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Friday, February 14, 2014
Fact: Children Trafficked to Sell Flowers and Beg in Thailand
In an impoverished town in Thailand near the border with Myanmar, a trafficker offered a desperate Burmese widow 5,000 baht (US$160) on the spot, followed by an additional 4,000 baht ($120) per month for two of her 10 children to sell flowers in the Thai capital, Bangkok. The rent-a-child deal was to last three months, after which the boys would return home.
But the deadline passed and the monthly payments stopped. After another three months the older brother, 10-year-old Ongsi, ran away and managed to make his way home to tell his mother they had to return to the capital to rescue 8-year-old Siyathon from a life of late-night flower selling and beatings.
Their case is not unusual. Across the city of more than 10 million, little Burmese vendors sell flowers and Cambodian children beg money from motorists, tourists and bar crawlers.
“Most of these children are not Thai,” said Witanapat Rutanavaleepong, who manages the Stop Child Begging project for the Mirror Foundation, a leading Thai NGO that has become a focal point for child trafficking.
He estimates there are at least 1,000 child beggars and flower sellers working in cities and tourist spots around the country. Since he began working with the Mirror Foundation two years ago, Witanapat has come across only one case involving three Thai children, although he handles up to 30 cases a month. The problem remains intractable in the capital.
“Thailand has a problem with child begging that is hard to solve because the authorities do not see it as a problem that affects their [the children’s] future or society,” Witanapat said. “They see them as only child beggars, but the girls and some boys often go on to become sex workers, and the boys often become traffickers themselves.”