
“If they are ever confronted with having to make difficult choices in their future, I hope that in attending the center it will help them make the right choices for their future,” says Ratchaya.