Report: "Child Trafficking in the Mekong Sub-Region"

"Child Trafficking in the Mekong Sub-Region," a report recently released by Safe Child Thailand (SCT), provides an in-depth look at the widespread human trafficking of minors to Thailand from neighboring countries, including Cambodia. SCT published this report to

raise awareness about child

trafficking in the region and to promote a "constructive dialogue between local agencies, service providers and policy-makers concerned with combating human trafficking and fighting for safe repatriation and justice for victims."


Human trafficking is a crime that affects men, women and children in all parts of the world. Trafficking involves "putting or keeping someone in an exploitative situation, usually for profit. Exploitation can involve situations including forced or debt-bonded labour, child labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude or armed conflict."

This report focuses on The Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), a region made up of six countries connected by the Mekong River: Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The report explains that trafficking is highly prevalent in this region: "With limited opportunities for safe and legal migration in the GMS, irregular migration is widespread, creating a fertile breeding ground for the trafficking and exploitation of migrants." Further concerning is the fact that, according to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), children account for nearly a third of the victims of trafficking detected in East Asia and The Pacific.

It is important to understand the push and pull factors, or root causes, that affect migration and trafficking in the region. One of the major pull factors is Thailand's relatively strong economy, which draws migrants from neighboring countries with less opportunities.

"Thailand has the largest economy in the Mekong sub-region and is hailed as a land of opportunities by those living in the significantly poorer neighbouring countries of Lao PDR, Myanmar and Cambodia. Thailand’s booming market and rapid urbanisation generate a constant demand for cheap labour. In response, millions of workers have migrated from surrounding countries to meet this demand."


Cambodians face particularly strong push factors in their home country. The current economic situation in Cambodia has been shaped by decades of civil war, the Khmer Rouge genocide and political instability. These years of conflict had significant impacts on education, healthcare, infrastructure and development as a whole. Now, with limited access to education and fewer employment opportunities, "...Thailand is a glimmer of hope. Countless Cambodians cross the border into Thailand every day, attracted by the perception of wealth and opportunity in the country." This is especially true for those living in rural areas close in proximity to Thailand.

Free To Shine regularly hears of family members, and sometimes children, leaving Cambodia for Thailand in the hope of earning more money to support their family here in Siem Reap. Most families we talk to lack proper documentation to enter Thailand through legal channels and therefore migrate informally, placing themselves at an incredible risk.

"There are an estimated 3.7 million migrants living in Thailand and a further 130,000 asylum seekers and refugees.The majority of migrants living in Thailand are illegal and unregistered. This makes migration hard to regulate and cases of illegal immigration, human smuggling and human trafficking become indistinguishable and overlooked."


Informal, unregulated migration leaves migrants vulnerable to abuse both during border crossing and once they arrive at their destination or place of work. Employers often use migrant's lack of legal documentation to manipulate and control them. And migrants may be too fearful to seek assistance from authorities if they are abused, exploited or trafficked.

These problems are compounded by a lack of criminalization of traffickers: "With few arrests and prosecutions under trafficking legislation, the practice of trading humans across borders has become more accepted and prevalent throughout the region."

The Thai government, in attempt to discourage Cambodians from migrating to Thailand, has restricted Cambodians to employment in 3-D industries (those considered dirty, dangerous and demeaning), including livestock, construction, fishing, manufacturing and service sectors.These industries are low paying, yet pay significantly higher wages than the same jobs would in Cambodia - so the opportunity remains attractive to many Cambodians. These industries also tend to be less regulated and more exploitative.

"There are thousands of Cambodian children excluded from the national register and effectively stateless. Within this invisible population are children who follow their parents into Thailand as well as children who cross the border alone or with the facilitation of a broker or smuggler."

Children are particularly vulnerable to abuse and trafficking in these industries, for obvious reasons.

Excerpts about trafficking From Cambodia:

"Thailand has been attracting migrant labour from Cambodia since the 1990s and there is a substantial number of Cambodians working in the country; both legally and illegally. In 2014, over 880,000 Cambodians were registered as migrant workers in Thailand. However, these workers only represent around 5% of the Cambodian population of Thailand."


"Cambodia’s brutal history inhabits the psyche of many Cambodian adults. They have programmed themselves for survival at any cost, which has created a culture conducive to trafficking. Education does not seem to be valued. Many adults, themselves uneducated as a result of the war, focus solely on existence. “Even if we have an education, what jobs are available for us afterwards? What’s the point?” asked an adult from a village in Stung Treng Province, Cambodia"


Excerpts about Cambodian Children:

"Daily, over 20,000 Cambodians cross in and out of Thailand for trade, construction-based labour and for work in the Rong Kluer Market. Amongst them, hundreds of children cross the border to beg in the Thai markets. They are vulnerable prey to brokers who take them into other parts of Thailand for begging or sex work."

"Cambodian children are among the most vulnerable groups trafficked into Thailand. Staff working at government trafficking shelters in Thailand identify that Cambodians seem to be at particular risk due to their circumstances and the poverty they live in. Many children come from villages and slums where they live in poor and squalid conditions, with little access to clean water, schools, healthcare and even basic nutrition."

"The majority of children found begging in Thailand are Cambodian. The Mirror Foundation, who work to eradicate child homelessness and begging in Thailand claim that 90% of child beggars they work with come from Cambodia and over 1,000 Cambodian children are begging in Thailand every day."

"There is high demand for Cambodian children to act as beggars or flower sellers in the tourist areas of Thailand. A well-established system of brokers and handlers delivers children to Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket. The children typically graduate from flower selling to petty crime and prostitution and even become traffickers themselves."

"A system of renting children from their parents is prevalent in Cambodia and means that some of the children who are taken to Thailand are returned home. Since there are few opportunities for education and employment in Cambodia, they return to Thailand where earning money is considered easy. There is no effective rehabilitation or after care for trafficking victims returning to Cambodia other than that offered by a small number of NGOs"


Report's conclusion on trafficking in Thailand:

"Human trafficking has damaged Thailand’s reputation and feeds into transnational organised crime. It is in Thailand’s best interest to combat it through education of police, lawmakers, government officials and the general public and by disrupting the broker networks. Imposing financial penalties on employers who exploit children through labour is a potential source of funds for a comprehensive anti-trafficking campaign"


Full Report:

Safe Child Thailand: