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Scourge of child labour wracks Thai

Subject: Scourge of child labour wracks Thailand

Scourge of child labour wracks Thailand

      By Deborah Charles 

    BANGKOK, Nov 13 (Reuter) - Is part of Thailand's economic boom financed
indirectly by its many poor, orphaned or bondaged children? 

    Some child labour experts say it is. 

    In parts of Thailand, consumerism has become a driving force behind the
worst type of child labour -- prostitution and debt-bondage. 

    ``Consumerism has become a rising factor. Villagers want more purchasing
powers. So they will send their kids off to work,'' said Taneeya Runcharoen,
programme officer at the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Child Workers

    Most often children from rural areas unknowingly get lured into
prostitution or slave labour by middlemen who work as job placement agents.
The ``agents'' are often part of bigger, organised groups. 

    ``It's the new slave trade,'' said Rita Reddy, from UNICEF's regional
office. ``The new phenomenon of debt bondage is emerging in areas like the
Philippines and Thailand and is beginning in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.'' 

    Taneeya and other child labour specialists say in Thailand the children
are often recruited from villages, mostly from the country's poorest regions
in the north or northeast, to work in big cities. 

    Job placement agents visit the villages and convince the parents to send
their children to cities like Bangkok to work. Sometimes the agent gives the
parents money, effectively buying the child's services. 

    Then the child goes with the agent and is forced to ``work off'' the
payment, which could take years even though the average payment can range
from only about 2,000 baht up to 50,000 baht ($80 to $2,000), depending on
the future job, NGO workers say. 

    Alternatively, the child works for slave wages which are paid directly to
the agent who rarely does, as he promises to, pass them on to the child's

    Forced labour ranges from work in the sex industry to toiling in
sweatshops or working as domestic servants. 

    About 200,000 children in Thailand are involved in the sex industry, said
Christine Vertucci of the NGO End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism
(ECPAT). Even more are brought into Thailand by organised traffickers from
neighbouring countries like Burma, China and Laos. 

    Usually the parents do not know that their children will end up as
prostitutes or as bonded labourers who are forced to work up to 12 hours a
day. They send their children to work because they need or want the money,
and they see more opportunities in big cities than in their villages. 

    ``A lot of families want more money,'' Taneeya said. ``Most of the
children rescued from forced labour situations or prostitution come from
relatively poor families. But they have enough money to have a TV and see the
things they want to buy.'' 

    Often the parents allow their child to go off to a big city to work
because they feel the child will have an opportunity to learn a skill that
could be useful in the future. 

    Less-educated parents think vocational on-the-job training is more
worthwhile than long years in school. 

    ``It is partly a push factor of poverty and under-educated parents,''
Taneeya said. ``So NGOs are working to educate parents, teachers and village
leaders on what really happens.'' 

    Although prostitution and bonded labour represent the worst kind of child
labour, there are several million more children under 18 years old who are
working in Thailand -- often in hazardous or unfair conditions. 

    NGOs estimate there are more than 8.5 million working children between
13-18 years old. But they say the number could actually be much higher since
it is hard to determine how many kids are working in illegal jobs or in the
``informal sector.'' 

    Over the past few years, the problem of child labour in developing
countries has received a good deal of publicity, prompting some governments
and consumer groups in the industrialised world to impose sanctions against
countries with a large percentage of child labourers or on companies that
employ child workers. 

    But Assefa Bequele, director of the International Labour Organisation's
(ILO) East Asia Multidisciplinary Advisory Team echoed the thoughts of many
child labour experts when he told a seminar recently that efforts to force
changes in child labour practices could actually be counter productive. 

    ``An ILO study of the garment industry, for example, suggests the threats
of sanctions have had a number of adverse consequences on the very children
they are supposed to protect.'' 

    He said some children were fired by employers who feared government
pressure, at times forcing them to take worse jobs, often in the informal
sector where there are no sorts of regulations. 

Reut23:34 11-12-95