Cablegate: Ngo Activist Believes Prevention Is Key to Fight Against

DE RUEHBK #0432/01 0531006
P 221006Z FEB 10


Department for G/TIP CChan-Downer, DRL/IL MJunk, EAP/MLS
DOL/ILAB for Brandie Sasser


E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: NGO Activist Believes Prevention is Key to Fight against
Trafficking in Persons

BANGKOK 00000432 001.2 OF 004

Sensitive But Unclassified. For Official Use Only.

1. (SBU) Summary: An experienced NGO activist working in a Thai
border area believes the only thing that has proven to work against
trafficking in persons is prevention, i.e., keeping victims from
getting involved in the first place. Once involved in trafficking,
it is hard for victims to return to their former lives, as
demonstrated by NGO research showing that of a group of 60 women
rescued from trafficking situations, more than 50 shortly returned.
Although prevention takes time, the activist believes it is still
better than law enforcement as the cultural and societal mountains
that have to be moved are simply too daunting, though occasional
successes are possible. Deprivation of liberty may not be the most
serious concern to trafficking victims, whose need to generate
income, even through debt bondage, may be a higher priority. This
activist believes that the G/TIP tier report has motivated the Thai
government to improve its anti-TIP efforts, but an emphasis on law
enforcement may divert resources from where they would be most
effective and undermine support for anti-TIP efforts generally. End

2. (SBU) Comment: This report should be read in conjunction with
other Embassy TIP reporting to provide a full picture of anti-TIP
efforts in Thailand and the attitudes of those involved.
Nevertheless, we share the insights of this NGO leader, whose NGO is
primarily funded from European sources, because of her candor on
issues that have been at the forefront of the fight against TIP
through her many years of work in the field. Before speaking at
length with Econoff, she asked that she and her organization not be
identified in TIP-related reports, out of concern that her views may
not be appreciated by those providing her funding. End comment.

Fighting TIP Among Village Priorities

3. (SBU) The NGO visited by Econoff is located in a Thai border
area near Laos, and the group works in both Laos and Thailand. The
porous border divides extended families, and relatives regularly
cross back and forth. Thai villagers in the area say they struggle
with a number of challenges, primary among them poverty alleviation
and lack of documentation that would allow residents to venture
legally into other parts of Thailand to find work. A local primary
school, supported by the NGO, is attended mostly by migrant
children, including Lao hill tribe children, and local children from
broken homes. The most serious trafficking problem the NGO deals
with is the trafficking of Lao lowland and highland women and girls
to the sex trade in Malaysia.

4. (SBU) Having operated in the area for many years, the NGO has
developed good relationships with the local villagers. With
Econoff, NGO workers and volunteers visited with families to promote
a village training meeting at which participants would be warned
about the potential dangers of going to distant places for work. In
response to a question from Econoff, one worker explained that the
villagers welcomed such training, so long as the NGO workers, who
the villagers see as useful intermediaries with government offices,
include other topics of importance to them in the sessions as well.
The agenda for the upcoming session at the village temple included
topics such as how to get birth certificates, work permits and other
documentation; counseling with regard to domestic violence including
incest; medical issues; and information on which government offices
to go to for help with various matters. The anti-TIP discussion was
agenda item number 3. The large colorful banner advertising the
upcoming session did not mention TIP per se.

5. (SBU) In a subsequent long discussion with Econoff, the NGO
office head, who has been with the NGO for five years and who worked
on labor issues before that, described the NGO's interaction with
local government officials. Thai officials at the immigration
department, where the NGO regularly provides counseling to those who
are to be deported (out of concern than they could be future TIP
victims), are cooperative. Other government officials dealing with
shelters and prevention efforts are also supportive of the NGO's
work. Relations with Lao officials on the other side of the
border, however, are much more difficult, she said.

6. (SBU) Law enforcement, however, is a mixed picture, the office
head explained. There are some policemen who are cooperative and
eager to learn about how to make raids effectively. The NGO has
been able to coordinate a number of successful rescues with support
from police authorities. The training that has been provided for
these officers has been well worth the money, she believes. On the

BANGKOK 00000432 002.2 OF 004

other hand, significant arrests and prosecutions are frustratingly
rare. She said that there are even police who have taken anti-TIP
training and used what they learned to help perpetrators avoid the

Money is the Motivation for All Involved

7. (SBU) For this NGO leader, trying to fight TIP through law
enforcement is like trying to move a mountain. Police training,
resources and capabilities are just too weak. Moreover, the
reQtionships between the police and influential people in local
communities are too extensive, engrained and accepted to expect any
significant change in the status quo in the foreseeable future.
Powerful people often have many good businesses as well as shady
ones and will be protected. She added that the problem of
corruption is not limited to Thailand. In one case of trafficking
to Europe, a corrupt official working in Scotland Yard was involved.

8. (SBU) Moreover, getting ahead economically is in fact most
everyone's top priority. The office head told Econoff that the
desire for greater cash income that drives young people from
impoverished rural villages is essentially the same thing that
motivates most policemen trying to support their families on their
meager salaries. The local people all understand this. There are
some villages in which parents are even willing to trade the labor
of their children for cash up front, she said. From her earlier
experience working with victims of labor trafficking, she noted that
the Lao and Cambodians who work on Thai fishing boats for two or
more years are not unaware of the possibility of abuse, but the
prospect of earning enough from such an arrangement to be able to
build a home in their village after their return is alluring.

9. (SBU) In the world of trafficking in persons, the activist
explained, unscrupulous brokers are really at the heart of the
problem, but they are not easy to identify. Being a broker is part
and parcel of the real economy. The use of brokers is widespread to
do everything from legitimately organizing villagers during harvest
season to staffing workers for a construction project to deceiving
girls into working in karaoke lounges in Malaysia. They include
friends or relatives of village families, who may not even know the
ultimate purpose or destination of those whose employment they are
facilitating initially, as well as unscrupulous networks.

'Rescue' not Always a Solution

10. (SBU) Following a recent rescue of 60 mostly Lao women who had
been trafficked into the sex trade in Malaysia and returned to their
villages, the NGO was disheartened to learn from follow-up efforts
that more than 50 had returned to the trade, sometimes through the
same brokers (in other cases the women hoped for "better luck" going
through another broker). Further research determined that there
were mainly two reasons. One, the women had been so changed by the
experience -- living in air conditioned quarters, going to beauty
shops, wearing nice clothes and make-up -- that the prospect of
remaining in the village in relative poverty and working again in
the fields, was unappealing. Second, there was no good way to earn
money in the village, and whether they ended up being duped or not,
the desire to earn money was why they left in the first place.

11. (SBU) "Of course," the NGO office head said, "for women who
have been seriously abused or who really do not want to be where
they ended up, things are different. But those cases are relatively
few." She explained that debt bondage, in which the club owners
periodically send a few hundred dollars back on behalf of the women
and obligate them to continue to work, often does not coQ across as
such a serious matter because debt is such a common feature of the
world in which the victims live. (Comment: In rural Thailand, the
average amount of household debt has doubled in the past nine years
to where it is now often more than twice a family's average annual
income. End comment.) She pointed out that the women who try to
escape from trafficking situations invariably are those who have a
higher level of education.

The Impact of Tier Rankings

12. (SBU) This NGO leader believes that the Thai foreign and social
ministries are very aware of, and quite motivated by, the USG's
annual Trafficking in Persons report and the accompanying Tier

BANGKOK 00000432 003.2 OF 004

rankings. She believes that much of the work that Thailand has put
in to deal with TIP, such as creating shelters and strengthening
TIP-related laws, has been in response to USG recommendations in
such matters. (Comment: The MFA America's desk director a few
months ago asked the Embassy whether, given all that Thailand has
done to comply with model TIP guidelines, the USG might consider
putting Thailand in Tier 1. End comment.) The NGO head also
commented that "countries" (presumably Thailand) sometimes do things
to respond to the tier rankings that are counterproductive, such as
putting too much money into law enforcement training where results
(for reasons noted above) are meager.

13. (SBU) By and large, doing anti-TIP work in Thailand is
positively accepted by Thai society and officialdom, the NGO office
head said, especially in areas where there is no opposition, such as
building shelters or conducting prevention programs. In the law
enforcement realm, however, where actions can threaten established
networks and sources of income, the reception can be different. She
said that some criticize hers and other NGOs as being "in the
pocket" of foreigners and not friendly to Thailand. She added that
the threat of economic sanctions, which would have the effect of
retarding development, was seen by some as bullying from more
developed countries trying to keep developing countries down.

What really works
14. (SBU) Taking stock of all the anti-TIP activities going on,
this office head told Econoff that what works most effectively is
prevention--keeping people from getting involved in trafficking
situations in the first place. Prevention, however, is a long-term
effort involving not only education but viable alternative economic
opportunities. She pointed out that 15-20 years ago, uneducated
women from rural Thailand were often trafficked into the sex trade.
Now, as Thailand has increased the number of years of compulsory
education and the economy has grown, relatively few Thai are
trafficked, but hill tribes, and people from Thailand's relatively
less developed neighbors, are being targeted. (Comment: In the
early 1990s, compulsory education in Thailand ended at grade 6. By
2008, 82 percent of Thai school children were finishing grade 12 and
information on child labor was included in the regular curriculum.
Per capita income in Thailand over the past 20 years has quadrupled
to over US$4000 at current exchange rates. End Comment) She showed
Econoff a spreadsheet tracking 150 victim cases dealt with over the
past few months; only one involved a Thai national. "We are seeing
more and more Chinese."

15. (SBU) When asked for ideas on how anti-TIP efforts might be
more effective, the office head said that she believes money spent
on training the police might be more effective if used to train
village heads -- to better educate them on the dangers of allowing
villagers to travel far from home for employment. When there is
police training, the background of those to be trained should be
carefully examined so make sure that only "good" officers are
involved. She also suggested that there be more non-police
participation in raids, to put pressure on the police to follow-up
appropriately with arrests and prosecutions. Prompted by Econoff,
she agreed that a police unit dedicated solely to stopping human
trafficking, modeled on anti-narcotics police units, might help with
suppression efforts. (Comment: The renaming of the "Children,
Juveniles, and Women Division" of the Royal Thai Police as the
"Anti-Human Trafficking Division" may result in something similar.
End Comment.)

16. (SBU) The NGO office head admitted to getting discouraged
sometimes as to whether her organization really made a difference in
TIP. "We know we help certain individuals," she said, "but don't
know whether the overall trends are good or not. As the methods of
TIP keep changing, it is hard to know." Speaking of child
prostitution, she said that as long as Chinese men believe that
having sex with young women/girls prolongs virility, and there are
poor and uneducated women and girls to be preyed on, there may be
little that can stop it.

Cultural challenges

17. (SBU) Econoff subsequently spoke with a renowned American
anthropologist, who has been researching rural and traditional Thai
folkways and mores for more than 50 years, regarding possible
cultural impediments to effective law enforcement in Thailand and
attitudes that may affect trafficking in persons. The
anthropologist pointed out that in the hierarchy of traditional Thai

BANGKOK 00000432 004.2 OF 004

values, deference to superiors ranks very high. "This is central to
the structure of Thai society." He explained that if a younger
policeman has to choose between vigorously enforcing the law and
maintaining the reputation and interests of more senior established
figures in the local community, he will likely choose the latter.
The concept of law enforcement is an imported notion anyway, he
explained. Traditionally, village elders and monks would mediate
disputes and establish good order through dialogue and compromise,
rather than an appeal to law. "The idea of absolute values is a
Western construct." He added that the Thai hierarchy of values
places the good of the community over the interests of individuals,
as evidenced by a provision in the Thai criminal code that allows
judges to reduce a sentence if the guilty party has an educational
level or other assets that enable him to make a significant
contribution to society.

18. (SBU) While according to the NGO office head, there are now
relatively few Thai TIP victims, the anthropologist's observations
on traditional Thai attitudes toward debt may indicate problems that
continue in neighboring countries that share cultural roots.
According to him, children born to Thai Buddhist parents are
indebted to them for life. Deference to, and willingness to work
and sacrifice for, one's parents is another value that ranks high in
the moral scheme of things. The primary means to repay, in part,
one's debt to one's parents, is to provide financially. This
obligation weighs heavily on rural people especially.


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