TRACE: Trafficking from Community to Exploitation
LESSONS LEARNT THROUGH TRACE
Human Trafficking from Laos to Thailand
Draft for Comments
October 12, 2004
Table of Contents
1. Introduction .................................................................................................................................................. 5
1.1. TRACE: PROJECT JUSTIFICATION AND OBJECTIVES ....................................................................... 5
1.2. PROJECT DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY.............................................................................................. 7
Research Postings .......................................................................................................................................... 7
Researchers .................................................................................................................................................... 8
Research Assistants ........................................................................................................................................ 8
Information Collection ................................................................................................................................... 9
Analysis Workshops and Report Drafting .................................................................................................... 10
2. Project implementation: achievements and challenges........................................................................... 11
2.1. CAPACITY BUILDING .......................................................................................................................... 11
2.2. RESEARCH .......................................................................................................................................... 12
Thailand ....................................................................................................................................................... 12
Laos .............................................................................................................................................................. 14
The importance of an “inactive” (settling in) period ................................................................................................. 14
Researchers‟ “role” in the village.............................................................................................................................. 15
Approaching respondents .......................................................................................................................................... 16
Researchers and the Authorities ................................................................................................................................ 18
Quality of Findings ................................................................................................................................................... 19
2.3. TRACING ......................................................................................................................................... 19
3. Findings ....................................................................................................................................................... 21
3.1. HUMAN TRAFFICKING: GENERAL BACKGROUND ............................................................................ 21
3.2. SENDING COMMUNITIES .................................................................................................................... 22
Departure ..................................................................................................................................................... 23
Migration as a fact of life .......................................................................................................................................... 23
Who goes?................................................................................................................................................................. 24
Reasons for migration ............................................................................................................................................... 25
Types of departure .................................................................................................................................................... 27
Views of migration ....................................................................................................................................... 28
Security concerns ...................................................................................................................................................... 28
Political views of migration ...................................................................................................................................... 30
Vulnerabilities to Trafficking ....................................................................................................................... 32
Community Level Interventions .................................................................................................................... 36
Addressing trafficking through poverty alleviation strategies ................................................................................... 38
Awareness Raising .................................................................................................................................................... 39
Education .................................................................................................................................................................. 40
“Building Safety” at Community Level .................................................................................................................... 42
Fighting Trafficking through Fines ........................................................................................................................... 43
3.3. THE MOVEMENT ................................................................................................................................ 46
A voluntary and Illegal Movement ............................................................................................................... 47
Safe Migration Channels.............................................................................................................................. 47
Brokers and Traffickers................................................................................................................................ 51
Caring brokers: Service Providers for the Community ............................................................................................. 52
Unprincipled brokers: Part-Time Traffickers ............................................................................................................ 53
Community‟s power and powerlessness in the face of brokers ................................................................................. 55
3.4. RECEIVING COMMUNITIES ................................................................................................................ 59
Understanding Exploitation ......................................................................................................................... 63
Measuring Trafficking: a Discussion of Numbers........................................................................................ 66
Four Recommendations for Work on Exploitation ....................................................................................... 68
4. Conclusion .................................................................................................................................................. 78
5. Summary of Recommendations ................................................................................................................ 80
6. Annexes ....................................................................................................................................................... 81
Annex 1. List of reports / villages ................................................................................................................. 81
Annex 2. Trafficking and the Convention on the Rights of the Child ........................................................... 83
Annex 3. Outline of the training manual ...................................................................................................... 84
Annex 4. Research Questionnaire used in Analysis Workshop .................................................................... 85
Annex 5. Schedule of research in Lao Yai village ........................................................................................ 86
Annex 6. Analysis Workshop Module ........................................................................................................... 87
Annex 7. Village Report Outline .................................................................................................................. 88
This report is based on field research carried out by twelve researchers in Laos and Thailand in the frame of the
TRACE Research Project, 2003-2004 (TRACE: Trafficking – from Community to Exploitation). The twelve
In Thailand: Ms Inthira Vitayasomboon (Tum); Ms Sirinart Matra (Noi); Ms Suntaree Kongmuang (Mond);
Mr. Kriangkrai Kanya (Boy); Ms Panya Poungpra-sertkul (Ya); and Mr. Taweesuk Pothinum (George).
In Laos: Mr. Oloth Sene-Asa; Ms Souliphone Chaengsavang; Ms Chinda Thipphavong; Ms Soudalay
Soonthorn; Mr. Kampan Sisouda; Ms Phoutthasone Xay Gnathonechanch.
TRACE was funded primarily by the Italian Government through UNICEF's Regional Multi-Country Project
against Abuse, Exploitation and Trafficking of Children, with additional funds from the Dutch Government
through the Netherlands Embassy in Bangkok.
The research is a joint project of UNICEF and the UN Interagency Project on Human Trafficking in the Mekong
Sub-Region (UNIAP). Child Protection Sections in UNICEF Laos and Thailand were the Project‟s main
partners, providing logistical and substantive support.
Mr. Onevong Keobounnavong and Mr. Vongkham Phanthanouvong at the Ministry of Labour and Social
Welfare in Laos, brought priceless support to the project and the Lao researchers. Mr. Sverre Molland, Adviser
to the Ministry on behalf of the UN Inter-Agency Project, helped with all aspects of the project.
This Final Report is written by Oren Ginzburg, who designed and supervised the TRACE project as Research
Officer on Trafficking for UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Office (EAPRO) and the United Nations Inter-Agency
Project Against Human Trafficking in the Mekong Sub-Region (UNIAP). Oren Ginzburg is currently the UN
Inter-Agency Project‟s Special Projects Coordinator (email@example.com).
Mr. Pasakorn Intoo-Marn co-supervised the implementation of the TRACE project in both Laos and Thailand as
Research Assistant, UNICEF EAPRO. He has also edited or co-authored all the documents in Thai language
produced by the researchers, and is the author/editor of the Thai TRACE report.
Ms Margie de Monchy and Mr. Ravi Cannetta, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Office, provided backing and
supervision to the Project.
Ms Christina Warning has translated and edited the Lao Research Reports and has contributed to this Final
Report. Christina Warning is currently Special Adviser to the UN Inter-Agency Project in Cambodia
Mr. Phil Marshall has contributed to an earlier article based on the TRACE research, some of which has been
incorporated in this Report.
Names of villagers, respondents, and all people discussed below have been changed to protect their privacy.
Although Pani‟s family did not rank among the poorest of Phonja Nang Village (Outhoumphone
District, Savannakhet Province), at the age of 16, with only Grade 2 education, she decided to
go to Thailand to earn money and “see the world”. Many of her friends had returned to the
village with stories of savings and success, and Pani thought her turn had come.
Pani left the village on March 12, 2001 with a friend, without asking for her parents‟
authorisation. The two girls went to meet Mr. Yo, a broker living in a neighbouring village. Mr.
Yo promised them jobs in a noodle restaurant in Bangkok‟s suburb, with a monthly salary of
The following night Mr. Yo took the girls across the Mekong to meet Ms Wan, a broker in Saen
village. She took them in a van to Bangkok.
Upon arrival, Ms Wan took the two girls to a noodle shop in Thonburi, introduced them to the
restaurant owner, took her commission (5,400 Baht, as previously agreed with the girls) and
Pani and her friend started working in the restaurant the next day, serving customers, washing
dishes, and cleaning. Working hours and working conditions were acceptable, and the owner
paid them a monthly salary of 1,800 – exactly as promised by Mr. Yo.
Fourteen months later Pani returned to Phonja Nang Village with 20,000 Baht in savings, most
of which she offered her parents so they could rebuild part of the family house.
Pani‟s story illustrates the reality of cross-border movement between Laos and Thailand: an
illegal but voluntary movement, often facilitated, and which, in an overwhelming majority of
cases, ends positively for the person who has undertaken it.
Within this reality, a number of migrants, including children and young people, get lured,
tricked and cheated, and find themselves in situations where they are abused, and exploited.
This report focuses on them, and on the conditions which allow this happen.
This is one of two reports resulting from the project TRACE (Trafficking from community to
Exploitation) a qualitative research project jointly carried out by UNICEF East Asia and
Pacific Office and the UNIAP (United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking
in the Greater Mekong Sub-region) from September 2002 to April 2004.
While this report concentrates on the situation in Laos (or the situation in Thailand as it
relates to Lao migrants and trafficked victims) a second report titled Lessons Learnt through
Trace - Human Trafficking and Thailand concentrates on the situation of trafficking in
Thailand, either (very briefly) at village level or (more in depth) through an analysis of
prevalent “trafficking discourses” among Thai anti-trafficking actors.
Some research conducted in Thailand, in particular at the Kredtrakan Centre (see below), is
used in this report. Also, in order to create a link between the two reports, some information
is given here regarding the research process in Thailand.
A complete coverage of Thailand research issues, however, is to be found in the Thailand
1.1. TRACE: Project Justification and Objectives
The last few years have seen a remarkable increase in the number of anti-trafficking projects
in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region but not, it is generally acknowledged, a significant
reduction in the scope and magnitude of the trafficking problem.
Several reasons have been put forward to explain this dichotomy:
(i) Insufficient understanding of the trafficking phenomenon.
In this explanation, the lack of relevant information or misguided conceptualisation of issues
leads to the design of inadequate interventions. Examples include awareness raising efforts
which do not account for existing levels of awareness; micro-credit schemes failing to ensure
the existence of a market for the activities supported; or community-based “protection”
measures which result in a restriction of people‟s freedom or access to their rights. Despite
genuine goodwill and untiring efforts, the impact of many interventions thus remain limited.
(ii) Obstructive practices and beliefs
A second explanation links lack of impact of negative practices and beliefs among a wide
range of actors – local authorities; law enforcement agencies; or the public at large –
hindering the safety of migrants and increasing their vulnerability. Examples include the
pervasiveness of racism and discrimination and attitudes toward foreigners. .
(iii) Inefficient account of root causes
This explanation links limited impact to the flawed identification of trafficking root causes, or
the inefficient way in which they have been addressed.
(iv) Inadequate legislative frames
In this explanation lack of impact is linked to inadequate laws, hindering anti-trafficking
interventions by failing to provide them with a supportive frame, and failing to clearly
identify the responsibilities and mechanisms of anti-trafficking work at national level.
(v) Lax law enforcement
Village-level interventions, it is argued, can only go so far in addressing a problem which, for
its most part, takes place hundreds of kilometres away from the village. Impact, it is argued,
is hard to achieve without the active pursuit, arrest, and punishment of traffickers, exploiters,
and perpetrators, and without avenues for justice and redress available to victims.
(vi) Insufficient cross-border collaboration between countries of the region.
(vii) The issue of displacement of the problem or adaptability of the traffickers
Another explanation has been the comparison of trafficking to a squishy balloon, where
pressure applied in one place simultaneously leads to a local reduction in the problem and its
“ballooning up” in another place, with traffickers dynamically adjusting to changing
environments. Thus, through displacement of the problem, every actor or organisation
working on trafficking will have genuine “success stories” to tell, yet the problem‟s overall
magnitude will remain intact. Displacement can be geographical (with traffickers targeting
other villages, provinces or countries), social (with traffickers targeting different social
groups), or a displacement in time (for example with traffickers waiting until an intervention
(viii) Lack of local participation
Lastly, the overall low or inexistent involvement of local people in the design and
implementation of solutions to trafficking has often been put forward to explain the lack of
impact of existing anti-trafficking interventions.
The project TRACE was set up in order to address some of these issues through the collection
of information and the pilot testing of possible responses to trafficking. The goal of the
Project was to get a better understanding of field realities, identify interesting directions for
anti-trafficking efforts, and inform the development of innovative and effective anti-
trafficking responses. In particular, the project was looking at the possible development of
targeted interventions aimed to address specific trafficking related factors at community
level; at the development of a tracing mechanism for missing children; and at the possible
establishment of a sustainable information network between the project and concerned
1.2. Project Design and Methodology
The project was informally labelled a non-rapid research, adopting a “light” ethnographic
approach to research to try to break away from traditional one- or two-day information
collection trips to villages.
Under the original project design, twelve local researchers (six in Thailand and the six in Lao
PDR), working in pairs, were expected to spend periods of four to six weeks in
migration/trafficking prone villages, collecting information through participant and direct
observation, individual semi-structured and unstructured interviews, focus group interviews,
and “social mapping”.
In Thailand, for reasons noted below (point [a] of section 3.1) and further developed in the
Thailand Report, the researchers only completed three postings in villages (for a total of 12
villages) before moving to other types of postings – mostly in institutions and non-
governmental organisations active in the fight against trafficking.
The four- to six-week timeframe was selected in order to give researchers time to build trust
with villagers and find the time for meaningful discussions with a significant number of
community members. In retrospect this timeframe seems to be about right for the TRACE
Each village-posting started with the introduction of researchers to village officials. In
Thailand, this introduction was made by through locally active non-governmental
organisations; In Laos, researchers were introduced to province/district level authorities by
Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare partners, and then introduced by them to village
officials. In Laos, this was sometimes followed by a formal presentation of the researchers to
all villagers if the village-chief considered such presentation necessary.
A decision was taken early on not to involve Western project staff in village-level
introductory visits: it was feared that their presence, while adding little or no value to the
process, may have intimidated young respondents, and possibly created expectations and
hopes with regard to material assistance to the communities.
From the early design phases of the project, the issue of safety was considered the project‟s
principal concern. With research touching upon highly sensitive issues such as the fate of
missing persons, the whereabouts of trafficked victims, and the role of agents and brokers in
the process, the potential for danger exists not only for the researcher but also for
respondents, returnees, trafficked victims, family members, and others.
Safety was a cross-cutting issue during the initial training and several analysis workshops.
The researchers‟ guiding principle was to overlook interesting or useful information rather
than put anyone – themselves or others – at risk.
The researchers were recruited among young university graduates, most of them with little
(Thailand) or no (Laos) prior research experience. Several reasons led to the recruitment of
Principally, the idea was to build research capacity for future projects, especially in Laos
where such capacity is lacking.
Another reason was to encourage youth participation in villages by sending in researchers
who could be seen as “peers” within a similar age category – especially given the
importance of age and seniority in Lao and Thai communities.
In practical terms, and in light of the difficult and sometimes harsh living conditions in
most of the selected villages (with often no running water, electricity, or toilets) young
researchers were more likely to accept the Project‟s requirement of spending roughly a
year in remote villages, and to show the necessary adaptation skills and commitment.
Relatively junior Lao university graduates helped keep villagers‟ expectations down
regarding the material benefits which may follow from the project. This proved to be
crucial when it turned out (see below) that no benefit was about to follow. In several
instances, however, researchers were asked for assistance or given letters asking for
support (see for example PhoneNakya village).
Training of researchers
A nine-day training module based almost exclusively on case studies and role plays (see
training outline below) was implemented in each country in order to give researchers a good
understanding of the TRACE project, provide them with an overview of trafficking and
migration issues, provide them with basic skills for information collection at community
level, and prepare them for their postings (motivation, ethics, and behaviour). Rather than a
comprehensive course aiming at transforming participants into skilled researchers, the
training aimed at preparing participants to make the most out of their first information
collection experiences, seen as further learning opportunities.
The outline of the training manual is found in Annex 3.
During their first days in the village, researchers approached village youth in order to identify
and recruit research assistants (usually one assistant for each researcher). Assistants were
selected based on their perceived abilities, their command of the local language(s) when
relevant, and their interest in supporting research efforts. In some cases in Laos, village
authorities insisted on nominating their own candidates for this position as an obvious means
of control over the research.
During the posting period, research assistants were expected to guide TRACE researchers in
the village, facilitate contacts with local people (including translation in villages inhabited by
ethnic groups), and help get a local understanding of situations or events. They were also
expected to help encourage other youth and children in the village to get involved in the
research process, both as information providers and, in specific cases, information seekers.
After the posting and the Analysis Workshop (see below) which they attended in Vientiane,
research assistants were expected to remain in touch with the TRACE project as focal points
in their villages, and provide information to the project on a regular basis on migration and
trafficking (Objective 5 above).
In Laos, research assistants were paid a local salary during the time spent supporting the
researcher in the village; all of their costs were also covered when they came to Vientiane to
take part in the Analysis Workshop.
A noted, researchers usually spent four weeks in any given village, collecting information on
a range of topics including general socio-economic situation of the village; social services;
evaluation of vulnerabilities and risks; local understanding of migration and trafficking; ways
in which anti-trafficking safety nets are expected (or fail) to protect potential victims; patterns
of migration/trafficking, routes taken, networks used, involvement of agents and brokers.
A detailed “research questionnaire” was established at the outset of the project, then revised
by researchers on a regular basis (both in the field and during Analysis Workshops in Laos
and Thailand). It can be found in Annex 4.
Annex 5 illustrates the process of research in Lao Yai village.
Researchers in each village interviewed a variety of respondents. As an illustration,
researchers in Xox Village report interviewing the following persons:
The village head: Village structure and profile; advice on who the researchers should talk
to regarding information on migration and trafficking; constraints in resolving migration
or trafficking issues within the village; the need for support from provincial and district
authority in solving these issues.
The village head’s wife and other women in the village: Village socio-economic
situation; attitudes and behavior regarding migration; women‟s previous experiences of
working in Thailand
Parents of missing persons: Background information on missing persons; information on
agents and migrating routes; constraints on tracing the missing child.
Relatives and friends of missing persons.
Migrant Returnees: Migration routes, location of work, agents contact details, treatment
by employers, information which would be useful in helping other victims.
Small business owner in the village: Relationship between villagers; who help or are part
of agent‟s network in the village; economic socio-economic status in the village (who are
rich and poor)
Researcher assistance: His or her experiences concerning migrating, agents, and
trafficked victims; reasons for migration
Trafficked victims: Processes of trafficking)
Teacher: School and pupils
Health care worker: Villagers‟ health and common illnesses
Children & youth: Dreams for the future
Villagers (general): Ways of life, income generation, occupations
Monks: Views of changes within the village
Researchers in Vang Kong Village listed some of their difficulties in collecting information:
Information on migration cannot be comprehensive – there are too many migrants;
Some parents or guardians are afraid of the researchers – suspecting them of being on the
side of the authorities;
Parents, guardians, and victims themselves do not want to expose stories of trafficking
which happened to people in their family – they feel it is embarrassing;
Those who stay in the village sometimes truly do not know what the situation of their
children or family members is like in Thailand;
People spend extended periods of time in the fields (harvest season), making it difficult or
impossible for researchers to reach them.
Analysis Workshops and Report Drafting
Analysis Workshops were held following each posting in order to help researchers organise
and analyse the information collected in villages and guide them through the writing of the
The workshops were also an opportunity for capacity building exercises and the improvement
of the researchers‟ skills, a forum for discussions on research activities and content, and an
opportunity to deliver presentations and seek exchange based on research findings.
A specific five-day module was designed for the first few workshops 1, and is attached in
Annex 6. The module relied heavily on activities, role-plays and case discussion. Below is a
general outline of such a workshop.
Reports were written in Thai or Lao and then translated into English. They included
information, analysis, recommendations, and the description of cases or "life-stories" from
migrants or trafficked victims in the village. Below is a report outline used by researchers for
some of the postings in Laos. A “report outline” format is attached in Annex 7.
Subsequent workshops were more informal; all workshops lasted between three and six days.
2. Project implementation: achievements and challenges
This section looks at the TRACE Project implementation as it relates to the two main
achievements of the project – namely research and capacity building. The section also looks
at tracing, an activity which has not occurred during the time of the project but which is now
taken on by UNICEF Laos and the United Nations Inter-Agency Project.
2.1. Capacity building
As noted above, a major undertaking of the project was the training of six researchers in each
country – in particular in Laos where social research capacity is lacking at national level.
The main challenge faced by the project in Laos was the rather poor analytical skills of the
young researchers. In retrospect, the initial training and the first few analysis workshops
should have addressed these skills in more depth. Asking researchers to focus on variation in
narratives (factual contradictions, unsupported claims, disagreements between respondents,
etc.) would have been a good starting point, and while exercises at times touched upon these
issues, we could have done so more systematically.
Another major challenge relates to the very meaning of “analysing data”, another area in
which the training(s) could have been strengthened. Even when they became skilful in
documenting cases and narratives in great detail, researchers in Laos sometimes struggled to
understand the requirements of “analysis”. This struggle can be broken into three distinct
The capacity to draw or revise hypotheses based on factual observations;
The capacity to question claims to truth;
The capacity to create analytical categories based on a body of information collected
in the village, to “saturate” each category until it stands as a valid part of the global
explanation, and to articulate categories with one another in order to make the data
say “something new”.
More often than not, “analysis” meant repeating people‟s stories in other, more generic terms.
Although it would be exaggerated to say that the Lao researchers have now become fully
fledged analytical researchers, a gradual but real improvement was appreciable in their
probing of information, asking questions beyond the obvious, and making links between
facts, events, and narratives. The fact that less than one month after the end of the project,
two of the researchers have already moved to research positions with non-governmental
organisations in Laos is an indication that they have been able to articulate their skills
Overall, the Thai researchers' starting analytical skills were better then those of their Lao
colleagues, though with room for improvement. The challenge in Thailand was in getting the
researchers to pay more attention to the documentation of detailed information and the
presentation of exhaustive accounts of their findings rather than too general "overall"
descriptions of situations. Here too, researchers have shown improvement, in particular in
linking broad socio-economic explanations to specific discussions of cases.
In Laos, without claiming that the project has “built the capacity” of Ministry of Labour and
Social Welfare partners (or if it has, then Ministry partners have equally built the capacity of
Project staff), we can note several consequences to the Ministry‟s participation in TRACE:
The Project gave the Ministry a concrete anti-trafficking activity to focus on, leading
to the multiplication of formal and informal contacts between the Ministry and
provincial, district, and village level authorities on trafficking-related issues.
The presence of researchers focusing on trafficking in communities, and the
introduction of these researchers to district and provincial officials by the Ministry of
Labour and Social Welfare, has resulted in raising the visibility of trafficking issues in
targeted areas. It has also increased the profile and perceived involvement of the
Ministry in the fight against the phenomenon.
The project has contributed to an increased (informal) collaboration between the Lao
Ministry and its Thai counterpart on issues of tracing.
(Only the process of research is discussed here. Findings are discussed in Section 3, below.)
Researchers in Laos were posted in a total of 26 villages from March 2003 to March 2004. In
Thailand researchers started in April 2003, had three one-month village postings, and then
continued their research with non-governmental organisations and other actors active in anti-
trafficking activities (outcomes of all these research activities are the object of this report, and
are described at length below).
Each posting, individually or in pairs, lasted between four and eight weeks. Target villages
were selected based on information from the Women's Union and the Ministry of Labour and
Social Welfare (Laos), or information collected among non-governmental organisations
(Thailand) in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Bangkok.
What follows is a rapid overview of the research conducted in Thailand, which is discussed in
more detail in the second report “Lessons Learnt Through Trace - Human Trafficking and
Following four rounds of research in a total of 12 villages2, a decision was taken to revise the
scope of research in Thailand: rather than studying villages, researchers linked up with
institutions and organisations active in the fight against trafficking, and conducted their
research activities from this new position.
The reason for this shift can be explained by the situation in lowland Thai villages,
difficulties linked to research in ethnic minority areas, and insufficient planning on behalf of
the project manager.
For a list of researched villages, please refer to annex 1.
With communities less closely knit then those encountered by researchers in Laos,
researchers reported that it was difficult to create a relationship with a group or community –
relationships remained for the large part individual. More important (and probably not linked)
is the fact that the 12 first postings did not bring up any story of trafficking which had
happened less than 15 years ago: from an action-research perspective, these stories were mere
Researchers were thus getting the feeling that although trafficking from these selected
villages had once been an important problem, such was no longer the case. While this feeling
was in line with other reports on the situation of trafficking from lowland Northern Thailand,
the original project design hoped to document current cases of trafficking, as stories of
trafficking from these areas continued to be told on a regular basis.
In any case, it soon became apparent that both the methodology and the research questions
were just not adapted to the reality of lowland Thai villages, and the need for a shift became
pressing. The shift sent researchers into two directions:
The first direction was to post researchers in ethnic minority villages, since it is widely
stated (though not widely researched) that highland villages have replaced lowland ones as
purveyors of trafficked victims.
The second direction was to refocus the research within institutions active in the fight
against trafficking. The idea of conducting research at exploitation points (rather than in
sending communities) in Thailand had been raised from the beginning of the project, but
considered too dangerous for TRACE‟s young, inexperienced researchers. By posting these
researchers within an existing structure, and asking them to conduct research which did not
expose them to dangerous interactions with traffickers or exploiters, the purpose was partly
Detail of such postings are as follows:
Baan Kredtrakan – one researcher spent six months at this Reception Centre for
foreign trafficked girls, interviewing girls who had been rescued in Thailand.
Daughters Education Project in Mae Sai – Two failed attempts were made to base a
researcher with this Project, which gives shelter to children at risk of being trafficked
and offers various services to surrounding communities. The researcher was to
document the ways in which the Project works, and to collect information on cases of
trafficking that the centre has come to know.
The Mirror Art Group – a non-governmental organisation working with Burmese
children in Mae Sai. The researcher documented stories of children and ways in which
the organisation attempts to support them.
Research in Baan Kred Tra Kaan. The report is based on information collected from
trafficked Lao children who ended up in Baan Kret Tra Kaan, a Centre providing protection
to Thai women suffering abuse or exploitation, and since the year 2000, offering the same
services to foreign trafficked girls and women awaiting return to their countries. Information
collected included the girls and women‟s background and the story of their movement and its
outcome. The research includes the collection of the information about the facility, its
environment, the activities of the staff and people under their care. The researchers also
gathered more general background information from the Internet and other reports.
The stated objectives of the study were the following:
To better understand the conditions and factors that lead children and women to be
trafficked based on case studies of victims in the Centre;
To study the life of trafficked victims while they were working with their employers;
To understand human trafficking problems from the victims‟ perspective in order to
develop prevention measures and practical solutions.
Researchers at the Kredtrakan Centre noted that to the extent possible they tried to seek the
information in existing reports and records of Centre officers‟ interviews with women or
children, in order to spare victims one more experience of (possibly) distressing interview.
The researchers added that media interest in these victims means they will sometimes get
interviewed by journalists too, which can increase their distress.
Postings in Laos took place according to plan, and researchers (most of the time in pairs)
documented a total of 26 villages. A complete list of postings (villages and researchers) is
attached in Annex 1. Roughly 40% are inhabited by ethnic minority groups – with some
villages presenting a minority/majority mix.
It was noted above that most villages visited had been selected by either the Labour and
Social Welfare district offices, or by the Lao Women‟s Union. The selection criteria included
“strong migration and trafficking”, leading us to believe that these villages are not necessarily
representative of all villages in Laos. We return to this point in the discussion on numbers in
What follows is a discussion of the main lessons learned through these postings, the main
challenges encountered, and ideas for improvement.
The importance of an “inactive” (settling in) period
Each posting began with an observation period of a few days during which the researchers
were purposefully “inactive”, familiarising themselves with the community and giving
villagers the opportunity to assess the researchers.
In some postings, village meetings were organised during this period to introduce the
researchers and the purpose of their project to the larger public of villagers. This is also the
period during which researchers met and selected their research assistant
This inactive period was considered fundamental by the researchers in order not to take
villagers aback or raise their suspicion by starting too soon what may be viewed as an
“investigation”. With an issue as sensitive as illegal migration and trafficking, this “inactive
time” really made meaningful information gathering possible.
Researchers’ “role” in the village
A challenge faced by any ethnographic researcher is that of the definition of one‟s role in the
setting – the permanent juggling between the researcher‟s “strangeness” to the community
and his/her wish to document “insider accounts”. Conducting direct observation when
everyone else is busy working can be quite unsettling for the researcher and the community.
Conducting participant observation can be odd as well when the researcher‟s participation
seems forced or contrived.
In the first posting, two pairs of researchers experimented with a role “outside the research”,
that of English teachers for village youth. Although each class went well, the research
timeframe (one month) was judged insufficient for this kind of activity to be meaningful, and
the attempt was dropped for later postings.
Researchers reported that they had find their own balance (or face) in each village they
visited, a task made more difficult by the many faces involved in research with authorities,
with village elders, with villagers in general, and with youth groups, all holding different,
sometimes antagonistic values. Trust building thus involved participation in religious and
social events or hours spent helping villagers with their work on paddy fields.
In several villages, highly suspicious villagers refused to cooperate with researchers at first.
In one instance (None Din Shy and Nong Snow villages) this occurred because the villagers
had already been deceived by a group claiming to be government officials who had promised
to assist them with work abroad (Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan) but had run away with
the villagers‟ “administrative costs” deposit.
As reported from None Muang village:
„Some villagers whose children are working in Thailand did not cooperate with
researchers. They worried that the researchers would find out about their children's
migration and that they would be asked to pay for fine or see their children sent to
prison. This attitude held by parents made it difficult for researchers to find
information on migrants. The researchers had to take time and ask lots of question
indirectly to find out information on the children who had migrated.‟
Alongside the role assumed by researchers are villagers‟ expectations and the role they would
like to see researchers play. With researchers introduced to the village by Ministry officials
from Vientiane and working for a project linked to the United Nations, villagers can be
forgiven for expecting the project to result in direct support to the village. In Biungkham
village the researchers noted:
„[Some] villagers said that if we were not going to support the village our research
was not useful. They said they saw no point in giving us information if we were
going to do nothing with it.‟
Both in Laos and in Thailand, researchers were asked to be careful not to present themselves
as a source of support (material, psychological) for victims or other respondents. This
stemmed from the wish not to raise false expectations among villagers, from the wish not to
lead to role confusion, and also because researchers do not have the professional training or
capacity to act as counsellors or psychologists.
The requirement was well observed in Laos. In Thailand, researchers at the Kred Tra Kaan
Centre note in their final report:
„Initially, the researchers are known as a teacher – the term used to call staff
working at the facility. Later, the researchers presented themselves as a brother,
sister, or a friend who can give advice and help to these women and children.‟
Since one of the researchers in Thailand was a trained social worker, this “role” was more
acceptable for her. There is, however, a fine but important line between friendliness and
empathy towards respondents, and introducing oneself as the solver of their problems. While
this last role is tempting, it should be weighed with great care.
As a general rule, especially when not talking directly to victims (i.e. when talking to
returnees who have not been trafficked, to relatives of migrants or trafficked victims, or to
other villagers) researchers started interviews with general information on the economic
background of families whose children had left the village: income generation means, self-
perception of their own economic situation, degree of indebtedness, and impact of their
children‟s remittances – if any – on the overall financial situation of the family. This
information gave a first glimpse into the reasons for departure, at least on two fronts:
individual reasons versus family ones, and economic reasons versus other explanations.
From this background information interviewers moved to families‟ attitudes towards their
children‟s migration, in an effort to understand if these attitudes contributed to (or increased)
their children‟s risk of trafficking. This included enquiries about gender specific roles within
the family, and their possible influence on decisions to migrate and on migration strategy
Interviews of returnees or migrants‟ family members had to take the illegality of the
movement into account, especially in a context which imposes harsh fines on those who
migrate (see Section 3). Researchers highlighted the “double illegal status” of migrants, not
only for their illegal status on the other side of the border (illegal in-migrants), but also for
having left their country without the required documentation or exit visa (illegal out-
migrants). They reported that while returnees‟ first illegal movement was erased by their re-
crossing the border, the second one took its full meaning upon return.
Understandably, then, respondents often feared that sharing information with “outsiders”,
whom they did not know or trust could trigger serious negative consequences by bringing
their stories to the attention of authorities who may impose a penalty.
While families who knew their children had been trafficked were often keen to give detailed
information in the hope of getting help in finding them (a point we return to in Section 3
tracing), families of migrants who were sending back money earned in Thailand were not
always forthcoming with information. Researchers therefore found themselves investing
much time in building trust: spelling out the purpose of their research, explaining that they
were in no way linked to a fining authority (village or district), guaranteeing respondents total
confidentiality, and patiently waiting for people to come forward with information.
Researchers in Biungkham village (Saravan Province) thus note:
In the beginning some villagers told us they had never been to Thailand before.
Then they started asking us questions: “would you arrest a person who went to
Thailand?”; “would you fine them?”; “would you arrest their parents?”
After we answered all these questions, and sometimes days later, the same persons
approached us again, admitting that they had in fact spent several years in
Thailand, and agreeing to be interviewed.
For these reasons but also for deeper emotional ones, issues of trust were most meaningful
when approaching trafficked victims, many of whom were frequently too traumatised or too
embarrassed to talk about their experiences, or felt a mixture of fear from and dependency on
their former agents/brokers. Migration stories which had gone wrong were often associated
with intense feelings of shame for what had happened, and feelings of discrimination and
exclusion from their own communities upon return.
By its very nature, this research project involved the collection of information which is, at
times, bound to be painful to recall or voice for those who hold it. The training had insisted
on issues of respect, the right of any person, even if they accept to be interviewed, to remain
silent on certain issues, and the precedence which needs to be given to the respondent‟s well-
being over the extraction of one more piece of information.
The researcher‟s gender was an important factor here, with female researchers more likely to
get access to the “world of women”, especially when stories included abuse. Interestingly, it
is mostly in discussions with mothers (more than with victims themselves) that female
researchers managed to build stronger bridges than male researchers, and collect more, and
more meaningful, information.
This is not to belittle the role played by male researchers – not only because many victims of
trafficking were men, but also because with time and trust, these two researchers managed at
times to access sensitive information.
Among all possible respondents, trafficked victims seemed to be the most likely to provide
important information not only about the mechanisms and structures of the trafficking
business, traffickers‟ operating practices, and working conditions at destination, but also
about feelings, motivations, needs, and coping strategies. The establishment of trust and the
strict observance of confidentiality (both within the community and beyond) is here of
An obvious category of potential respondents missing in the TRACE research, both in Laos
and in Thailand, were the migration brokers and the traffickers. While successful interviews
with representatives of these two categories would no doubt have increased our
understanding of cross-border movements, it was decided early on for obvious safety reasons
not to seek this type of interaction. Researchers were instead asked to compile as much
information as possible on brokers, agents, and traffickers from other sources - returnees,
families of migrants and trafficked victims. In retrospect it is regrettable that the project
design did not include a systematic round of interviews with police officers. Such interviews
could have been conducted in the last days of the research in order not to jeopardise the
researchers‟ position; they would have enabled TRACE researchers to document trafficking
from yet another original point of view.
This is true of brokers/traffickers but also more generally of anything related to the
movement and exploitation components of trafficking. With their sole point of observation
(geographically and in time) being the sending community, researchers found themselves in
no position to observe, monitor, or gain firsthand information on the movement or the
exploitation inherent to trafficking: apart from chance observation of a few instances of
cross-border movement – local agents luring villagers into their cars, or fishermen ferrying
migrants across the Mekong to Thailand – their only entry point into questions related to
migration routes, border crossings, migration experiences, or life conditions at destination,
was thus through stories of those who had gone.
While sitting in a sending community trying to document trafficking dynamics is no doubt a
limitation, it can also be seen as an opportunity. With the bulk of anti-trafficking efforts
traditionally focusing on sending communities rather than on the movement or the
exploitation, the TRACE Project is informative not only for what it has found but also for
what it has not found. In other words, the project helps highlight the limits of community
Researchers and the Authorities
The political system in place in Laos at times led to a high level of control by village and
district authorities over the work of the TRACE researchers. This highlights the problems
faced by any initiative appealing directly to the people (civil society) rather than to the
standard set of governmental and semi-governmental agencies.
It should be noted however that in the overwhelming majority of cases authorities, from
village to provincial level, were extremely supportive of the researchers. Impelled by the
Ministry, Provincial and District authorities helped select villages, contact village authorities,
and introduce the researchers. Only on one occasion did these authorities demand to keep
control of the researchers by having them report back to the District on a weekly basis during
their stay in the village.
In the great majority of cases village authorities, represented by the village chiefs, facilitated
the research process and supported the researchers, giving them free access to all
respondents, and providing them with statistical data and general background information on
the village. In almost all cases, the village headmen provided accommodation for the
researchers during their time in the village. Researchers in Biungkham write:
At one point, when Mr. S. misunderstood our objectives in seeking information, the
village chief was very supportive and helped us to better explain our role.
This support, however, could quickly become a double-edged advantage: as we noted above,
it could indeed stem from an intention to control more than from an intention to help. Also,
and maybe more importantly, researchers had to be wary of becoming too closely associated
with the local leadership if they hoped to maintain the villagers‟ confidence in their
independence, and if they wanted to be believed when they said that none of the information
provided would ever be passed on to the authorities.
The researchers faced difficulties in getting information on trafficking and migration from
Thataphan village (see NongSnow report) during their three-day visit. The village head, who
was also identifired as a migration agent, was suspicious of the researchers. He closely
monitored their activities and tried to influence the villagers not to provide information
regarding the issues in question.
Quality of Findings
A few words need to be said about the quality of findings.
A partial aim of the TRACE research was to build young people‟s research capacity – to an
acceptable professional quality in the twelve main researchers, and to a working quality
within research assistants (see below point 2.6). The choice was thus made to recruit aspiring
researchers rather than trained and experienced one – and the quality of findings is bound to
reflect this choice.
In the year since TRACE has started, though, there is no doubt that the information stemming
from the project, and the regular analysis sessions held in both Laos and Thailand, have led to
an improved understanding of trafficking dynamics between the two countries. Some of the
analyses presented in this report have been presented to international audiences who have
found them to be truly innovative – in particular the discussion of exploitation, the discussion
of vulnerabilities and root causes of trafficking, and the discussion of the impact of anti-
trafficking interventions focusing on sending communities. It is hoped that some of the
recommendations from this report, will contribute to a tangible improvement in the way
UNICEF, the UN Inter-Agency Project (UNIAP) and other agencies address trafficking.
In Laos, the last few postings abandoned the objective of information collection for analysis,
and replaced it with information collection for tracing – practical information on the
whereabouts of missing children: available addresses, phone numbers, photos, physical
descriptions, etc. In retrospect this modification may have been unfortunate because in the
end the tracing component of the project (see below, point 2.4) did not take off during the 12
months of the TRACE project.
This brief overview of some distinctive features of the TRACE fieldwork gives an idea of the
complex and sensitive research environment into which the TRACE researchers were placed
after a nine-day training. In this environment they were asked to develop strategies and
approaches for the collection of meaningful, usable information.
The tracing of Lao children gone missing in Thailand was an important possible outcome of
this project, and one which has now been taken on by the United Nations Inter-Agency
Project and UNICEF Laos. The importance of setting up a tracing system between Laos and
Thailand could not be overemphasised. Apart from support to villagers in their communities
(job creation, poverty alleviation, awareness raising, and education), it is one of the few
concrete actions which could be taken by the anti-trafficking community to improve the
situation of trafficked victims. Tracing is further discussed under section 3.4.
A proposed tracing mechanism may include the following:
The creation of a focal point for trafficking-related information – an office to which all
requests for assistance regarding missing children could be channelled and which would
be able to officially inform Thai counterparts when action needs to be taken;
The development of a protocol establishing clear procedures on information circulation
and actions in cases of missing children. The protocol would cover information flow all
the way from a village to the Ministry, and then from the Ministry in Laos to action-
oriented counterparts in Thailand;
The development of an information sharing mechanism (including guidelines and
procedures for the reporting of cases) at district and village level;
The creation of a focal point for Lao cases (ideally the Bureau of Anti-Trafficking in
Women and Children);
Improvement or systematisation of procedures followed for the tracing and rescuing of
children, and a better coordination (under the bureau's responsibility) of NGOs, the Royal
Thai police, the Immigration Office, judicial institutions, and support from UN agencies.
Between the two countries:
Advocacy for more concrete tracing cooperation between governments of the two
countries, possibly within the frame of the Thailand-Laos Memorandum of
Understanding then under discussion.
The aim of the TRACE project (and of this Report) is to increase our understanding of
trafficking dynamics, specific vulnerabilities to trafficking, and possible actions against the
An ethnographic study based on a non-representative sample of 26 villages out of a total of
11,000 (0.24%), the TRACE Project has no claim to generalisability of its findings. It is
hoped however that the illustrations and analysis provided here, and the recommendations
they lead to, will find an application beyond the Project‟s limited research settings.
Rather than an attempt to present a complete overview of trafficking between Laos and
Thailand (which it is not), the Report attempts to present some of TRACE‟s most interesting
findings and to analyse them in light of action recommendations for UNICEF, the UN Inter-
Agency Project, and the anti-trafficking community more generally. To the extent possible,
recommendations which have been made numerous times in other articles or reports, and to
which TRACE cannot add value, will not be repeated again.
3.1. Human Trafficking: General Background
Human trafficking, the criminal and illegal trading of human beings for the purpose of
exploiting their labour, is defined by a person's movement (or migration) into a non-
consensual situation of exploitation (or harm) that results in a loss of control over one's
situation. In two separate cases reported to researchers, two young girls trafficked into
domestic work were forced by their exploiter, on their first day on the job, to cut their hair
(one case) or change their name (the other case) from Oam to Mai. The sense of loss that
such experiences entails is no doubt part of the exploiter‟s control strategy. Another usual
strategy is the employers‟ demonising of the outside world. Trying to explain why, at the age
of eight, she stayed for three years in an abusive family who was exploiting her as a domestic
worker (rather than attempt to run away), Kaew said: “everyday the husband was telling me:
„the police will kill you if they found you are not Thai‟.”
Researchers in NoneNuang write:
Migrants are not familiar with their new environment, have no relatives or other
contacts, and are not aware of rules, regulation or ways of life in the new
environment, especially at the work place. Some employers see this as an
opportunity to oppress their workers: non-paid overtime, low salary with no
benefits, or trading their workers to other factories or businesses after a period of
time. After some time under this treatment, it gets to the point where a victim of
trafficking has no voice to ask for payment or claim any other right.
Trafficking is not one single event but a series of events, often involving several crimes: the
violation of specific anti-trafficking laws as well as laws on labour, fraud and extortion,
immigration, false imprisonment and slavery; and sometimes laws on assault, pandering,
battery, rape and even murder.
Trafficking episodes are usually described as a triptych – a departure from a community; a
movement; and a situation of exploitation – and accounts of anti-trafficking responses tend to
follow the same outline: in very broad terms the focus on source areas has traditionally fallen
under prevention; interventions addressing the movement fall under mobility-facilitation or
restriction (including border-control); and actions against exploitation fall broadly under the
category of law-enforcement, (including rescues by non-governmental organisations).
Diagram 1: Trafficking, from community to exploitation
In a context of strong migration, the exploitation inherent to trafficking episodes can start at
three different points (diagram 1):
1. In the community – when a person is abducted, tricked by a trafficker or "sold" while still
in the village;
2. On the way – when a person is tricked or deceived, abducted or coerced during his/her
3. In many cases trafficking – or to be more exact exploitation – only becomes apparent at
the end-point when migrants, having willingly (and safely) undertaken the migration
phase, find themselves in a situation of harm. Such a situation can reveal itself
immediately (for example when the migrant is detained by an employer against his will,
beaten, or forced to work in difficult conditions) or at a later point in time (for example
when at the end of the contract the worker does not receive her wages): the end-situation
requalifies a migration experience as trafficking.
The presentation of the TRACE findings builds on this triptych by looking first at sending
communities (section 3.1), then at the movement (section 3.2) and finally at exploitation
(section 3.3.). On the way, the findings will invite us to challenge three key realities in our
understanding of trafficking and anti-trafficking dynamics:
Can trafficking really be prevented at community level?
By focusing our attention on the movement, is the concept of trafficking not pulling us
away from more meaningful protection initiatives? In other words: do we really need
the concept of trafficking? Would we not be better off concentrating our attention on
“the fight against exploitation”?
Finally, why is “demand” so under-addressed, and what strategies could we develop
to remedy the situation?
3.2. Sending communities
The following description of the PhoneSaoE village (Nongbok District, Khammouane
Province in Lao PDR) gives an idea of the kind of reality faced by potential migrants in
Only two of the 84 houses in the village have a lavatory. There is no well in the
village and rain and river water are used for drinking. Because the water is often not
boiled before consumption, most children regularly suffer from fever, conjunctivitis
There is no medical practitioner in the village, no pharmacy and no dispensary. To
seek treatment, villagers need to go to Nongbok town – but access is often made
impossible by bad road conditions.
One of the village‟s main sources of income is rice farming. The village, however,
is frequently cut off from road access during the rainy season, when floods force
the villagers to predominantly rely on boats. Farming is unpredictable and
dangerous under such conditions; and the products of fishing, rice farming and
horticulture are often left unsold when clients cannot reach the village during the
Those who plant rice during the dry season support extra costs for irrigation and
fertiliser. Farmers have to invest approximately 90.000 Kip (9 USD) per hectare of
planted rice. If they do not manage to harvest quickly enough and sell their rice
before an increased supply emerges on the market, they face the risk being left with
a price that does not even cover their costs.
Apart from agriculture there are little opportunities for the villagers to find paid
work in their community, even if the village has set up a fund to assist families in
need and villagers who intend to start a business.
Another important source of income for the village is the remittances sent back
home by migrants to Thailand. As a result, the village community is divided into
two groups: “lucky villagers” – those whose children send money back home from
Thailand – and “unlucky villagers” – those who have lost contact with their
children in Thailand.
Migration as a fact of life
Migration to Thailand for work is a fact of life in many Lao villages, especially those close to
the border. In virtually all villages visited, researchers report on this topic along the following
Villagers frequently migrate to Thailand, and even the village chief‟s children have
travelled across the border in order to find work. The life of many community
members has improved considerably since their children migrated to Thailand:
many villagers were able to buy a hand tractor and other convenient consumer
goods. (Kipma village, Outhoumphone District, Savannakhet Province)
In Nong Snow, a village bordering the Mekong in Lakhonephieng District, Salavan Province,
villagers seem to not even make a distinction between the two sides of the border, going back
an forth as if it did not exist, for example to buy goods in Thailand every Saturday at the
Pakseng village Flee Market. Villagers here migrate in great numbers: in 2003, 15% of all
Nong Snow inhabitants migrated for work in Thailand at one point or another (66 villagers
out of 440). In Xox (Khanthabouri District, Savannakhet Province) researchers struggled to
find a single household without a member working in Thailand. And in Phone Sao E,
migrants do not need to cross the border during the night or in hiding: migration usually
occurs during the That Phanom festival (celebrated one week during the full moon of the
third lunar month), when people can easily cross the river – the police are unable to control
the big crowds of Lao and Thai nationals who gather on this occasion.
In None Muang (Champhone District, Savannakhet Province):
When agents started coming to the village, migration for work across the river [in
Thailand] became a common practice for villagers, replacing the tobacco factory in
Vientiane as the most popular destination. Parents were very supportive of this
movement and considered migration as the best solution to their economic
In Ahong village, researchers note that since migration to Thailand began on a large scale (in
1998) migrants‟ remittances gained such an important economic weight that today‟s village
population predominantly consists of young children and their grandparents: virtually all
adolescents and young adults have left the village to go and seek employment in Thailand.
A villager in Kipma said:
“I can earn 300,000 to 400,000 Kip per month (30 to 40 dollars) working in a shoe
factory in Vientiane, or I can go 50 kilometres to the other side [Thailand] and earn
2,000 – 3,000 Baht per month (50 to 75 dollars). The border does not matter to me”.
Indeed, in the same way that migration is a usual practice in these villages, migration‟s
financial consequences are also an integral part of the villagers‟ everyday economic life. In
DongNoiThai village, researchers note:
Villagers‟ main livelihood derives from wet rice (subsistence) farming. Villagers
who are better off normally sell their agricultural products at the local market. The
raising of livestock such as cows, buffalos, chickens and ducks provides an
additional source of income. Another important source of income for the village
consists in remittances from family members working in Thailand. Families
benefiting from these transfers are the true village‟s “middle class”, a group able to
purchase of a great number of consumer goods. Families of migrants sending
remittances back home are thus easy to recognise – they are the ones with many
rice fields, motorbikes, television sets, compact disk machines, and other consumer
In None Muang village (Champhone District, Savannakhet Province) out of 29 persons
migrating to Thailand in the last 10 years (an overwhelming majority in 2000-2003), three
quarters are girls or young women (22 females, 7 males).
The average age of migrating females over this period has been is 16.5 years old, and of
males just below 21. The proportion of children (at the moment of migration) among
migrating males is of 60% (4 out of 7), and among migrating women is of 68% (15 out of
22). More tellingly, the proportion of under 16 year-olds among migrating males is 14% (one
out of 7), while it is 63% among migrating females (14 out of 22).
This age discrepancy points to an added vulnerability: indeed, of the five persons – 3 females,
2 males – who have gone missing in recent years (their whereabouts currently unknown; they
may have been trafficked) all five migrated as children.
Reasons for migration
In Nong Snow, a village with a very well established migration network, researchers listed
the following reasons for out-migration (in no particular order):
Village location and easy access to border.
Modernisation: as the village becomes increasingly connected to the world, electricity,
road access, and television influence peoples‟ way of life and perceptions. Villagers want
to purchase new clothes, televisions, video compact-disk players, refrigerators, and
motorbikes. Some replace their buffaloes with tractors for work on their rice fields, only
to find themselves facing financial constraints when the tractor requires maintenance,
petrol, and spare-parts.
Lack of employment: within the village it is almost impossible to find a job which
provides a regular salary in cash.
Materialism: without cash it is impossible to buy consumer goods. Work in Thailand is
regarded as the only possibility to generate financial income, especially because it allows
savings in Thai Baht, the currency in which most consumer goods will be bought.
Existing links to Thailand: a majority of people in the village have relatives and friends
living or working in Thailand.
Popularity of migration: villagers who have not yet been to Thailand see friends
returning home with money and consumer goods, and also wish to go.
Curiosity and the desire to explore the world.
A young Lao girl, victim of traffickers, told Thai researchers at the Kredtrakan Centre:
“I wanted to come to Thailand because I watched TV and saw a beautiful beach in
Thailand. I really had to see the beach. I asked for permission from my parents to
come along with my grandmother and a cousin who were leaving for Thailand for
work. I was very glad to come to Thailand because I would have a chance to see the
Villagers from Kipma gave a somewhat different set of explanations:
Boredom (“There is nothing to do in village apart from rice farming”);
Hardship (“Rice farming is too exhausting”);
Lack of a market: too many people try to sell their vegetables, and the prices are too
low to make such an activity attractive;
Lack of jobs in general, and qualified jobs in particular (“Young women with higher
education standards want to work as maids in Thailand”);
Lack of food in large families;
Desire to have more money and to look “beautiful”
Still in Kipma, researchers write:
Every year during the dry season (January to May) villagers are affected by
draught, and many households are short of food. Those finishing to harvest their
rice in the rainy season will have little or no opportunities to find further work in
the community. Many then choose to migrate to Thailand hoping to find
In a survey conducted by two researchers in Ahong village among 33 Grade Four students
(16 females) and 36 Grade Five children (18 females), 50% of the Grade Five students and
one-third of the Grade Four students said they would like to go to Thailand. Reasons included
problems at home, the children‟s sense that they needed to support their family and/or
improve their own living conditions;
Reasons for not going included completing their education in Laos first (leaving open a
possible later departure), fear of trafficking (“being sold”), fear or apprehension regarding
their illegal status in Thailand (“getting arrested by the Thai police”), and “having to pay
An overwhelming number of children from both grades believed (or at least reported) it
would be ideal to stay and work in the village (“because one can live close to one‟s family”).
Thailand, then, may be seen by these children not as the best alternative – only as the best
Migration can thus be a response to a lack of local opportunities, or on the contrary be
motivated by ambition and curiosity; it can be the result of a flight (running away from abuse)
or of an attraction. Migration can also respond to an individual call or to family/social
obligations. In Phone Nakya village, before she left in 2001, Ms Pon told her father that she
wanted to go to Thailand to find a job and “a foreigner who will marry me”. (She left and was
not heard of again). When Kung, a 13-year-old-girl from Champasak, talks about the woman
who trafficked her into a horrendous domestic work situation, she has a very different story:
“She came many times to the village and asked if I wanted to go but I did not trust
her: people who went to Thailand with Nok Kaew never came back. But we had to
get money for my little sister for the school. My mother asked me to find a job in
Thailand so that all of my sisters can have an education.”
Kaew, a girl interviewed by researchers at the Kredtrakan Centre, ran away from home when
she was eight because her stepfather raped her. He threatened he would beat her if she told
her mother, but Kaew said it is not because of the threats that se kept silent: it is because she
believed her mother loved her new husband more than her own daughter.
Researchers in Xox felt that many of the reasons given by young people for their migration
came down to a simple truth: the desire to be like others, to have what others have, and to
know what others know. From their description of youth dynamics in the village it transpires
that the pressure of seeing migrants return from Thailand with money for a new house,
consumer goods, and new clothes is just too great to resist, both for the young people who
have stayed behind and for their families. This is amplified by what the researchers call the
“all positive” migration stories which returnees choose to tell – a story centring on food,
dresses, shopping centres and night clubs, easy work, good pay, and the good treatment
received from their employers. In Phone Sao E researchers note:
When migrants return unsuccessfully, i.e. without any money, they do not want to
talk about their experience in Thailand, and people generally do not want to hear
about it either. The returnees keep quiet. Often, they simply take their next chance
to return to Thailand and do so without telling anybody. This attitude (of the
villagers and returnees alike) explains why people who stay in Phone Sao E do not
know a lot about the possible negative consequences of migrating to Thailand.
Types of departure
It is not always possible to qualify a departure from the village. Understandably, two
departures may look similar in the village, though their outcomes will turn out to be worlds
apart. In the same way that there is a myriad of motivations for departure, there is also a large
array of types of departures, and it may be useful to make distinctions around two broad
lines: who the person leaves with; and the level of risk the person takes upon departure.
We will return to the first distinction when discussing brokers (p.51), exploring the dynamics
involved in a departure alone, with a broker who was contacted by the migrant, with a broker
who himself/herself contacted the migrant, or with trusted friends/relatives.
In this section we concentrate on the second distinction – the risk involved in departure. The
Ladder of Risk (Diagram 2 below) illustrates levels of risk involved in a departure.
Diagram 2: The Ladder of Risk
Person abducted or kidnapped
Person “sold” by relatives into prostitution or other
Person clearly forced to leave against own will
Person following suspicious/untrusted agent
Person forced to leave by circumstances (e.g. child of broken
Person leaving the village with no explanation
Person leaving the village for a job prospect that is unclear or
Person leaving the village without clear goal
Person following trusted agent
Person leaving the village for a clear, certain, non-exploitative
The bottom steps (steps are only given as illustrations – many more could be added) reflect
cases in which departure gives a clear indication that the migrant is likely to be safe. Top
steps, on the contrary, show instances in which departure itself is a good enough indicator of
a “clear and present danger” – the first manifestation of a trafficking situation in the making.
The grey zone in the middle of the ladder, however, is a zone of uncertainty – reflecting
departures which do not give all guarantees of safety, but which do not necessarily mean that
exploitation looms. We will return to the Ladder when discussing community level
Views of migration
We propose to make a distinction between reasons for migration, which we have discussed
above – the subjective motivations pushing a villager to undertake a migration episode, or
pushing his/her family to encourage it – and views of migration – the ways in which
migration is understood and judged in the community. In this section, the discussion of the
latter will help shed light on approaches to migration, trafficking, and anti-trafficking
approaches at community level.
According to TRACE findings in villages, negative attitudes to migration can stem from
security concerns (i.e. the best interest of the child) and political reasons – the best
(perceived) interest of the village and society at large. We will look at both successively.
It is important to keep in mind that a very important percentage of migration is temporary –
migration is a means to a better life rather than an end in itself, a pause in "normal life"
aiming to improve normal life‟s future. In many cases it is an investment for the future, which
carries its risks and opportunities.
Many villagers in Xox, a village with high levels of migration, argued that both independent
and agent-supported migration are equally dangerous, putting youth at risk of being caught by
Thai police, be fined, and be sent to prison. Researchers drew up a list of other “ill effects” of
migration3 according to these villagers:
A few girls returned home pregnant;
Some people became infected with sexual transmitted diseases, including HIV;
Some people became addicted to drugs;
Some people suffered from injury as a result of being abused by employers;
Some people became anxious and stressed;
Researchers tried to explain what “ill effect” means: it is not necessarily (or sometimes not quite) trafficking,
but it is not a positive experience of migration either.
Some people accepted Thai culture (e.g. language and clothes), rejecting their Lao roots;
Some people have gone missing in Thailand.
They also described several "negative situations" arising from migration which turns “bad”,
based on stories of Xox villagers:
Working without holiday;
Working unacceptable hours;
Being sworn at or hit by employers;
Being physically locked up or not being allowed to contact one's family;
Receiving no salary.
In Biungkang village, different attitudes towards migration were identified among villagers,
pointing to the idea that it is the outcome of the migration process that seems to determine the
attitude of parents towards the event. At a superficial level at least, having money upon return
– or sending money back home – seems to be a more powerful argument than many
oppositions to migration.
Researchers found that parental attitude towards migration is, to a large extent, shaped by the
stories they hear and the experiences they are made aware of. It was thus impossible to find
anyone opposing migration in villages with safe and well established migration channels. It
would indeed be a gross over-simplification to think that all parents either use their children
for financial gain or squarely oppose their departure on security/moral grounds. In many
cases, most perhaps, Lao parents interviewed by TRACE researchers saw migration to
Thailand in the same way parents usually look at their children‟s endeavours: with a
combination of support, some degree of anxiety that things may go wrong, and hope that their
children will succeed in whatever they undertake.
In NongSnow village for example, the mother of two sisters currently working in a garment
factory in Thailand said:
“It was their decision to migrate, but once they had decided that, [my husband and
I] tried to make sure they could migrate safely. Now they each make 2,000 baht a
month. We told them we don‟t want money from them – we earn 20,000 baht a year
[selling rice and rice products], and if they earn money they should keep it for
Researchers in Dong Noi Thai note:
Parents rarely prevent their children from migrating to Thailand. Many villagers
expressed the idea that migration remains their family‟s best chance of improving
their lives, rising above the subsistence threshold, and getting “money to spend” (by
which they mean: money to spend on consumer goods).
In some cases researchers report4 that
(…) parents are proud of their children who go to work in Thailand, considering
them as hard working people, considering their migration as the solution to their
Conclusion of the Thailand-Laos TRACE Meeting, Chiang Mai, February 2004.
economic problem, and expecting them to send money home to help support other
family members. This parental attitude thus increases the pressure on children and
youth to migrate for work. Some parents hold an attitude that even if their children
do not return home with money, sending them away to Thailand reduces the cost of
raising them, and relieves parents from the responsibility of raising their children.
In Xox, this attitude was complemented by a feeling among some youth and their parents
alike that the time spent in Thailand carries many benefits:
Some young people and their parents highlighted another positive aspect of
migration, mentioning that through their time in Thailand and their working
experience they had received basic vocational skills: sewing, selling goods,
constructing houses, repairing or making furniture, and planting trees.
This positive attitudes towards migration, however, do not necessarily mean that security
concerns are discarded. Researchers add5:
Some parents actually go with their children to see agents and ask for migrating
arrangements and jobs.
Political views of migration
From the information collected in 26 villages, official Lao attitudes towards illegal migration
can be described as a series of defensive stances aiming to protect (to varying degrees) the
Lao culture and way of life, the government‟s authority, and the image the country projects
abroad. The relation between (young) migrants or would be migrants and (older)
representatives of law and order is often one of opposition, a power relationship which is
tested on a daily basis.
While young people tend to assess migration opportunities in terms of individual pros and
cons (“is this good for me? What would a smart person do?”), authorities approach the issue
from a societal, moral, and legal perspective (“what would a good citizen do?”). In this latter
perspective, it is the illegal movement itself, irrespective of its outcome, which is viewed as a
“non-politically-correct”, sometimes “unpatriotic” activity: the outcome of the movement –
the opportunities pursued, the success or lack of success, the harm or no harm – sometimes
seems to matter less than the nature of the movement – i.e. its legality or illegality.
In order to understand trafficking dynamics between Laos and Thailand, and the relative
shyness of anti-trafficking responses, it is fundamental to understand that young illegal
migrants are considered as delinquents on both sides of the border. Departure in Laos is at
times perceived by officials not only as a direct challenge to their authorities, but also as the
ultimate rejection, by the new generation, of what the older generation has strived to build, of
what it stands for, and of what it has accomplished. In a system which does not always allow
dissenting voices to be heard, where children are doubly excluded from significant input into
public life – as children and as citizens – their departure can be seen as a “vote with their
feet”. I will return to the idea that from this point of view, their decision to leave can be as
much as a proof of empowerment as of possible victimisation.
Efforts to encourage young people to stay in their villages are supported in good faith by
anti-trafficking actors, with the understanding that with no movement, trafficking will be
impossible. Apart from the fact that these efforts may denote a romanticised view of village
life (many of whom live in big cities6!), the discussion above highlights the divergence of
objectives of such strategies in the minds of those supporting it, and the authorities
implementing it. For them, migration abroad is a rebellion that society is not ready to accept,
and which can only be resolved through a return to conformity – at the expense of young
people‟s right to seek innovation in their own lives.
Interestingly, the characteristics largely associated today with migrants and trafficking
victims by the mainstream literature are the same that were associated with delinquents in the
beginning of the 20th century. For example the “environmental conditions” identified by the
positivist Cyril Burt (1925) as having a “causal effect” on delinquency included poverty and
urban deprivation, “defective” family relationships and discipline, peer group influences,
working conditions, gambling, and going to the cinema. Burt‟s delinquents (as today‟s
victims) were “influenced by pictures of high life” which “provide models and material for
all-engrossing day-dreams, and create a yearning for a life of gaiety – a craze for fun, frolic
and adventure, for personal admiration and for extravagant self-display – to a degree that is
usually unwholesome and almost invariably unwise”.
Such association should tell us something about the approach adopted towards victims of
trafficking today. It is difficult to persuade authorities to not treat migrants as criminals when
we ourselves do everything we can to prevent their departure rather than try to improve the
overall context within which this departure takes place.
We would like to suggest that this view of migrants, the sense of shame that their departure
may trigger in the community, and the negative image they are perceived to project of their
country, contribute to the response brought to trafficking on both sides of the border.
Exploited in Thailand, arrested by the Thai police, imprisoned, deported back home, young
victims may sometimes be seen as only getting what they deserve. As a result, there is maybe
not enough pressure from the sending community on the receiving community to treat these
people differently: each side, for their own reasons, sees these trafficked victims as trouble
makers. Receiving communities will be able to continue to blame sending communities for
the trafficking problem as long as sending communities will continue blaming themselves,
and will continue to put the rights of the victim second to the sense of failure and
embarrassment that their departure has caused.
This harsh stance on migration is not uniformly put into practice in all villages. In None
Muang researchers note:
Authorities consider migrants as people who do not comply with the village rules
and regulations, and demand to be informed of any movement (departure or return)
of villagers. Officially, returnees are each ordered to pay a fine to the village head
or any village committee members. But in reality these rules on fining returnees as
a punishment for their migration are currently not applied in this village. This is
linked to the fact that the children of the Village Head and Deputy have also
As a woman in a remote Vietnamese village told a friend development worker: “if I understand correctly, you
travel all around the world to tell people to stay in their villages?”
migrated to Thailand for work. Village authorities have sympathy for villagers'
struggle to survive. There is no other way in the village for children and young
people to earn income or to support their basic cost of living. The Village Chief told
us he understands that if villagers do not leave the village, they have almost no way
of improving their standard of living.
Vulnerabilities to Trafficking
A pervasive assumption in the fight against trafficking is that the day we eventually manage
to “understand” the phenomenon (the underlying dynamics, the range of complex motivations
at play, or the precise “size” of the problem) we will manage to stop it. While this assumption
is certainly not entirely true (current interventions lag far behind our accumulated knowledge
on trafficking), the TRACE research enables to further elaborate on what such
“understanding” involves by separating reasons for migration (discussed above) and
trafficking‟s vulnerability causes.
Based on the analysis of the many cases brought up by TRACE, it is however possible to
question the place that individual vulnerabilities have taken in explanations of trafficking.
The focus on victims and their vulnerabilities is indeed misleading when it implies that
explanations of trafficking are to be found in the predispositions of a weak person, when in
reality the focus should be on the predispositions of a dysfunctional system. It may be
misguided to ascribe the properties of a position – in our case, that of “trafficked victim”;
another example could be that of “client” – to the individual occupying it. While this
individual does present the characteristics of the position, it should be recognised that the
position itself is independent from this individual, and is linked to wider structures of social
relations, social mechanisms, rules, and values. Asking people to “protect themselves”, for
example through “raised awareness”, is no doubt a crucial step in many cases. But making
this request for self-protection into one‟s sole anti-trafficking strategy reflects a confusion as
to the onus of responsibility in the fight against exploitation.
Rather than focusing on the vulnerabilities of some migrants, and study how they led the
person to be trafficked, we should take a look at the coping strategies of other migrants, and
ask how they have enabled them to succeed in a flawed system.
For many years, the focus on vulnerabilities has enabled authorities and governments to treat
trafficking as an individual difficulty rather than as a social problem – an unfortunate and
regrettable incident, but for which the victim can only blame herself/himself, and in the
resolution of which society has no role to play.
Two young men from Xox village, Noi (22 years old) and Oui (19 years old) migrated to Thailand
through a network of three agents (one in the village, one on the other side of the Mekong, and one in
Bangkok) with a promise of good work. They ended up in “Han‟s duck farm” in Ladburi, forced to
collect and clean eggs from 3 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week. Ten other Lao children were working
in the farm; none was being paid.
According to the two men, working conditions included the following:
Workers who complained, were lazy, or "showed signs that they were intending to leave" were
locked up by the owner or his guards;
Those who worked slowly were hit with a thick piece of hard wood (this happened to Mr. Oui) or
slapped on the face (this happened to Mr. Noi).
Other reasons for being hit by the employer included:
Collecting eggs too slowly; when transferring eggs to the truck, workers had to run back and
forth. Failing to run was considered "working slowly"
Placing an egg plate incorrectly;
Breaking an egg while cleaning;
Leaving the room while cleaning eggs;
Sitting down or kneeling while working (workers were forced to stand 15 hours a day);
Have a conversation with colleagues while working.
All supervisors carried guns. One young Lao worker was hit so badly that his arm broke. He was then
left on the floor covered with duck faeces until 3 a.m., before he was sent to collect eggs again. Since
his arm was broken, he could not. He was hit again.
Another Lao man was reportedly killed by an electric shock after he was caught trying to escape from
After five days, Oui and Noi learned they had been trafficked – the agents had collected one year of
their salary in advance from the employer. They fortunately managed to escape, and returned to Xox
Stories such as this illustrate the extent to which “personal vulnerabilities” are only part of
the trafficking story. A system which allows places such as this farm to exist (to the best of
the returnees knowledge it still does) accepts to let certain human beings operate within
environments which exclude any reference to law, morality, or humanity, and accepts that
other human beings will be subjected to this environment. Trafficking, in this context, is not
simply “migration that goes wrong”: in a system which does not organise or recognise
migration, and does not sufficiently protect migrants, all migration goes wrong. Focusing on
extreme cases of exploitation leads us to concentrate on person to person interactions,
individual choices and backgrounds, and on the allocation of blame, rather than look at wider
structures within which, because of their little concern for the weak and/or foreign, migration
itself is a vulnerability.
In Xoxvang village, villagers consider female migrants to be more at risk than males. They
believe girls would find it hard to cope with a new and unfamiliar environment. On the other
hand, they believe boys are physically strong and will manage to deal with employers or
owners in cases of risk of abuse. Boys are also considered capable of escaping from bad
employers or agents, whereas girls would have less chance. Yet, girls are more likely to send
money home to their parents than boys.
In Phong Sao E, asked to list “vulnerability factors” which would make a villager‟s migration
unsafe, villagers came up with “not knowing the route” and “having a beautiful body”.
RECOMMENDATION 1: There is an important advocacy role to play here in trying to
politicise the issue and increase public spheres’ sense of responsibility for the solution of
the problem. Anti-trafficking actors could for example strive to establish a mechanism
which systematically brings up children’s stories to the public and to the attention of
policy makers, and give children the opportunity to demand specific action, monitor
governments’ responses, and hold those in charge publicly accountable.
On both sides of the border, the choice is between presenting trafficked persons as poor
helpless victims, or presenting them in a way that angers communities and leads to outrage
and activism. When talking about “children as active citizens”, “empowered children” and
“child participation”, here is a concrete way to really take these ideas forward.
In Biungkham village, researchers came up with a generic profile of a trafficked victim:
Men and women from 12 to 30 years old;
Sometimes rather naïve or innocent;
Families in which parents cannot support their children's (real or perceived) needs;
Children who do not get along with their parents are a much easier prey for traffickers
People who do not have money for their trip and need to rely on others;
People who are reluctant to call for help when they run into trouble;
People who do not know anyone in Thailand;
People who migrate to Thailand for the first time and have to rely on others for routes
Diagram 3 tries to bring together reasons for "departure from the village", and vulnerabilities
– elements which will determine whether a voluntary departure will bring the migrant into a
situation of harm or no-harm 7 . The bottom half of the diagram presents "Reasons for
Migration" (e.g. consumerism, employment, etc.), with situations related to these reasons
organised from those least likely to be conducive to movement (e.g. strong non-consumerist
values, stable income source, etc.) to those most likely to lead to departure (e.g. strong
consumerism, etc). To emphasise: these are reasons for migration – not causes of trafficking.
The situations described in bold letters (e.g. no income source) represent situations which,
notwithstanding their likelihood to increase of decrease chances for departure, increase the
risk of trafficking after departure. Combinations of vulnerabilities of course need to be taken
into account alongside single-factor vulnerabilities.
See Dynamics and Strategies for Addressing Trafficking in Persons: a New Paradigm, Bangladesh Thematic
Group, IOM Bangladesh, 2002
Diagram 3: Reasons for movement
HARM NO HARM
How likely you are to "know better"
(age, education, experience, awareness)
Risk you are ready to accept
(personality, consumerism?, support)
Vulnerability: risk you cannot avoid
(poverty, family situation, status, age, education, experience)
Who you meet
(luck, awareness, networks, history of migration, personality)
Strong No income Relative Regular Strong No legal
Secondary Abuse Strong
consumerism source poverty migration insecurity status
Mild Inadequate Average or Irregular Mild Mild Incomplete
consumerism income source above average migration insecurity problems legal status
Strong non- Citizenship
Stable income No Absolute No No
consumerist Security and No
source schooling poverty migration problem
Economic Migration Human Family Legal Curiosity/
Consumerism Work Schooling
situation history Security situation Status Ambition
REASONS FOR MIGRATION
Community Level Interventions
The bottom half of Diagram 3 (above) records some of the numerous reasons for
which a person may want to leave the village, ranging from lack of economic
opportunities to curiosity, or to fleeing abuse. If one was to take these "reasons for
migration" and try to translate them into programmatic interventions against
trafficking, the "fight against trafficking” at community level could justify almost any
kind of intervention: alleviating poverty; promoting more schooling; promoting less
schooling (since some schooling seems to be a pre-requisite for departure in many
cases – see below); increasing people's sense of initiative (so they can improve their
own situation locally); decreasing people's sense of initiative (so they do not leave);
gender training; employment creation; or work on various kinds of "awareness".
The analysis of TRACE findings enables us to highlight a discrepancy between the
usual “community based” strategies adopted by many anti-trafficking actors, and local
realities. In particular, the assumption that the trafficking phenomenon can be
successfully addressed at (sending) community level is being challenged by our
improved understanding of the phenomenon's dynamics.
For a start, as suggested above (p.31) it can be pointed out that by trying to improve
the lives of people in the villages, by warning them of the dangers of migration, or by
attempting a direct regulation of movement, many traditional "anti-trafficking"
activities at community level are in actual fact trying to prevent the movement itself
rather than concentrate on specific instances of movement leading to exploitation.
Trafficking in the last few years has been used as a convenient and easily marketable
“package” for community-level interventions, enabling organisations to raise funds
based on accounts of terrible suffering and exploitation in order to initiate or continue
projects which do not directly address the true causes, reality, or consequences of this
As shown by the Ladder of Risk, a person's departure from a community often falls
within a "grey area" in which departure in itself does not give sufficient indication on
the nature of the movement (trafficking or migration) or on its expected outcomes
(harm or no harm). Departure is thus, in the same time, the only visible, tangible
working element available at (sending) community-level, but also the first event in a
long process leading a migrant to a situation of safety or harm. While departure is an
event happening in the community, the outcome of the movement follows a series of
unclear events taking place hundreds of kilometres away, at times secretly or in
another country, far from the community‟s gaze. It is only reasonable to suggest that
for those who leave, at the end of the day, much of the outcome of the movement will
be determined by circumstances which are well beyond the scope of a community
The approach suggested by the TRACE research findings is more realistic than a
sweeping – but implausible – comprehensive prevention agenda at community level.
It is an approach based not on trafficking prevention as such, but on safe departure.
“Success indicators” would thus not relate to the outcome of the movement, which is
not under the community‟s control, but the circumstances of the person’s departure.
In particular, the questions asked of a departure would be the following:
Was the departure prepared (i.e. well organised in advance)? If so, who
Did the villager leave voluntarily, or was he/she forced to leave? And if so,
was he/she forced by circumstances or forced by someone8?
If the villager left with someone, can this “someone” be trusted? (i.e. can we
be sure this person has the best interest of the villager in mind?)
Upon departure, did the villager know where he/she was going (which
location, which employer, etc.)?
If the destination was known, is it a destination which had proved to be safe in
Did the villager know how to get to where he/she wanted to go (route, means
of transportation, etc)?
If the villager is a child: did the villager leave with his/her parents consent?
For his departure and movement, was the villager able to use established and
trusted networks and contacts to help reduce his/her risk?
Judging from the experience of other out-migrants in this village, did the
circumstances of this villager‟s departure puts him/her at a serious risk of
Answering these questions would enable a village-based monitor to determine
whether a departure is risky or safe; it would also allow village authorities and anti-
trafficking actors to monitor their interventions and protection activities at village
level, and to evaluate their impact based on the age, gender, and socio-economic level
of those who leave.
This approach calls for a far-reaching shift in the traditional outlook on departure:
rejecting perceptions of migrants as potential victims and migrants as delinquents, it
invites a view of migration as a positive, empowered choice, an active step towards
better alternatives and a better life. As was suggested above, it may thus not be right
to define our anti-trafficking responsibility as a „need to empower‟ people: migrants
are on the contrary, to a very large degree, empowered individuals whose endeavour
only goes wrong because of the institutional and power contexts in which it takes
We now turn to the discussion of five specific intervention strategies against
Awareness raising on trafficking and on the risks of migration;
“Voluntarily” means that a person decides to leave but had a choice: he or she could have stayed in
the village if he/she had so decided. “Forced by circumstances” refers to a villager who, because of
his/her life circumstances has no other choice but to go – for example because her mother is sick or
because there is no way to earn money in the village. “Forced by another person” refers to a villager
who is forced to go by someone who uses threat, force, or abuse of authority – for example a villager
who gets abducted, or a child who is sent by a drug-addicted parent to go and make money.
“Community level protection”; and
Imposing fines on migrants.
Addressing trafficking through poverty alleviation strategies
Several factors contribute to the idea that trafficking can be fought through poverty
alleviation interventions: the fact that "rich people do not get trafficked"; the
association of poverty with lack of education and thus with lack of understanding of
the "outside world" in which the person will end up being trafficked; and a perception
that tends to consider the number of trafficked victims as an incompressible
percentage of the number of migrants, thus leading to attempts at shrinking the latter
("give people options in their village") in order to reduce the former.
The poverty alleviation approach can take several forms including skills training,
village-funds, micro-credit, and attempts at employment creation at village level.
Three aspects of this approach can be challenged:
Poverty in this approach is commonly understood as absolute poverty and ensuing
interventions will therefore aim for sustainable livelihoods rather than to bridge the
gap between points of origin and destination. Findings from the TRACE research,
however, challenge the analysis of absolute poverty as the primary factor in
trafficking. There is no grounding to the idea that the poorest members of a
community are over-represented among those who migrate or get trafficked. On the
other hand, TRACE findings do suggest a link between poverty, feelings of poverty,
The above explanation reveals a second challenge to the poverty alleviation approach
to trafficking: while it may be true that many people would stay in their communities
if they had better opportunities, a lack of opportunities is not the only cause for
departure, and the contrary is sometimes true: with improved development
opportunities and higher incomes come raised expectations, and through television
come romanticised images of foreign places. In numerous examples throughout the
TRACE research, some degree of economic development could be seen as
contributing to an increased desire to leave.
Finally, as noted in some villages, entrepreneurial endeavours in the village
sometimes lead households to debt, and the pressure to repay this debt leads to
While poverty and trafficking are linked in many ways, a simplistic Poverty
Trafficking causality obviously fails to account for the complexities at play. A
question often discussed throughout the TRACE research was to establish which
aspects of poverty are linked to which aspects of trafficking, and what is the relation
between them9. In other words, what is it about poverty that links it to trafficking?
In some accounts, poverty leads to ignorance which leads to trafficking; or ignorance leads to poverty
which leads to trafficking; or poverty leads directly to both ignorance and trafficking… The three can
certainly be correlated in many different ways.
The Project‟s findings suggest that lack of money leads to migration, not to
trafficking. It is, on the other hand, the low status of poor people, in their own eyes
and in the eyes of society, and their powerlessness in the face of abuse, which makes
them an ideal victim for traffickers. Traffickers, like hyenas, move on the weakest
preys, the one least likely to defend themselves or be defended by others.
From the Xoxvang report:
Children or youth from poor families have low social status within the
village. Agents know that the families of these children have no power to
complain, rescue their children, or take any other form of action. Hence,
chances of being arrested for trafficking are limited. By contrast, children
and youth from families with high social status are treated carefully by
agents. These children are usually placed in good jobs in Thailand. Agents
want to maintain a good relationship with their parents or relatives (who
have high social status and role in the village). This enables the agents to
visit the village more often with out any obstacle.
Poor people‟s powerlessness is related to lack of money, but resolving it lies beyond
questions of money. Resolution here requires that society create safety nets so that
even non-powerful people can have weapons against traffickers – mechanisms
through which any human being, by the mere fact that they are a human being, can
report their case to authorities, and be heard, supported, and granted justice.
Resolution, in other words, requires a Rights-based approach.
RECOMMENDATION 2: It is recommended that actors working in Laos against
child-trafficking jointly define and promote a Rights-based approach to
trafficking. By rights-based approach we mean an approach which maps systemic
weaknesses and vulnerabilities of people to trafficking, and which ensures that for
each one of them a mechanism is put in place which guarantees that a person’s
right will be upheld.
The TRACE research invites us to take a less simplistic approach to poverty, and to
add, alongside micro-credit schemes, efforts focusing on broader systemic issues in
the societies concerned.
In slightly simplified terms, the rationale behind this activity is that people get
trafficked because of their ignorance: if educated about the risks of trafficking, such
risks could be lessened.
From the outset an important point needs to be made about the areas of awareness that
one aims to raise. Two such areas need to be clearly separated:
Awareness of the risks linked to migration;
Awareness of safe ways to migrate.
In reality however awareness raising activities are sometimes conducted without
clearly spelling out their objective – preventing trafficking or preventing migration, or
in other words helping people leave more safely or trying to discourage them from
leaving all together.
A major problem with wide campaigns highlighting the risks of migration is that
empirical evidence in general does not support this line of argument: as shown by this
and other research projects, the overwhelming majority of people who choose to
migrate, even from poorer communities, improve their lives by doing so. It is of little
use telling a young person that if she goes to Thailand she is likely to be exploited and
abused, when her friends have come back with money in their pockets and tales of
adventure. Migration, we have noted above, is a fact of life in many Lao villages. In
Biungkham village researchers found a view, among the adults and elderly, that for a
young person, "only lazy youth refuse to go to Thailand ".
Awareness raising is important, and properly done can greatly reduce vulnerability,
particularly where the recruiters in the communities concerned are complicit in the
end outcome of trafficking. However, as with any realistic intervention, such
campaigns must provide choices for those who still choose to migrate, and equip them
with skills that will be useful if they do so. In the case of Na, a girl from Champasak,
Since her sister moved out the house and her brother never helped her
mother, she decided to leave her hometown for work in Thailand – the only
way to help out her family and send her young brothers and sisters to
school. She realised that not everyone was lucky to land a good job in
Bangkok but felt optimistic about it. She thought it was better than letting
her family starve to death.
Indeed, being able to define the risk and being able to act on it are two different
things. A girl interviewed in Kredtrakan Centre said:
“I wanted to work in Bangkok because I had a difficult life in Laos. I knew
a friend who was deceived to work in Bangkok. She said she didn‟t get paid
but I didn‟t believe her.”
Noting that school children in Ahong village do not receive any information on
trafficking or on how to find work after completing their education, researchers
note that only 40% of grade 4 and 5 children “could define human trafficking –
most of them defined it as being sold and having a bad job in Thailand”.
However, researchers also note that all grade 5 and grade 4 students who wanted
to go to Thailand “knew about strategies to minimise the risks of falling victim to
human trafficking”. It is very likely they could have raised our awareness on
some of these strategies.
Education is another activity that is often implemented or encouraged by anti-
trafficking projects at community level with the idea that better levels of education
protect children and young adults against trafficking.
It is widely asserted that supporting a child‟s education has two ways of impacting
Better education creates increased choices for the future, better chances to find a
good employment and thus stay out of exploitation;
Sending a child to school creates a daily interaction with a “social safety net”,
providing the child increased protection from being sold, abducted, lured or
Both of these affirmations, however, can be challenged to some degree.
Although a girl in Kredtrakan Centre told researchers that because of her low
education she was too naïve, and thought everyone meant well to her, not realising
that she could end up in an exploitative situation, there is little evidence in the
TRACE research to support the claim that the non-educated tend to migrate more than
the educated, or that higher levels of primary/secondary education lead to improved
safety from trafficking. In a context where trafficking is closely linked to migration,
evidence from the TRACE project shows, on the contrary, that higher levels of
education can lead to migration.
Discussing the link between migration, trafficking and school, researchers in
Biungkang Village note:
Because there are not many young people in the village, children cannot
receive a good example from older peers, and thus do not want to study.
They also perceive that with work in Thailand being their main option for
quick gains, they would actually not benefit from further education. Parents
see other students who, having graduated with a higher education diploma,
cannot find a job.
The second assertion above can be challenged on somewhat different grounds. It is
logically sound to assert that the longer a child stays in school, the greater the
probability he/she will stay out of exploitation. Is school, then, the answer for
protection against trafficking?
The answer to this question is more complex than appears at first sight. While
children who are physically in school on a daily basis are unable to work, they can
very well drop out of school or be withdrawn by parents who decide to send them
away, thus becoming, all in one time, out-of-school children, migrants, and
(potentially) trafficked victims. This is illustrated by the situation in Lao Yai village,
where a new trend of migration to Thailand for housekeeping work has multiplied the
number of female migrants by 12 from 2001 (3 out-migrants) to 2003 (36 female out-
migrants). According to the researchers‟ findings in the village, this increase in female
out-migration is accompanied by an increase in the number of girls dropping out of
school, while in the same time the drop-out rate for male students declines. While the
researchers were unable to draw a clear correlation between drop-outs and departures,
anecdotal evidence showed that some teenagers, including the village chief‟s
daughter, did not hesitate to leave school (which, as one teenager says, “has never led
anyone in the village to get a better job”) in order to move to a relatively well-paying
job in Thailand.
Tellingly, the average age of female migrants from 1998 to 2001 in Lao Yai was 17.6
years (with the youngest girl being 16, and four girls out of five being under 18 – no
boys migrated in these years), and their average education level was 5.3 years of
schooling. In 2003 their average age is a year younger at 16.7 (with 21 out of 36 girls
being under 16!) and the average education level is much lower, at 3.5 years, hinting
at girls dropping out in order to move to Thailand. As noted above, though,
confirming this hypothesis would require a further analysis of unavailable data. In
comparison, the boys‟ average age in 2003 is 20.4 (ranging 16 to 26) and their
average education level is 5.7 years of schooling.
Furthermore, at school children are sent to school by families who care enough for
them to be there. Both schooling and the protection from trafficking may in fact result
from the same cause, rather than being two events causally linked to each other.
Finally, it has also been suggested that children at school are under the protection of a
teacher who often acts as a guarantor against trafficking. There was little evidence of
that in villages researched in Laos, but not enough data has been collected on the
subject to try to reach a conclusion. The Phon Kham school has a policy of charging
50.000 kip per student for dropping out. However, based on a list of five students who
left the school in the months preceding the research, it does not seem that the purpose
of the fine has much to do with trafficking prevention – the fine was paid alike by the
family of a girl who left school to go and work in Thailand (one case only) and by a
boy who left because he chose to become a novice and live in a monastery.
While lack of schooling can be a problem, school can also sometimes push young
people to migrate, as a teacher highlighted for the researchers in Na village 10 .
According to her, when an older child is made to attend a low grade corresponding to
his educational level but not to his age or level of maturity, this may create a sense of
failure which motivates children‟s departure. In her Lower Grade 3, for example, an
18 year-old was sitting on the same bench as an 11 year-old in.
It would in fact be possible, through TRACE, to bring forward almost any case of
children with high (or low) education deciding to migrate (or to stay in the village)
and, when leaving, ending up in a situation of harm (or, on the contrary, of safety). In
our mind, establishing the real impact of school on migration and trafficking would
require a quantitative survey, something beyond TRACE‟s scope.
“Building Safety” at Community Level
Researchers in None Muang write:
In general, parents of returnees are happy to see their children again,
whether they return with money or not. Of course, parents are happier to see
their children return with money. For those who come home without money,
parents and relative use their experience as a lesson for other children in the
As part of their research in Lao Yai village, researchers also travelled to a secondary-upper school in
a nearby village, Na, where they collected some information. The school serves 20 villages in the area.
family. Consciously or unconsciously, they take this as an opportunity to
build safety for the next departure.
Risk minimisation strategies at community level are a powerful tool for the promotion
of safe migration, and they come under two forms: protection strategies in the village,
and the establishment of migration strategies and networks.
In the 26 villages visited, TRACE researchers did not encounter a single formal
“protection network” – action-oriented networks of volunteers focusing on the
identification of (and support to) “at risk” persons in the community.
It was mentioned above that community-level interventions against trafficking often
stopped short of addressing trafficking itself or the movement that leads to trafficking.
Diagram 4 schematically looks at the different strata, within a society, that "usual"
anti-trafficking interventions address, and at the potential role of Protection networks:
Diagram 4. Community level: where are we responding?
Perception of migration and trafficking
Economic situation Response to trafficking
Social and political structures
Values, beliefs, attitudes
Community level protection networks are a promising development in addressing
trafficking issues at community level. By raising community members' awareness on
the risks linked to badly prepared migration, by making sure that traffickers are not
allowed to operate in the village, and by linking village-level situations directly with
action-oriented institutions (police, health, education), these networks have the
potential to maximise a community's ability to protect its own members from
RECOMMENDATION 3: It is recommended that Lao actors active in the fight
against trafficking look into the possible establishment of protection networks in
Lao villages, possibly building on other experiences in the region.
Migration networks are another guarantee of safety for villages sending their members
to Thailand. They are explored in the next section.
Fighting Trafficking through Fines
By far the most extensive anti-trafficking strategy (or at least one that is presented as
such) in place in Lao villages is the imposition of fines upon illegal migrants. While
these fines are a direct translation of the political concerns described above (p.30),
their presentation as anti-trafficking tools calls on the simplistic understanding that
since trafficking happens in a context of strong migration, preventing the latter will
lead to a reduction in the former.
In many villages, fines have ended up being seen merely as a (burdensome) "tax" on
villagers' work abroad, hardly preventing their movement at all. In Yang Soung a
“Village authorities impose fines on people because they are jealous of
those who return with money. They want their part.”
In some cases 11 it has even been argued that taxes may be fuelling migration –
showing those who have not yet crossed the border that the amounts of money made
on the other side are so significant that they dwarf even a hefty fine.
While the fining regulations appear to be systematically implemented 12 , their
implementation varies considerably from village to village in terms of fine amounts
and the firmness with which they are collected.
In Nong Snow, researchers report that village authorities apply the fines as set out in
the October 1999 government regulation:
Period of illegal stay in Thailand Fine13
1 – 3 months 50,000 Kip
3 – 6 months 100,000 Kip
6 – 12 months 150,000 Kip
More than a year 150,000 Kip
The fine depends on the time spent illegally in Thailand, irrespective of whether the
border was crossed legally (for example with a 3-day border pass) or illegally.
As in most villages, authorities collect fines from either the migrant himself/herself
upon return or their families. In this village, families of missing persons have to
inform the authorities in order to be exempted from the fine, a further confirmation of
the analysis of fines as a tax – more than the act of working illegally in Thailand, it is
the money earned there which is “fined”.
Still in Nong Snow, the funds raised through fines are distributed as follows:
60% to the village revolving fund;
15% to the persons who collect the money (!);
25% to district authorities or district police.
The fining system in Dong Noi Thai village was introduced two years ago. Villagers
who migrate illegally to Thailand have to pay a fine of 100.000 kip each time they
migrate. This money is handed over to the district authorities, who then give 20.000
Kip back to the village. In Dong Noi Thai, as in other villages, aspects of the fine
appear to be negotiable. Researchers report for example that parents of children who
return home “without any money” – irrespective of their working conditions in
Lao PDR - Building Projects on Assumptions, Oren Ginzburg, 2002
In all 26 Villages in the TRACE research, the fining of returnees was (or had been) implemented in
one form or another.
10,000 Kip is roughly equivalent to one US dollar or 40 Thai Baht.
Thailand – often manage not to pay the fine. This is not to say that authorities in this
village are always flexible: some villagers have been forced to sell livestock or
agricultural products to be able to cover the penalty.
The Outhoumphone disctict (Savannakhet province) introduced fining several years
ago. The district has widely publicised the fine regulations among potential migrants
in order to put them off leaving for Thailand. Under these regulations, each returnee
pays 125,000 Kip (12.5 dollars US), of which 25,000 are kept by village authorities
and 100,000 by the district.
Number of Fines paid per year by Villagers of Lao Yai (Kip)
returnees To village authorities To district authorities Total Paid
2000 4 100,000 400,000 500,000
2001 7 175,000 700,000 875,000
2002 3 75,000 300,000 375,000
2003 10 250,000 1,000,000 1,250,000
Total 24 600,000 2,400,000 3,000,000
It is noteworthy that in Lao Yai village, village and district authorities did not fine
four trafficked victims whose return to the village had been assisted by the Lao
Embassy. Other trafficked victims, though, have been fined, pointing to the wide
variety of situations across villages.
When asked about the destination of the funds, the Village Chief reported that fine
money had been used to purchase tools to repair the village road and bridge and to
organise soccer games between a local team and teams from neighbouring villages. In
Yang Soung village, returning migrants have to pay a fine of 100 Baht, and the money
is used for buying clothes for the village security members. TRACE researchers were
of course in no position to verify if funds collected had indeed been used for the
The amount of the average fine (roughly 12 dollars or 500 Baht per migrant) is
insignificant for those who have had a successful migration episode – a typical salary
in Thailand would range in the 2,000 to 4,000 Baht per month. In Yang Soung village,
authorities double the fine for people who migrate for the second time, triple it for
those migrating a third time, etc. This is probably illegal.
In Phone Nakya and Phon Kham authorities do not charge a fine of 125.000 Kip for
each migration episode but (again, maybe illegally) for each month spent abroad. In
Phon Kham researchers interviewed a villager who had returned from Thailand with
15.000 Baht and had to pay a 3,600 baht fine – a significant percentage of his savings.
Understandably in these villages, fines imposed on less fortunate migrants can bring a
whole household into dire financial straights.
Villagers were often overtly critical of the fining policy, and even more so in villages
in which trafficked victims too had to pay the fine. In None Muang village for
Villagers considered the fines to be unfair for children who have already
suffered during their work, and have been trying hard to save. They
considered that authorities should support trafficked victims rather than
overburden them with additional problems.
What is the deterring effect of fines on migration? And what is their impact on
trafficking? In villages where the 125,000 Kip fine was applied to each migration
episode, researchers found villagers annoyed by it, but widely reported that it was not
an important consideration for those planning to leave. In villages where the fine was
multiplied by the number of months spent abroad, villagers seemed to factor it into
their departure cost-benefit analysis, and many reported postponing or cancelling
their trips all together because it.
Again, those considering trafficking as an incompressible percentage of migration will
claim that less migrants means less victims. Those taking more of the issue‟s
complexities into account will argue that fines do not have a significant impact on
trafficking. On the contrary, as researchers report in Xox village, the fear of fines may
push villagers to stay away from the village and possibly fall back into exploitative
In any case, fines need less to be evaluated for their potential benefits in the fight
against trafficking then for their potential harm to trafficked victims subjected to this
In addition to fines, several villages have a “re-education” programme for returnees –
usually a few days of lectures on illegal migration and how it is bad. In Phone Soung
village, people who has migrated to Thailand more than two or three times, and for
whom re-education by village authorities has been ineffective, will be sent to a re-
education centre in another province for a more intensive attempt to stop them from
3.3. The movement
Consider the following story: Two women are currently imprisoned in a brothel,
forced to serve many customers every day, exploited and abused, never paid for what
they are forced to do. One of them was tricked by a trafficker in her village and then
brought to the brothel. The other used to live next door to the brothel, wanted to make
extra money by doing sex work two or three evenings a week, and thus went to ask the
brothel owner if he would let her work for him. Both were then beaten up, repeatedly
raped, and then kept prisoners. Is there a difference between the situations of these
In the case of the second woman there is no “trafficker” – only an exploiter. Or is an
exploiter a trafficker, too? There is no “trafficking movement” – the woman
undertook the (very short) trip to the brothel by herself. Is this woman‟s situation one
of trafficking? The question not only highlights the difficulty of fitting a definition
over a diverse array of realities; it also leads to question the very usefulness of
trafficking as a concept. Would a concept such as exploitation not better cover the
range of situations that we are set to address? The crime of “trafficking” was defined
in order to punish not only those who exploit and abuse others, but also those who
move the person into exploitation. If, in turn, it makes us lose sigh of the first group,
then it can certainly be considered a counter-productive concept.
Movement is approached here as an element increasing a person‟s vulnerability
through removing him/her from a home environment, out of the reach of family or
community protection, often to an illegal status in another country whose language
and customs are foreign to him/her. Movement, here, is considered as only one of the
elements of the loss of control over one’s life which defines trafficking and
A voluntary and Illegal Movement
While trafficking has commonly been linked with visions of abductions, the selling of
one's child, or deception in the village, the TRACE research suggests that these only
account for a percentage of trafficking situations in Laos. Throughout the research, no
instance of abduction (defined here as the use of force or threat to initiate and secure
someone‟s movement) or selling (defined as a parent‟s voluntary and permanent
transfer of his/her child to a third party against payment) were identified by
researchers. Research findings suggest that people entering exploitative situations
while on their way or at destination are at least as numerous (and probably much
more so) as those trafficked directly from the village. In the vast majority of cases it
thus appears that the movement leading to trafficking starts as a voluntary movement
where the person, within the (sometimes limited) range of choices available to
him/her, makes a decision to travel for work; only later will he/she lose control over
his/her circumstances, falling into a situation of trafficking.
Alongside its voluntary nature, the other important feature of movement is its
illegality. Villagers in Kipma village, with a total population of 1,137 (564 males)
could count 127 community members (including 59 males and 14 children) currently
out of the village. Of these 127 villagers, only three had crossed the border legally
with the relevant documentation (passports, visas and authorizations) while 124 had
In Nong Snow researchers found that
Villagers migrate to Thailand both legally and illegally. Some of them try to
obtain a letter from village authorities confirming that they live in the
village, which would enable them to apply for an official border pass
granting the right to stay legally in Thailand for a maximum period of 3
days. Many villagers however decide to overstay the pass, and once they are
in Thailand start looking for a job. They will later need to return to Laos
illegally, trying to avoid contact with the Thai and Lao authorities alike.
Safe Migration Channels
As noted by TRACE researchers at the Chiang Mai meeting:
The best protection against trafficking that villagers can have is a well
established migration system/network with contacts, ways to track people,
to know who to trust or not to trust, to know where to go or not to go.
Sometimes what “networks” or connections on the other side of the border can do for
a migrant is pretty simple, yet fundamental. In Phone Soung, researchers write:
Children without relatives in Thailand have no one to check on their well-
being when they are on the other side of the border. Many of them cannot
contact home since they do not know how to and have no means of access
to phones or other forms of communication.
Nong Snow village seems to have established such a network:
Those who remain in the village can easily keep in touch with their relatives
who migrated to Thailand thanks to a Thai-based telephone system that is
operative in NongSnow village. This system enables the migrants to call
directly from Thailand and inform the villagers/parents about their work and
living conditions. The majority of villagers do not seek help from migration
agents anymore, since most of them are familiar (first hand or second hand
knowledge) with migration to Thailand and know where to find a job.
Trafficking is rather uncommon in this village: villagers tend to migrate
with friends or relatives who are familiar with the situation in Thailand, and
thus avoid taking extra risks.
These networks get established slowly, through trial and error – in a way, through the
self-sacrifice of older generation of migrants.
In Phone Nakya village (Outhoumphone District, Savannakhet Province) most women
who decide to leave the village migrate to Bangkok where they work as gold cutters.
Men, on the other hand, migrate to a wider array of places (Bangkok, Phuket, or
Chonburi) and a larger variety of activities – cutting trees, working in petrol stations
or on sugarcane farms – without a special migration channel established. As a result,
over a total of 67 villagers currently out of the village, 46 are females. More tellingly,
only one woman has ever gone “missing” (and possibly trafficked) from the village in
In the end of the day it is more migration, not less, which is the best response to
trafficking: a sustained migration history from a village and the recurring use of (often
illegal) migration channels on both sides of the border is the best protection villagers
can have against trafficking.
These channels are in reality mechanisms for information sharing and support, a way
to make knowledge held by some members of the community available to all. In
Phone Sao E village, researchers write:
Migration is usually safe if the person who migrates has a certain routine
and knowledge about the situation. Persons, who leave with an older
relative have less problems, as well as migrants who have relatives or
friends with whom they can stay in Thailand. Persons who have enough
money to pay for the whole trip are generally safer, which is also true for
those who do not have to rely on an agent, because they already know
where to work.
Another good example of such channel is Lao Yai Village where a network of
migration for house keeping was established in 2001, and quickly gained speed in
2002 and 2003 – ending up multiplying by 12 the number of women out-migrating in
2003 (36 women) compared with 2001 (3 women). As in the Phone Nakya example
above, this illustrates the very clear gender split of some migration patterns.
We reported above the view (Xoxvang village) that women were more vulnerable to
trafficking than men. The examples of (mostly feminine) safe migration channels
above highlight the non-irremediable nature of such assertion.
The following section from the Nakeng Village Report illustrates some of the striking
differences between the movement of men, women and children out of the village.
While adult men's migration appears to be usual, easy and safe, women and girls'
migration leads them to more remote destinations, is less organised, more risky, and
puts them at a much higher risk of abuse and exploitation:
Out of 18 persons who were out of the village at the time we conducted our
research there were 8 men and 10 women. The men were aged from 18 to
32 while the women were much younger, most of them around 13-17. Six
men out of eight worked in Chanbouly province, one in Phattany and one in
Nakhonphanom. All women but two worked in Bangkok.
Four men worked in rambutan gardens, one in a shrimp farm, one as a
fisherman, one in construction, and one unknown. Six women worked as
house keepers and four women's activities were unknown.
The following information can be collated out of the cases of 85 persons
who had been to work Thailand:
Males Females Total
Number of migrants 62 23 (27% of total) 85
Migrants who are illiterate (1) (2) 34 (54% of all males) 14 (60% of females) 48
Migrants who are married (3) 20 (29% of males) 1 21
Age range 13-35 13-25 13-35
Age average (in years) 20.2 16.3 19.2
Percentage of children (among the 16% 78% 34%
Percentage of children 16 and under 12% 60% 25%
(among the migrants)
It is notable that while there are 80% of illiterate people in the village, they
only represent 53% of male migrants. If such figures were confirmed and
found on a large scale they could mean that illiteracy provides a disincentive
The sample was too small to draw conclusions about the impact of illiteracy
on the outcome of the migration process once it has been undertaken. It is
also remarkable that only one married woman had migrated (to Nongkhai).
This may however find an explanation in the age structure of the migrants'
group. It may be interesting to link the striking difference in age among
male and female migrants to the larger number of women presently in
"unknown" situations among the 18 young people out of the village at the
time of research.
A great majority of the 65 migrating men went to work close to the Lao
border, in Nakhonpanom and Nongkhai. Women, however, went to work
farther away, with 10 of them (43%) working in Bangkok (only one man out
of 62 had worked in Bangkok).
Routes of Migration: Nakeng’s Tobacco Plantations
In Nakeng, the great majority of migrating men (aged 18 to 32 years) work in tobacco
gardens close to the Lao border in the Thai provinces of Nong Khai and Nakhon
Phanom. The men normally travel by tractor to the district capital (Seno) for 5,000 kip
to catch a bus to Pakading in Bolikhamsai province (30,000 kip). In Pakading the
migrants pay another 100 baht to cross the Mekong into Thailand, and from there they
walk to their final destination.
The migrants usually travel in groups formed of new-comers and experienced migrants,
who had worked in Thailand before and know exactly what to expect at destination:
potential employers, prevailing work conditions, and expected salary.
Work is usually for a period of eight months, for a total remuneration of 5,000 to 8,000
baht. Accommodation and food are fully covered by the employer, which means that
migrants can save almost the full amount of their earnings.
Salaries are low but work in plantations is safe: the major part of the journey to the
work place takes place within Laos, without the involvement of any intermediary or
agent. Since the travel expenses to the final destination are relatively low (60,000 Kip)
migrants hardly need to make any investments prior to starting work.
Nakeng → Seno → Pakading → Mekong → tobacco plantations in Nong Khai
Data from Nakeng village also suggests that women and girls‟ cost-benefit analysis
when weighing the pros and cons of migration is very different from that of men and
boys. While many young women followed an un-trusted agent (combining a high
level of vulnerability with more naiveté and a lack of support to their migration), most
young men went to work in previously known and trusted tobacco plantation, thus
taking an acceptable level of risk by any measure.
The information on which girls relied in their decision to leave was highly
incomplete, showed a lack of awareness of dangers and an ignorance of safe
migration channels. On the contrary most men's migration was informed by a nearly
perfect knowledge of the end situation they were moving into.
Nakeng’s Women’s Route
In contrast to their male counterparts, who work in the tobacco gardens close to the
border, the female migrants are burdened with a considerable amount of debts before
commencing their work. In addition to their immediate travel expenses, which are
very similar to those incurred by the male villagers working closer to the border
(approximately US$ 6), each of them will ultimately have to cover the “service
costs” for the Thai and Lao brokers, which add up to 5.500 baht (approximately 140
Village: Lao Champasak: Lao
Tractor, Seno Bus, 20,000
broker I broker 2
5,000 Kip Kip
Across the border
Final Thai broker charges the
broker pays the Lao
working employer 5,000 baht Van to
broker 500 baht per
place per migrant Bangkok
One of the main factor influencing the outcome of migration (success or exploitation)
therefore seems to be linked to the nature of jobs available to men and women (and
their geographical location). While male villagers, following a historical process, were
able to establish strong links with potential employers very close to the border,
women's migration seems to be more tentative and more risky.
Findings in Dong Noi Thai illustrate how a gender divide is found in another, more
unexpected, aspect of migration: the sending of remittances back home. Out of 133
migrants (85 females) in the Village Registry only two were legal migrants, and only
one had gone missing. All other cases were cases of successful (to some extent)
migration, with most “new migrants” following relatives or friends who had been to
Thailand several times and who could thus guarantee their safety.
Most female migrants worked as maids, in restaurants or small shops and described
their work as “not very difficult”. In most cases, housing and food was provided by the
employer. Most women earned a monthly salary of 1.500 baht, enabling them to save
money for their family in Laos.
Male migrants had to work under harder conditions, mostly in physically demanding
jobs such as construction. In general men would send less money back home, partly
because they had to pay for their own food and accommodation, but mostly, researchers
were told, because men would spend around 120 baht per day on alcohol, making it
impossible for them to save any money. Their salaries, though, were up to two or three
times higher than that of female migrants.
Brokers and Traffickers
The analysis of TRACE reports suggests the existence of three types of brokers. It is
important to note that which category the broker fits in is entirely the broker‟s choice;
and also that the same broker can fit into different categories for different “clients” –
an honest service provider today and a trafficker tomorrow. The three categories are:
Hyenas: those who knowingly recruit/send children to be exploited (these are
traffickers posing as brokers);
Part-time hyenas: those who do not necessarily intend to send children into
exploitation, but who do not feel they have any particular responsibility
regarding the child‟s well-being – they are ready to take a chance with
children‟s lives (they are brokers and traffickers in turn);
Caring brokers: those, finally, who feel responsible for the people who use
their services, and who care about their safety.
Treating all three categories of brokers in the same way only makes sense from a
border-control perspective. From an anti-trafficking perspective, putting all of them in
the same category is similar to considering that a criminal, a reckless driver, and a
careful school-bus driver should all be punished equally for their activities.
Caring brokers: Service Providers for the Community
We suggested on several occasions that the overwhelming majority of migrants from
Laos to Thailand experience successful migration (at least to a certain extent).
Similarly, we would like to put forward that the majority of brokers – “professional”
of ad hoc such as friends or relatives – are not traffickers but service providers to the
This service provision has many faces. In Kipma:
Villagers who borrow money from friends to be able to migrate will have to
pay a huge amount of interest rate, and if their experience in Thailand ends
up being bad, they may be indebted for years. They therefore prefer to rely
on brokers, who will deduct the money from their salary, but will also bear
the risk of failure.
For Phone Sao E, “market ladies” in That Phanom act as agents for villagers, so far
without a single reported problem:
Brokers normally do not come directly to PhoneSaoE village: the villagers
themselves go to find them across the river in That Phanom. The main
meeting and contact point for Lao migrants is the That Phanom market
which takes place twice a week. There, “market ladies” tell villagers whom
they should approach to find work. They are also the contact persons
looking for their children in Thailand.
In NoneMuang village, researchers note:
Villagers hold a positive attitude towards migrating agents, respect and
support them. To villagers, agents pay for all costs associated with the
migration of their children, and find jobs in Thailand for their children. It is
interesting to note that according to the Research Assistant, villagers'
attitude started to change after the research team visited the village as the
visit increased the awareness of negative sides of migration and agents.
An example of trusted agent in None Muang is Ms Samli:
Somephone went to Thailand twice. The first time he ran away from home
alone, got on a boat to Thakhai village in Moukdahane, and went to see the
agent, Ms Samli. The agent sent him back home because he was too young.
Or in Xox village, Ms Ton:
Ms Ton is a 45-year-old woman from Xox who works with agents in Thailand
arranging young people‟s migration. First, she contacts agents in Thailand to get
information on available job placements; She then pays a visit to villagers, selecting
poor families based on her knowledge of villagers, and offers them a package: a job in
Thailand, all arrangements linked to their migration, and all transportation costs (bus
and boat). Ms Ton then collects her initial investment and a profit back from the
employers. In some case, young people hear about a potential job in Thailand first,
and find Ms Ton for support with migration arrangements. So far, none of the
villagers Ms Ton has helped have had any problem.
It is of course possible to ask why Lao villagers need to take the risk of relying on
service providers for their migration. In the Chiang Mai meeting, Thai researchers
As Thailand is adopting harsher entry policies to control the influx of illegal
workers, the whole operation is compelled to go underground, and to
depend on agents to help facilitate the transfer of workers into the country.
Children and women are facing higher risks in falling prey to these
Unprincipled brokers: Part-Time Traffickers
In Xox village:
Agents usually received money from the people they sent or collect salary
from employer directly. Agents do not take any responsibility regarding the
health, safety or welfare of the people they sent. In many cases, the children
or youth would be traded or trafficked by agent, resulting in missing.
In None Muang:
Many parents send their children to agents hoping they will find them a job. The
children get sent from one agent to another and from one employer to another, until
they are finally exploited and become trafficked victims. In some cases, migration
involves as much as three agents in Laos before migrants get to meet their agent(s) in
Thailand or their employers. It is this chain of agents and traffickers which dilutes the
responsibility that the first agent has towards the parents: after the child has changed
hands enough times, nobody feels accountable for his/her wellbeing anymore.
It is often the case that when villagers are passed on from one agent to the next, agents
feel a lesser responsibility for their well-being than when the same broker is in charge
of a migration process from a to z. Such brokers often fall in the second category
described above – that of unprincipled or reckless brokers. The following story from
Ahong village illustrates this point.
In December 1997, when a broker (Mr. Daeng Noi) came to the village to persuade
young villagers to work in Thailand, a group of eight teenagers decided to follow him,
including young Ms Choi who wanted to support her mother.
Mr. Daeng Noi took the group to meet Mr. Kamsai, a broker in Paksong village.
Mr. Kamsai traveled with the group across the Mekong to meet Ms. Nang, a broker in
Thapasum, Mukdahane province. The teenagers stayed at her house for 10 days, under
threat that anyone who tried to escape would be killed.
Two elements of the story – the migrants‟ age and the threat – already point to a
After 10 days Ms Nang had the teenagers picked up by a car, and sent to various work
places: two were sent to Sanudpakan, to work for a Chinese employer selling clothes;
one was sent to Minburi; Ms Choi was sent to Bangkok, and others to yet other
Seven years later, when TRACE researchers conducted their research in the village,
four young people had already returned to the village, had stayed for a while, and had
again gone to Thailand. They were accounted for and in a no-harm situation.
One young female teenager had never been heard of again after leaving Ms Nang‟s car
Ms. Choi had communicated with her family until November 2000, and had sent two
5,000 baht remittances back home. Then she “went missing”.
Reckless agents are amoral “minimaxers” - cost-benefit analysts who weigh the
possible gains from trafficking against the possible trouble this may put them in – as
was discussed above on the section on poverty. Trafficking can indeed be described as
an extreme form of capitalism pursued inhumanely in a lawless environment. In cases
where chances for trouble are low, they will be content with an exploitative outcome.
In Lao Yai village, for example, it is mainly one broker who is taking care of the
He usually promises monthly salaries of around 4,000 Baht for a girl and
5,000 Baht for a boy, and promises to return the children from Thailand as
soon as the parents ask for them back. Parents have to pay 2,500 baht
upfront for each child. Many families, in order to send their children with
this broker, sold some of their possessions – rice surplus or animals – to
secure the 2,500 baht. For most children, the broker‟s promises of safety
and gain were indeed honoured. In some cases, however, probably when he
thought he could get away with it, children ended up in situations of
In a case in None Muang village, researchers note:
The high fees received by the two traffickers from the employer (36,000
baht, or around five to ten times the normal agent fee) show from the outset
that they have "sold" the young people, not merely acted as intermediaries.
The overwhelming majority of trafficking cases encountered by researchers in
villages in Laos are the deed of these unprincipled brokers – gaining trust by
serving one part of the community (the more powerful one) and using this trust to
deceive community‟s weaker part. Very few trafficking cases were the deed of a
totally unknown, out-of-nowhere trafficker.
Researchers in Phone Kham village have listed agents operating (in or in relation to)
Name Nationality & Residence Details
Ms On Lao, Neighbouring village Comes to the village to collect children and youth to
in the same district send them to Ms Lom, a broker in Thailand.
Ms Lom Thai, Nakon Phanom Sends Lao migrants to Bangkok. Her two daughters
province, Thailand assist her from Bangkok.
Ms Pai Thai, Kong Thia area, Ms Pai is a “big broker” and everybody knows her.
Bangkok She has been involved in several trafficking cases
documented in the village.
Mr Lad Thai, Nakon Phanom Used to send Lao migrants to work in Bangkok. When
province, Thailand he got involved in drug trafficking (Yaba) he was
sentenced to 10 years in prison (currently serving at
the Nakon Phanom prison).
Ms Oeng Thai, Nakon Phanom Involved in some cases of migration.
Ms Khed Thai, Nakon Phanom Usually sends Lao migrants to Ms Pai in Bangkok;
province, Thailand She is involved in at least one case of a missing girl.
Mr Lian Lao, Neighbouring village Normally sends people to Ms Oeng in Tha Outen. All
in the same district migrants who came in contact with Mr. Lian said that
they received their salary, and no case of trafficking
Ms Kham Lao No information available
Mr Khanti Thai, Nakon Phanom Owns a telephone and money transfer service in Tha
province, Thailand Outen district. Charges only 100 baht for 10,000 baht
transferred through his accounts – a cheap rate which
makes his services very popular among Lao migrants.
Ms Tongsi Thai, Nakon Phanom Has a telephone and money transfer service in Tha
province, Thailand Outen.
Ms So Thai, Nakon Phanom Owns a telephone and money transfer service in Tha
province, Thailand Outen. Charges 400 baht for 10,000 baht transferred
through her accounts.
The careful reader will have noted that there is no discussion here of the “worse”
group of traffickers. This is because in reality, except in rare cases of abduction,
these traffickers hardly exist, or at least not for long enough in one place for
people to get to know them: traffickers thrive on trust, and nobody trusts
traffickers – they need to disguise as agents and, in order to maintain their status,
deliver as agents from time to time.
Community’s power and powerlessness in the face of brokers
Researchers in None Muang make a distinction between three types of migration:
Self-migrants usually get to work as cleaners or housekeepers. A majority
of them are able to work and then return home safely and overall present a
low risk of becoming trafficked victims. Mr. Dao, who crossed the border in
Thatphanom during the festival is an exception: he stayed with relatives in
Thailand for a certain period, left to work with friends as a sailor and then
Other villagers can directly contact agents in Thailand in order to find
jobs. They would usually ask their friends (who have already been in
Thailand) for the agents‟ contact number, and are then sent to different
places of work by these agents. This type of migration puts young people at
risk, as they put all their lives in the hands of someone they are not sure they
can trust. But since legal migration is costly, those who cannot afford it turn
to an agent who will pay for all their migration costs.
Finally, some villagers have two agents – one in Laos and one in
Thailand. They will cross the river with an agent from the village (or
another village), then get transferred to another agent (in Thailand), who
sends them to their work place. A majority of children or young people
migrating in this were persuaded to go by friends or agents – leaving was
not their original initiative – and they represent the bulk of missing or
trafficked victims. In many cases their parents are not aware of their
children's decision to go.
Similar distinctions are made in other villages. In Biungkang Village for example:
A distinction needs to be made between those who knew somebody on the
other side of the border (mostly men); those who had to rely on a broker in
order to find them jobs (mostly women); and those who do not use the
services of a broker and prefer to look for work by themselves.
In Xox village, researchers report what a villager told them:
Independent migration is safer than migration through agents as it makes it
easier to find a friendly employer who would offer a high salary. By
contrast, finding a job through an agent means no salary would be received
during the first three, six, or twelve months. In the worse case, migration
through an agent could lead to trafficking or abuse.
Usually when agents come to the village in their first trip, they do not take
people along with them. Instead they tell their clients of another meeting
place outside the village. Hence, the departure is concealed from parents
and guardians. Parents simply often have no idea exactly where, when and
with whom their child has left.
Although cases exist in which young people are trafficked by their aunt or uncle, their
friend, or their neighbour, the idea that one is as much at risk when migrating with
relatives as with strangers is simply wrong. Undoubtedly, such idea plays into the
objectives of those set to discourage any type of migration. As the TRACE research
suggests, one of the best strategies for making migration safer would be to invite
people to migrate with those they trust, but to simultaneously explain what “trust”
involves and when someone can be (or should not be) trusted. In Xoxvang, for
example, “migrating with people who know the other side of the border” was
considered by villagers as the number one protection against trafficking. Migrating
with an agent, on the other hand, is considered the least desirable migration, only used
by young people who don‟t know better and don‟t have any connection.
In Nakeng, as was suggested above, the majority of “missing” and “trafficking” cases
listed by the researchers were related to rather complex migration routes, which
frequently involve the active presence of one or more brokers along the way. Less
such cases were reported when the Lao migrants travelled in self-organised groups.
In their survey of 69 Grade 4 and 5 students in Ahong village, most children said that
the best protection against trafficking is to migrate with friends and/or family
members who know the routes and had been to Thailand before. It is absolutely
essential, according to the students, never to migrate alone or with a person that one
does not know, because this increases the risk. Most of the grade 4 students who had
heard about human trafficking believed that going to Thailand with an “older brother
or sister” would protect them from the dangers of being trafficked.
After a first migration experience to Thailand during which she kept switching jobs
and places to flee a trafficker who pocketed most of her salary and to avoid being
caught by the police, a girl from Savanakhet said:
“I will go home but I will come back to Thailand again. But next time I will
find money to pay for a work permit: I don‟t want to constantly fear the
trafficker‟s extortion or being arrested for illegal entry.”
In what is no doubt the biggest paradox of our anti-trafficking endeavours, brokers
and traffickers, alongside exploiters, have so far been the most under-studied and
under-addressed actors of the trafficking phenomenon. The TRACE project
unfortunately does not reverse this trend. We highly recommend, however, that a desk
review on this subject be undertaken (including projects currently under consideration
by ILO and others) and if required, a specific research project be designed.
RECOMMENDATION 4: Organisations active in the fight against trafficking
(and in particular UNICEF and the UN Inter-Agency Project) could consider
conducting a desk-review specifically addressing the issue of traffickers; if
necessary, this could be followed by a field research on the subject – to help
understand the phenomenon from this perspective and thus improve our
understanding of trafficking and of possible responses.
A manifestation of villagers‟ powerlessness in the face of brokers (we are talking
about some of the least powerful villagers; as noted above, these are the ones
traffickers target) comes across in their inability to secure a fair penalty for those who
have trafficked their children. In Xoxvang village for example, Ms Ley has been
arrested on several occasions for child trafficking, but has always been able to get out
of jail after very short periods of time. In a case reported by the TRACE researchers in
this village, although the mother of a young girl recently trafficked by Ms Ley
reported her to the police, no action followed.
Another manifestation of powerlessness, to which we will return in the section on
tracing, is apparent in Lin‟s mother story (Lin is a 17-year-old girl from Nakeng):
“My daughter left the village with the broker in August 2002. The broker
had promised that after six months the latest, we would have her phone
number to contact her and that we will start receiving money. Nothing
happened and when we asked the broker Mr. M for our daughter‟s phone
number, he would not give it to us”.
Villager‟s power is manifest in their attempts to secure their children‟s safe migration.
In None Muang for example:
In some cases, parents ask the agent to sign a contract in which he/she
commits to look after the child, to find them safe work, and bring them back
home safely. If the agent fails to do that, he/she will incur the costs and
responsibility of searching for the children and bringing them home.
This contract, governing villagers‟ illegal migration in order to make it safer, is a
compelling illustration of the creative ways in which protection can be pursued.
Granting licences to agents/brokers was another suggestion brought back from the
field, as a way to guarantee more transparency and certainty in migration. Asking
agents to sign ethical charts was raised in the TRACE Chiang Mai meeting – the idea
here would not so much be to monitor their activities against this Chart but at least to
raise their awareness and hold them morally accountable.
Lao migrants in Thailand have two main ways of getting their money back to the
village: carry it with them upon return, or make a bank transfer. Those choosing the
first choice run the risk of getting their money stolen on the way – including by the
police or border guards. More importantly, this choice does not allow long-term
migrants to get regular remittances back to their family.
In most villages, researchers identified remittance transfer facilitators, actors second
in importance only to agents in the organisation of cross-border migration. These
facilitators, often owners of phone services enabling villagers to stay in touch with
those who leave, open their bank accounts to transfers from migrants and charge a fee
– usually around 1 to 4% of the amount transferred. In Seno for example, five
jewellery shop owners have opened bank accounts on the Thai side in Mukdahan, and
travel daily to withdraw money sent by migrants.
The degree of organisation involved in such a system, and the level of trust it
involves, directly contradict accounts of illegal migration as a “dog eat dog” world: to
a very large extent it is as well ordered and systematised as any other sector of
RECOMMENDATION 5: There is an important advocacy role to play in this
context – a context which is yet another illustration of the primacy of anti-
migration concerns over concerns for people’s fundamental rights. Agents’ lack
of status leads them to a position of marginality from which they evade all
control; While supporting illegal migration is, of course, illegal, and while a lot
has been done for the improvement of legal migration between Laos and
Thailand in recent years, advocacy efforts need to focus on the promotion of safe
This is not a practical recommendation (no concrete way forward is suggested),
but it is suggested that anti-trafficking actors in Laos may want to make this
point a priority area to develop in the near future.
3.4. Receiving Communities
Although the discussion below will centre on exploitation, we do not want to suggest
that a negative movement outcome represents a majority of cases. This would be very
far from the truth, as a discussion of figures will suggest in section 5.3. Indeed, if we
are to understand trafficking and exploitation in a context of strong migration, we
need to do away with the idea that all people who employ migrants exploit them: in an
overwhelming majority of cases, this is simply not true.
Tin, a 20 year-old farmer, left Biungkang village with his friends to go and work in
Almost right away he found work on a construction site, where he agreed to work for a
year for 4,000 Baht per month. Three days later, though, he got arrested by the Thai
police, and detained at the Immigration Detention Centre awaiting deportation.
His employer found him at the Centre and tried to get him out. This failing, the
employer asked to meet Tin. Although the young man had only worked three days, the
employer insisted he accept to take his first month salary - 4,000 Baht – “in order for
the experience not to be totally negative”.
In Dong Noi village, for example, out of 130 migrants, only one has possibly been
trafficked (she is currently missing). All others are satisfied, though to various
degrees, with their migration experience(s).
After a year and seven months of work on the farm in Thailand, Mr. Dong decided to
leave and got his pay: 50,000 Baht (1,250 USD), one gold necklace, and one tape
recorder. The same night he got robbed by a co-worker who hit him on the head in his
sleep – Mr. Dong was badly hurt and could not move for fifteen days. His employer
sent him to the hospital and paid the bill. He then sent someone to drop Dong off at
home, and gave him 5,000 Baht.
It should be remembered that employers too are taking risks when employing illegal
migrants. Describing her work in a farm in Thailand, a young woman from Phon
Kham village said:
“I received 2,000 baht per month. The employer had a good heart, and took
care of his employees as if they were his children. He paid our salaries
regularly and as promised. However, going out of the farm was forbidden:
he was too scared of police controls”.
The TRACE research confirms the idea that a person‟s loss of control over one‟s life
is a central element of exploitation. The research further suggests, as was already
discussed above, that this loss of control is imputable not only to the specific exploiter
involved in a case but also to the flawed overarching social mechanisms which are
supposed (and fail) to protect migrants.
As suggested by cases collected in villages, the main feature of this loss of control is
the migrant‟s invisibility during the negotiation of his/her prerogatives and
obligations. Far from entering a zone of complete lawlessness when he/she gets
trafficked, a trafficked person‟s fate is often negotiated in a contractual arrangement
– but the arrangement is between the employer and the broker/trafficker, while the
migrant is treated as a commodity, a thing, or an animal. Agreements on advance and
regular payments, for example, or on the migrant‟s supposed “debt”, are often
negotiated and defined with great precision in the contractual relation between
employer and trafficker. As a result of this situation, it is often impossible to know if a
trafficked victim has been exploited by the employer (who does not pay her) or if the
employer does indeed pay her salary, sometimes even a decent one, but to the
trafficker. The fact that money transfers to the migrant‟s family are often the
trafficker‟s guarded territory also contributes to the victim‟s loss of visibility, of
understanding, of possibility to monitor her own situation, and ultimately of control
over her situation.
In Nakeng village, for example:
Yala, a 17-year-old girl followed the broker to Bangkok and was introduced
a domestic worker job. Without her knowledge, the employer and the broker
agreed upon an advance payment of 5.000 baht for the broker, which was to
be deducted from her future salary, which she did not get any opportunity to
Or in Dongmak Yang:
Mrs. Khan was selling fruits for a salary of 2,000 Baht per month. She
stayed at the employer‟s house and received free meals. However, the agent
took 15,000 Baht of her salary saying that 10,000 Baht were the agent fees
and 5,000 Baht were to be sent to her mother in Laos. After working for
nine months, she received 3,000 Baht (18,000 – 15,000) and returned home.
Her mother had not received anything.
The total limbo in which a trafficked victim is often left is illustrated by Geng‟s story:
after being abused and never paid by her Thai employer (domestic work) the
employer is finally arrested by police, and Geng can testify she had never been paid.
In front of the Court, her employer then presents a picture of Geng‟s father, signed by
him, together with a contract bearing the same signature. The employer then proceeds
to declare that Geng‟s father comes to Thailand on a regular basis to pick up the
money. Geng is scared and confused about the evidence presented:
“I was dumbfounded. I had no idea how they got a picture of my father. My
father lives in Laos and never came to Thailand. I am afraid they will hurt
my family. If they can get my father to come to Thailand, it means they are
powerful enough to do anything”.
The case was eventually settled with a 10,000 baht payment to Keng – less than one
sixth of what she had actually earned.
Lao men who work on fishing boats are among those who experience, all in the same
time, the harshest working conditions, the most severe supervision, and the greatest
loss of control – in the middle of the sea there is no escape.
Mr. Tin, 23 years old, from Nakeng village stated that:
“A broker took me to the port to work on a fishing boat. I was seasick and
wanted to go back home, but if the employer had known I would have been
killed; same if I had tried to escape. I worked on the boat for periods of days
days with only two days of rest on shore. Work was for four hours on, half
an hour off, day and night, non-stop, for fifteen days.”
Routes of migration: from Nakeng to Fishing Boats
The route leading young men to work on fishing boats is long and complex. It is
often the case that the more complex the route, the more remote the destination, the
greater the risk of trafficking and exploitation.
Seno Pakse: Lao broker 2
Pattani Bangkok (Thailand):
Exploitative outcomes of migration have been widely documented, and many of the
cases presented in this Report give further examples of such outcomes: not getting
paid for one‟s work; physical abuse; extortion or slavery (sometimes under the
pretence of a (non-existing) personal debt); or forcing a migrant to do work he/she
does not want to do or in conditions he/she rejects. As with traffickers, employers
range from those who care for their employees‟ well-being to those who take no
responsibility for their health and safety, to employers who purposefully mistreat
those they can control. In Mai‟s case (a young girl trafficked into domestic work):
Sometimes, her employer used a gun to threaten her, or did not give her
food. She knew she had to remain calm. Mai was so anxious because of the
situation that she started to talk to herself when was alone. She said that
although she used to be a cheerful girl when she was living with her family,
a short stay in this house [in Thailand] had made her paranoid, often
hallucinating. She often thought she was called by someone when she was
not. She was afraid she would be punished if she missed the call when the
landlady wanted her to do something.
During the time spent by TRACE researchers at the Baan Kredtrakan Protection and
Vocational Development Centre, there were 40 Lao girls in the Centre. Most – though
not all – had been victims of trafficking, and the others were kept there awaiting
repatriation to Laos.
Out of the 40 girls, all but one (who was from Vientiane) were from Southern Laos: 25
from Savanakhet Province; 9 from Champasak; and 6 from other locations in the South.
It was noted that 75% of the girls were 16 or younger, with the youngest five girls being
12 years old. The girls‟ average age was 14.3 years.
Of the 20 girls who had been trafficked and whose stories were recorded, three had been
forced into prostitution (two of them were 19, one was 16). The other girls had been
exploited for their labour:
Six of them had been exploited as unpaid labour;
Fourteen others had been exploited as unpaid labour with unacceptable working
conditions; of these fourteen, twelve had been hit and abused, including three cases
of repeated rape.
When they can no longer control them, they just pass them on to other traffickers and
exploiters, thus throwing the migrant again into a situation of novelty which increases
one‟s vulnerability and reduces one‟s capacity to fight back.
RECOMMENDATION 6: There is a need to fund and support a long-term Thai-
Lao interpreter/social worker to be attached to Baan Kredtrakan, bringing
psychological support to the girls, recording their stories in order to weigh
possible Court action against their traffickers and exploiters, and possibly
assisting as an interface between Lao and Thai partners in issues pertaining to
reintegration and prevention.
Anti-trafficking actors could also study the situation of Khmer and Myanmar
girls at the Kredtrakan Centre in order to determine if this recommendation
would apply to them – we suspect it does.
A difference needs to be highlighted between instances of migrant‟s economic
exploitation – which are often arranged with the trafficker and from which he/she
continues to benefit – and cases of abuse, from which the trafficker does not usually
gain on an ongoing basis. In any case, the trafficker and the exploitative employer
need each other not only because of their supply/demand relationship, but also
because each member of the duo contributes to the indispensable blurring of
responsibilities on which exploitation thrives, and which both of them are dependent
An Unlucky Migrant
Khao, a 16-year-old girl, left Xoxvang village with an agent, Ms Vann, in 2002.
She first worked as a housekeeper for 1,000 baht a month. She then learned that her real
salary was in fact 2,500 baht per month, but that Ms Vann was getting the difference.
Though upset, Khao said there was nothing she could do about that. After six months,
just before what she thought would be her first pay (6,000 baht) Ms Vann picked her up
and moved her to another location. Kaho then asked Vann to send the 6,000 baht to her
parents, and Vann promised she would.
Vann brought her to a new job – baby sitting in Hua Hin, for which she was to earn
2,000 baht per month. Again, she was moved after three months, and again Vann
promised to send the 6,000 baht to Khao‟s parents.
She then started working for a Chinese family for 1,500 baht per month. After five days,
when she heard that Vann was about to come and transfer her again, she escaped.
Once on her own, she earned 10,000 baht working as a cleaner and a hairdresser for 6
months. It had now been over a year since she had left, and Khao decided to return
home. On the bus the police stopped her, searched her, found 5,000 baht, and took it
away. She then got beaten up by a policeman for lying and saying she had no money.
Later on, at Moukdahan border, another Thai policeman searched her and took her
remaining 5,000 Baht. A border policeman, feeling sorry for her, gave her 8,000 Kip
(32 baht) to catch a bus back home. On her return she found that her parents had not
received any money from Vann.
Asked how she felt about being trafficked, Khao laughed and said: “I am just an
It makes no doubt that the illegal status in which the authorities hold migrants is the
traffickers/employers‟ best ally in carrying their exploitation forward.
After an introduction to the concept of exploitation and a brief discussion of the
number of trafficked victims from Laos, this Section will make recommendations for
action on Tracing, changing societal attitudes through campaigning, Work with illegal
migrants, and „systematic monitoring‟.
The UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and
Children14, gives the following definition of trafficking:
a. “Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of
persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception,
of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits
to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.
Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of
sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the
removal of organs;
b. The consent of the victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in the subparagraph
(a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used;
c. The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation
This protocol supplements the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime adopted by the
UN General Assembly in November 2000: www.uncjin.org/Documents/Conventions
shall be considered “trafficking in persons” even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in
subparagraph (a) of this article;
d. “Child” shall mean any person under 18 y ears of age.
In our discussion of the movement we have raised questions about the limitations of
trafficking as a working concept. Differences between the legal definition of
trafficking (above) and the concept's daily use by anti-trafficking actors – where
trafficking has sometimes come to mean “the most negative series of consequences of
a set of unfortunate situations” – contribute to the concept‟s fuzziness in its day-to-
Turning the legal definition into a working concept that meshes with on-the-ground
realities would be an important achievement. A starting point for such a definition
would be to address the purpose of the trafficking movement – exploitation.
Rather than a straightforward concept, “exploitation” defines a multitude of situations,
some obvious (like a person held against her will by force or threat) and others open
to interpretation – ranging from not getting paid at the end of an employment contract,
to voluntarily entering a debt bondage arrangement, consenting to hard work but
finding reality even harder, or deciding to stick to an exploitative situation into which
one has first been trafficked.
Diagram 5 looks at exploitation and some of its components. The arrows on the
diagram represent a continuum from non-exploitation to exploitation (for example,
the continuum between complete freedom and complete lack of freedom), while the
cursors on each arrow (which have been positioned randomly, and only for purposes
of illustration) represent a point where the situation would shift from non-exploitative
Diagram 5: What is exploitation?
Forms of Working Freedom of Psychological Physical
over one's Salary
labour Hours Movement well-being security
Worse Abusive No No No Distress Abuse
Forms Working Control Freedom Salary
Decent Complete High Well-
working over one's Good
Work Freedom Salary Being
Grey zone = exploitation
The position of the cursor cannot be determined once and for all, but depends on the
context of each situation, and most importantly on its subjective context – i.e. how the
situation is experienced by the person herself. In particular, the cursor in the Salary
Box for example, may be set below the legal minimum wage;
A woman interviewed in Kredtrakan Centre said:
“Of course we knew that in Thailand we might have to work hard, but we
thought: it could not be any harder than what we had to do in the village
Exploitation exists if a person's situation is in the grey zone (above the cursor) for one
component of exploitation. However, there can also be exploitation because of a
combination of factors, i.e. a situation in which although no one factor alone would be
sufficient to categorise the situation as exploitative, their combination does. As
suggested above, this is where movement – with the disconnection it creates from
one‟s culture, family, and community – needs to be taken into account.
The situation of adults in regards to exploitation differs from that of children. Adults
have the legal capacity to "consent" – i.e. to agree to work in conditions that would be
deemed "exploitative" without their agreement, but which are no longer exploitative if
this agreement (or consent) is given. Children, being legally unable to consent, cannot
change the nature of a situation (exploitative or non-exploitative) through their
consent (in the same way that having a sexual interaction with an under-age child will
always be considered a rape, whether the child has "consented" or not).
Adult exploitation therefore needs to be understood along two lines: the first line is
"objective" exploitation, or the conditions which constitute exploitation in the absence
of consent. Diagram 5 illustrates some of these conditions. The second line is the
scope of "adult consent" and how it can transforms the nature of a given situation.
Several examples can illustrate this point:
An adult is told by a recruiter that he/she would work eight hours a day. When work
starts, the adult discovers that work is for twenty hours a day. Most people will agree
that in this case there is, objectively, "exploitation".
Mr. Khai from Xoxvang worked at a metal factory near Bangkok and received
2500B/month. The employer that Mr. Pan worked for treated workers badly. No
workers were allowed to go outside the factory, even during their meals. They had to
buy food by sticking their hands out from behind the factory fence‟s bars. Many
workers suffered injuries to their legs as a result of work accidents, and some became
disabled. Even then, many could not seek health services because they could not get
out, could not afford them, or were afraid to be identified as illegal migrants.
If the same adult had been told he/she would work for 16 hours a day, and work was
indeed following the 16 hours/day schedule, the adult would have "consented" to
his/her condition: all other things being fine, the adult's consent could be a basis to
consider that the situation is not one of exploitation.
However, in order for consent to be operative, the adult needs to be free – one cannot
be forced to consent. The discussion of such freedom introduces further complexities:
being forced can indeed refer to being forced by someone (in which case most people
would agree that exploitation persists despite this forced consent) or being forced by
circumstances (in which case specific situations would probably be open to discussion
regarding their exploitative or non-exploitative nature).
In addition to being free, consent needs to be informed. If the same adult had been
told he/she would work 16 hours per day, but then found him/herself working 20
hours a day, the situation would be deemed exploitative: consent was given but it was
not informed – it did not address the actual (real) situation and its specific end-
It should be again emphasised that in any case a child, being legally unable to
consent, cannot give his/her agreement to work in exploitative situations.
Once again, with the definition of exploitation that we have just presented, the focus
is on the victim: hardly a word on the exploiter. This outlook, as we suggested above,
needs to change: by focusing on the victim we have traditionally been looking
through a magnifying glass at a personal story, a combination of events,
circumstances, and personal traits. By focusing on the trafficker and the exploiter, we
can start to understand the social and institutional contexts which make exploitation
possible, and understand how fissures in the system can be used to manoeuvre around
its main safety-nets.
Measuring Trafficking: a Discussion of Numbers
With trafficking defined as a movement for the purpose of exploitation, it appears that
without a working definition of exploitation, accurate or systemised figures on
trafficking cannot be defined.
If we choose a definition based on low salaries for example, and we put the cursor in
the salary box (Diagram 5) low enough – considering, for example, that work for a
salary below legal minimum is exploitation – then we may argue that 90% or more of
Lao migrants in the last few years have been trafficked. This would represent tens of
thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people. If we consider a definition based
on lack of freedom and loss of control, then we are likely to find much smaller
figures: the "numbers game" is meaningless without a better definition of concepts.
How far are we from a workable definition? This depends on who we endow with the
power to define. At country level, laws are usually implemented through lower level
decisions and then interpreted by Courts, and the accumulated Court cases become
further interpretation tools. As increasing number of cases go through Courts in Laos
and Thailand, and elsewhere in the world, a "jurisprudence" on what constitutes
exploitation and trafficking will slowly emerge.
Even with a working definition, the development of accurate statistical estimates and
trends needs to take into account specific trafficking patterns not only geographically
(across countries, provinces, districts and villages) but also over time, since migration
from a village will tend to become safer and more organised as it becomes more
prevalent and usual. It therefore appears that the development of reliable figures on
trafficking are some way off.
Researchers in Thailand note that a report from four Protection and Vocational
Development Centres 15 finds a steady increase in the number of trafficked foreign
children. This increase needs to be analysed against the backdrop of a reduction in the
number of Thai women and children protected under the 1996 legislation.
Number of Thai persons in four Centres Number of trafficked foreign children in
under the 1996 legislation these four Centres
Kret Naree Song Sri Kret Naree Song Sri total
Tra Sawas Kwai Saraas Total Tra Sawas Kwai Saraas Total
Kaan Centre Centre Centre Kaan Centre Centre Centre
2000 59 49 3 0 111 166 0 0 0 166 388
2001 38 25 2 8 73 320 0 0 0 320 393
2002 25 20 3 3 51 383 2 23 6 414 465
Total 122 94 8 11 235 869 2 23 6 900 1,246
Many discussions of the number of trafficked victims are based on wild guesses
poorly disguised as research outcomes, with no description of the process through
which the numbers has been established. In this Report we choose to take the exact
opposite approach, by explicating every assumption made in trying to identify the
number of trafficked victims from Laos, while still recognising that the final number
we reach is no more than a guess.
Through this approach we hope less to provide readers with a reliable figure (the
figure presented below is not reliable) than to make a methodological contribution to
a more responsible approach to the establishment and discussion of figures. The
assumptions below can serve as a basis for the analysis of other reports, and for future
research projects. Unless the whole approach is rejected, these assumptions will need
to be reviewed, falsified, corrected or reformulated by others. Anyone interested in
crunching all numbers from all recent reports on Laos will no doubt get to a much,
much better estimate than this Report does.
Without trying to define exploitation or trafficking, we rely here on the number of
cases brought up by TRACE researchers through their discussions with villagers and
victims themselves. We only look at research carried out in Laos – victims at
Kredtrakan Centre are not taken into account since we have little information about
In the 26 villages researched, researchers have identified a total of 63 trafficking cases
and 108 missing persons.
The Performance Report, Division of Vocational Assistance, Department of Social Development and
Welfare, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security
ASSUMPTION 1: We assume that 50% of missing people are in a trafficking
situation. Based on this figure, TRACE researchers have come across 117 cases of
trafficking in their 26 postings.
ASSUMPTION 2: We assume that researchers have not been able to identify all
victims of trafficking or all missing persons in the villages they have visited, and we
therefore increase the above figure by 30%, to 156 cases of trafficking.
The TRACE research has covered 26 villages encompassing roughly 26,000 people.
With a total population in Laos of 6,060,000, and 90% of people living in rural areas,
the research has covered around half a percentage point of the 5,450,000 rural area
Because TRACE villages were explicitly selected based on their proximity to the
border and their high levels of migration and trafficking, we assume that they present
higher numbers of migration and trafficking than the country in its entirety.
ASSUMPTION 3: We assume that villages situated 0-60 kilometres from the border
with Thailand present a 3:1 trafficking ratio in comparison to other villages (i.e.: these
villages will have on average triple the number of trafficked victims compared to
villages further away from the border).
ASSUMPTION 4: We assume that 50% of Laos rural population lives in these 0-60
kilometre strip. (This demographic statement is not verified, it simply serves a
conceptual purpose for the argument put forward).
Based on these four assumptions, we can calculate the total number of trafficked
victims in Laos as follows:
5,454,000/2 x 156 + 5,454,000/2 x 156 = 21,816
26,000 3 x 26,000
ASSUMPTION 5: Based on the research Reports and discussions with the TRACE
researchers, we assume that this figure covers all victims of trafficking for at least the
last ten years.
Our guess is therefore that in the last ten years there have been around 21,816
trafficking cases from rural areas in Laos to Thailand. While it would have been
interesting to link this number to the overall number of migration episodes, we were
not able to find it, let alone re-calculate it based on TRACE findings.
Four Recommendations for Work on Exploitation
The TRACE research suggests that from a Lao-migrant point of view, a narrow focus
on support to victims of trafficking at the exploitation-end (i.e. those who have already
fallen prey to traffickers and exploiters) should be extended to actions aiming to
reduce the scope of the phenomenon. In other words, work on exploitation needs to be
urgently undertaken alongside work on victim support. The great concern shown to
children at risk and children in post-harm situations is indeed in ghastly contrast with
the little action we take for children who are currently being exploited.
How could UNICEF, the UN Inter-Agency Project, or their partners, increase their
involvement in such work?
It has become almost a reflex to associate exploitation and demand to law
enforcement and “raids on brothels”, which are left to the police and a few specialist
but marginal organisations. Such need not be the case: work on exploitation and
demand can take a multitude of forms, of which we now discuss four examples
relevant to the TRACE research.
We suggested above (section X p.39) that a Rights-based approach to trafficking
should map systemic weaknesses and people’s vulnerabilities to trafficking, and set up
protective mechanisms for each one of them. Nowhere is this recommendation
remotely as relevant as in the area of exploitation. With much talk in the last few
years about “empowering local people”, we believe that the four suggestions below
are concrete and practical steps towards empowerment, giving migrants and victims
the possibility to act and to affirm themselves in areas where they are, at the moment,
powerless or invisible. Other suggestions could be made (for example on prosecution
and witness protection) but we do not feel that the TRACE research can add a
significant contribution to their discussion.
Ms Sen in Phone Sao E left the village three times, always on her own. The two first
times she told her mother she had been working in a noodle shop. The third time she
declared she was going to work in a factory, left alone again, and never returned. Over
the years, her brother undertook several trips to try to find her, but to no avail.
When we asked her mother if she thinks Sen got trafficked, she said she has
thought about three possible scenarios: in the first, Sen has been sold; in the
second, she died; and in the third, she has met a Thai husband and has
“started a new life” in Thailand.
Another example of a migrant “going missing” is Ms Duang, 24, from the same
village. After five successful working experiences in a factory in Thailand, she left the
factory one day to never be heard of again. People said she had left with “her
boyfriend”. Tellingly, she had undertaken this last trip on her own, leaving her child
back home with her mother.
In many cases the whereabouts of migrants are simply not known – either because
they left without telling anyone where they were going, or because they got separated
from their friends once in Thailand, or because the agent refuses to share information
on the missing person. “Going missing” covers an array of situations and experiences:
running away from abuse at home, being trafficked, looking for a new start, or even,
as None Muang, severing communication with a mother who was demanding too big
a part of her daughter earnings (this interpretation is the mother‟s, who believes that
when the employer told her that her daughter had left, he was actually following the
In Phonja Nang village, Waeow (16) and her sister Ban (15) left in 2002 because they
wanted to “earn their own money”. Mr. Sikone, a Lao broker, sent them to Ms Nia on
the Thai side of the border. Ms Nia in turn transferred them to Ms Noi in Bangkok
(phone number: 01 98xxx38).
Six months after the girls had left, their father, Mr. Mun, went to see Ms Sikone, who
told him he should contact Ms Noi. Ms Noi told him that his daughters worked in
Bangkok, but refused to tell him where, or to let him talk to them.
In June 2003 Mr. Mun called Ms Noi again to ask for his daughters to return home. Ms
Noi refused but said that she would send money to him instead. Five months later she
had still sent nothing.
Mr. Mun said he at least wishes to know whether the employer and trafficker stop his
daughters from returning home, or whether they stay in Thailand out of their own
Researchers in Lao Yai village note:
If it is much easier to traffic and exploit children from poor families, it is
also because their parents in the village have less power to search for their
children and to appeal to higher authorities to arrest the brokers. All poor
people can do, when their children go missing, is go to the fortune teller to
ask if they are still alive.
When people go to the fortune teller, researchers in In Phone Sao E add, “they are
often told that their children „have started a new life and that they will not
While many of the cases surfacing through TRACE were not traceable (for example
because information was too vague or outdated), the research has shown that in
instances where sufficient, reliable, and traceable information was available, family
members were most often at a loss as to how to follow up with action. While some
undertook costly and risky trips to Thailand to try to find and bring back their loved
ones, others did not have sufficient resources to even call the (putative) employer‟s
phone number. And in many cases, without any support network (or even legal status)
in Thailand, the endeavours ended up in front of a closed door.
There is currently no mechanism to support the tracing and rescue of children missing
in Laos and (possibly) trafficked to Thailand. In the rare instances where information
on missing children has passed on from Laos to Thailand, it has been communicated
in an informal and non-systematised way, with no guarantee of follow-up and with a
great risk of confusion on respective roles and responsibilities of actors involved.
The lack of a more systematised cooperation mechanism between the two countries
presents an important obstacle to the rescue of trafficked Lao children exploited in
But tracing is not only about finding the children in Bangkok, it is also about offering
the parents a service in terms of tracking down their children, getting in touch with
them, and ensuring that they are not being exploited or abused. It is about making sure
that all the power is not in the hands of the traffickers – reversing the power dynamics
by enabling parents of victims to hold brokers, traffickers, and exploiters accountable.
It is in this sense that we talked about “empowerment” in the introduction to this
A case in Lao Yai illustrates the powerlessness of migrants in the face of traffickers.
A 16-year-old girl, Khongtha, borrowed 2,500 Baht from her sister to pay a broker who
would take her to Thailand.
The broker turned out to be a trafficker, who transferred the girls to Ms Noi, a Thai
broker, for 8,000 Baht for each. Khongtha was then sent to work at a noodle shop.
Working conditions were horrendous – only 4 hours of sleep every 24 hours, no right to
talk to anyone, no salary, and no contact allowed with the outside.
Six months after starting, Khongtha got burned by accident over a large part of her body
with boiling water. She was not allowed to go to hospital and was forced to continue her
work; her wound got infected and the pain was terrible.
Back in the village, Khongtha‟s sister (Banleng) started searching for her sister. She
tried to ask the village broker, who simply refused to talk to her. Then, by chance, a
young villager who had just returned from Thailand happened to know that Khongtha
had been transferred to Ms Noi, and he had Noi‟s phone number. Banleng called Noi,
who denied knowing anything about her sister.
Again by chance, Banleng then met a former villager who was now married to a taxi
driver in Thailand. Banleng asked them to look for her sister, and they accepted for a
fee of 1,000 Baht.
The taxi driver managed to find Khongtha‟s whereabouts, and her sister called the
noodle shop owner. After much effort she managed to talk to her sister who cried for
the whole phone discussion, saying she wanted to go back home and describing her
But Ms Noi, the Thai broker, would not allow Khongtha to return home: she had paid
8,000 baht for her, she said, and she wanted a full refund if Khongtha was going to
leave. By that time Khongtha had already worked for more than eight months with no
Anxious to see her sister back home, Banleng agreed to pay the broker. In retrospect,
she still said she had no other choice.
In Phonja Nang village, after months of inquiry with the local broker, Mr. Pim [the
father of a girl who had gone missing in Thailand] managed to get the phone number
of Ms Lai, the Thai-side broker who had taken his daughter to Bangkok. He
immediately called her to ask to see his daughter back. Ms. Lai told him that she
would decide when Bua could return home. A year later, the daughter has still not
In the Yang Soung Report:
There seems to be considerable money generated from family members
searching for their missing children. Some agents appear to run a “sequel
business” by charging a lot of money for searching after children they
previously have trafficked. It is a sad irony that traffickers are the ones
villagers need protection against, but also the ones they end up depending
on to find their missing family members.
When phone numbers and addresses are available, traffickers and victims traceable,
but powerlessness stands on the way to a just outcome of cases, something needs to be
changed in the very system which enables the situation to be.
In the course of their discussions with villagers, TRACE researchers were constantly
confronted with questions reflecting the concerns and anxieties shared by the parents:
Should we go to Thailand and look for our missing? Would we get fined upon return?
How can we find our children in Thailand? How can we have them rescued? Who
could we ask for help when we know our children are being exploited?
A case in Xox village illustrates the cost and inefficiency of tracing when it is not done
through a network:
In February 1998, at the age of 11, Chanthaboun ran away from home and, together
with two other friends who have since returned, followed another child (acting as a
broker) to Thailand. She was sold by this “broker” to a Thai agent for 200 (!) Baht; she
was then transferred to another person who locked her up in a room for several days,
together with other children. They were then auctioned and Chanthaboun was the first
to be “bought”.
The man who had taken her made her work in a shop in Bangkok for eight months
without pay. All phone numbers of all people involved (except the first broker) are
A year after his daughter disappeared, Chanthaboun‟s father sold his rice paddy for
20,000 baht in order to go and look for her. He managed to find the shop owner, but
was told that the Thai trafficker had returned in the middle of the previous night to take
Chanthabourn with her. On this occasion the trafficker had also collected 20,000 baht
payment for the girl‟s labour. Not knowing where else to look, and scared because of
his own illegal status in Thailand, Chanthaboun‟s father returned to the village.
When Chanthaboun‟s mother went to see Ms Lek (the other agent) she was told that her
daughter was now working in Outhaithani. The mother tried to go visit her daughter but
ran out of money during her trip – precisely in Mahaxay where the agent lives. She
asked the agent to lend her money and the agent agreed – provided Chanthaboun‟s
mother returned home. Stranded in Mahaxay, Chanthaboun‟s mother ha to agree.
Chanthaboun was not seen again.
RECOMMENDATION 7: Consider the establishment of a tracing mechanism
for Lao children trafficked to Thailand16.
The lack of criminal sanction for trafficking activities does not occur in a vacuum but
against a background of societal tolerance for such abuses. Trafficking affects the
least powerful groups within national societies including women, children, migrants,
Note: the UN Inter-Agency Project and UNICEF Laos are currently working on this issue.
and the poor. Social practices and community attitudes towards these groups reinforce
and extend their vulnerability to being trafficked and also serve to shape responses to
this crime. Such attitudes perpetuate common misunderstandings about the
contributions made by migrants, regular and irregular, to economic development
(understated) and crime rates (overstated). It is therefore the pervasiveness of racism,
linked with gender and class distinctions, which perhaps constitutes the real root
cause of trafficking by providing the underlying conditions for the gross exploitation
of human beings which it entails.
Attention needs to be give to the attitudes and systems which enable people to
distance themselves from “others” in a way that allows them to exploit or to tolerate
exploitation. Yet, while many resources are put into community campaigns to raise
awareness of the risks of migration, there are few examples of campaigns tackling
prejudice and discrimination at places of destination, campaigns humanizing the weak
to the society as a whole. Reducing discrimination based on sex, ethnicity, age, and
class is obviously a long-term vision, but one which should near the forefront of any
RECOMMENDATION 8: It is suggested that an information campaign be
launched in Thailand – possibly as a joint undertaking by several anti-trafficking
organisations – addressing the roots of exploitation-prone environments.
We have highlighted several types of exploitation, and they call for several types of
messages. A distinction can be made, for example, between exploitation which aims
to provide people with illegal goods or services (e.g. forced underage prostitution) and
exploitation which aims at cutting production costs of otherwise legal goods (such as
forced factory work). Though both types of exploitation could be addressed through
messages appealing to people‟s morality and awareness, the messages would need to
be very different in each case.
A practical, action-oriented message would be an invitation to systematically report
cases of abuse to the police. Too often in the cases told through TRACE, a child‟s
plight is there for the public to see – wounds which do not made to heal, horrendous
working hours, terrible working conditions – and yet for months and years no client,
no passer-by and no neighbour reports the case. Children who are currently victimised
in such situations could certainly do with more public awareness and concern.
Hon‟s case illustrates how, in 21st Century Thailand, hell can be made to last four years
for a young girl.
Hon, a 19-year-old girl from Savannakhet province, was brought to Thailand by a
trafficker who had “promised her a good job”. As a domestic worker in a house in
Bangkok, Hon and two other housemaid started work at 6 a.m everyday and only went
to sleep around 2 a.m.
Every single day for four years, Hon was made to clean the house and its outside walls;
water the trees; clean the toilet; wash clothes with her bare hands even though there was
a washing machine in the house; iron clothes; and do whatever else she was ordered to.
Hon never got paid. When the landlady was unhappy, she would burn Hon‟s arm with
an iron; the landlady‟s daughters beat her on several occasions, one kicking her in the
mouth as she was bending down, because a towel was wet. Hon and the other maids
were tortured – when the landlady found work not properly done, she would use pliers
to pinch Hon‟s body, neck, lips, tongue and back. One of her friends was pinched at her
tongue so severely that part of it was torn apart, causing a permanent speech
impediment. The children would also be beaten, completely naked, with a 2-inch wide
rattan stick, invariably causing bleeding. They would be forced to beat each other and
when the landlady thought they were not hitting hard enough, she would take over.
The landlady let Hon and the other maids eat only when they finished their work,
around 1 or 2 a.m., and even then they could only eat the employers‟ leftovers. Even on
days when the girls would go to sleep at 4 in the morning because of unfinished work,
they had to wake up at 6 to start working again.
The wife was paranoid about her husband having sex with one of the maids. This would
put her in terrible moods during which she would beat the girls, not allow them to eat,
and often lock them up for extended periods of time.
Hon and the other maids were not allowed to talk to each other, or they would be
punished. Even at bedtime they did not dare talk to each other, for fear of being heard.
Needless to say, none of the girls could have any contact with the outside world.
If the children were slow at work, the wife would whip them with a bamboo stick. She
sometimes told the children to put their hands on the stone and whip their hands until
they bleed or the nails came out.
The landlady used to tie a piece of cloth around Hon‟s neck and drag her around like a
dog. On two occasions, she then tied her to a tree. After she got rescued, Hon said: “I
want to go home now. I don‟t want to get anyone in trouble”.
The message here should not be an innocuous “trafficking exists”. It should drive
home the point that trafficking is simply unacceptable, and that there are practical
things that you can do about it.
At the age of 12 Kiya was trafficked into a domestic labour job in which, among
many other things, she had to feed “twenty scary dogs” and “keep them out of
fighting” seven days a week. Her body still bears the marks of their bites and her
employer‟s abuse. Kiya told researchers that her employer was never happy with her
because “he did not like Lao people” – as made obvious by his incessant racial abuse.
The night before she was rescued, her employer beat her because some of the dogs
had been wounded in a fight:
“P‟ Ae was furious and hit me before he went to bed. Then, on the morning
after, there was a fire near his house. A woman saw me standing by the gate,
with my wounded head, and called the police. They came to the house but
P‟Ae had gone out. The police took me to the hospital. I had 4 stitches on
my head. My hair has not grown back.”
This point is directly linked to the point above, but it does not involve tracing. In
today‟s situation, illustrated by Hon‟s case above, children in exploitative situations
are only paid attention to when a report is filed – in Hon‟s case, when one of her
housemates managed to escape.
While obstacles to a systematic monitoring of hidden children are obvious, the anti-
trafficking community should not be allowed to use secrecy and concealment as
justifications for inaction. The reason for this is simple: as long as we fail to act even
in cases which are public and open for all to see, bringing up outreach difficulties as
the main obstacle to action in other cases is, at best, unconvincing, maybe even
This is true in particular for children trafficked to the street – mostly beggars and
sellers. In the same way that prosecution should go ahead against a trafficker
irrespective of whether the victim decides to press charges or not, a systematic
monitoring of children who are likely to be in a situation of abuse should not wait for
RECOMMENDATION 9: It is suggested that anti-trafficking actors in Thailand
and their partners consider the creation or improvement of a mechanism for the
systematic monitoring of the situation of children in a likely situation of trafficking
This mechanism could for example be an inter-disciplinary unit of social workers and
police officers covering a few dozens cases every month, screening victims in a child-
friendly, rights-based way, bringing support to those who need it, identifying those
responsible for their exploitation, and launching actions against them.
In other countries (see for example the work of HCC in Cambodia) some small non-
governmental organisations have commenced working on prevention in destination
communities, developing protection networks in much the same way as sending
communities, mobilising local authorities, taxi drivers, owners and neighbours to
monitor and report incidents relating to trafficking and sexual exploitation. This has
brought some small but notable successes and suggests possibilities for larger
Securing the Right to Work with Illegal Migrants
While most “anti-trafficking work” taking place before exploitation (prevention) or
after exploitation (post-harm support) is focused on the victim, this victim-
centeredness does not seem to apply at the moment where it matters most – the time
Acknowledging that this situation does not have a simple, straightforward
explanation, we suspect that part of the problem can be found in the illegality of
support to illegal migrants.
The government‟s main entry point into children‟s lives today is the legality or
illegality of their movement. We would like to suggest that a more protective
framework would replace this distinction with one based on the victim/non-victim
status; and that in order to determine this status in a way that is both safe and
respectful of migrants‟ human rights, a greater flexibility must be given to
organisations set to work with illegal migrants.
Diagram 7 below schematically presents some of the main differences, at various
stages of a person‟s journey from community to exploitation and out of exploitation,
between an approach to illegal migrants which emphasises migration concerns, and an
approach informed by an anti-trafficking perspective.
Diagram 7: Migration Concerns versus Anti-Trafficking Perspective
No follow up Reintegration Follow up and monitoring
Deportation Return Repatriation and reintegration
Support to illegal migrants is a crime Support Support to victims is an obligation
No screening Screening Screening for identification of victims
Provide victims with shelter and
Detain illegal migrants Custody
Rescue victims; Arrest traffickers
Arrest illegal migrants Exploitation
and bring them to Court
Hinder the movement Movement Facilitate/secure the movement
Prevent departure Departure Facilitate/secure departure
Migration Concerns Anti-trafficking perspective
The fact that the right administrative procedures have not been followed for the entry
of migrants on the Thai territory does not mean that the Convention on the Rights of
the Child (see annex 2) and other principles that Thailand is committed to do not
apply to them. In any case, the idea that some children are illegal – illegal human
beings – needs to be rejected: as we have shown above, this idea contributes in no
small way to the persistence and acceptance of their abuse and exploitation.
RECOMMENDATION 10: An advocacy effort could be coordinated to introduce
more flexibility in the way illegal migrants can be approached, worked with, and
supported. This could include, for example, provision of services and improved
screening of trafficked victims, and advocacy for a stronger commitment to the
best interest of the child.
Going hand in hand with this first recommendation is the need for increased
engagement with (illegal) migrants and migrant groups in Thailand. Getting a better
understanding of these groups‟ culture and way of life, coping and support
mechanisms, would no doubt teach us a great deal about trafficking dynamics and
ways forward in our fight against the phenomenon.
From this engagement and understanding will no doubt emerge needs for support and
project ideas which will help address the under-addressed area of exploitation, in an
effort to make the parallel universe in which illegal migrants struggle for a better life a
little bit more humane.
The TRACE research was an experiment. A year after its beginning and two months
after the end of research activities, it is possible to say that the experiment has worked
in some ways and has failed in others – and we hope this report has conveyed this
A lot has been learned which could improve another research initiative of this type. It
was noted in particular that a focus on traffickers and exploiters, on one hand, and
illegal migrants on the other hand, is what the anti-trafficking community needs most
– an understanding trafficking from their unique point(s) of view.
One of the main conclusions we draw from the research findings has to do with the
limitation of an anti-trafficking strategy which narrowly focuses on sending
communities. As Diagram 3 (bottom half) tried to show, reasons for departure are so
numerous that efficiently addressing any one of them may take from years in a single
village to decades in a wider geographical area. Also, as indicated by the upper half of
the diagram, factors determining whether a movement ends in harm or in safety
cannot all be put under the control of the community. Displacement, which has been
mentioned in the very beginning of this Report, is another reason for such limitation.
While it clearly appears that many cases of trafficking cannot be „prevented‟ by
activities at the source, the use of the term prevention has had a highly significant
impact on our perception of the issue. By implying that the responsibility for
prevention belongs to source communities, one implies that the exploitation and abuse
taking place in Thailand are somehow the responsibility of Laos. We have touched
upon some of the reasons explaining why receiving countries can still blame sending
countries for their citizens' desire to improve their lives. We should also note that
suggesting that trafficking can be “prevented” at source gives receiving countries an
excuse for inaction by taking the focus off some fundamental measures that their
governments need to take in order to disrupt the economics of the trafficking business
and the moral/ethical environment in which it thrives.
Trafficking interventions to date tend to be concentrated in only a few areas, as
illustrated on diagram 8: on the movement side, the focus has been on migration laws
– without taking the effort all the way to the creation of safe migration channels; on
the law enforcement side, most efforts have gone to support victims of trafficking
once they have been rescued – without necessarily creating conditions that would help
others not to be victimised in turn (prosecution of traffickers and exploiters, etc.)
While diagram 8 is a much schematised image of reality, and while some efforts have
been made in areas not touched by the "Response to Trafficking" central shape, the
aim of the diagram is only to show a dominant trend within our response to the
Diagram 8: point of exploitation: where are we responding?
Values, beliefs, attitudes Socio-economic situation
Racism Sexism Demand
Safe migration Response Rescue Prosecution
Equity to Shelter Punishment
trafficking Reintegration Compensation
“Fighting trafficking” is not the unproblematic, black-or-white, protection-or-risk
choice that it is sometimes made to be. In many ways it is an exercise in defining what
is acceptable or not acceptable in a society (be it sending or receiving); who is a
citizen and what a good citizen should be; and what the most desirable society values
are or should be. Clarifying one‟s objectives in the fight against trafficking involves
answering deep questions about the ideal society we want to create for ourselves and
for others, our definitions of what a good life is or should be, or about our
understanding of power and vulnerability.
Referring to villagers as “potential trafficking victims” enables outsiders to seek
protection on their behalf so that they themselves do not become disturbing outsiders
elsewhere. It gives others a power on these people for their supposed protection,
making them into disempowered objects of surveillance and control.
5. Summary of Recommendations
RECOMMENDATION 1: Anti-trafficking actors could work to politicise the issue of
child trafficking and increase public spheres‟ sense of responsibility for its solution.
This could be done for example through strive to establish a mechanism which
systematically brings up children‟s stories to the public and to the attention of policy
makers, and give children the opportunity to demand specific action, monitor
governments‟ responses, and hold those in charge publicly accountable.
RECOMMENDATION 2: Actors working in Laos against child-trafficking could
jointly define and promote a Rights-based approach to trafficking – an approach
which maps systemic weaknesses and vulnerabilities of people to trafficking, and
which ensures that for each one of them a mechanism is put in place which
guarantees that a person‟s right will be upheld.
RECOMMENDATION 3: It is recommended that Lao actors active in the fight
against trafficking look into the possible establishment of protection networks in Lao
villages, possibly building on other experiences in the region.
RECOMMENDATION 4: Organisations active in the fight against trafficking (and in
particular UNICEF and the UN Inter-Agency Project) could consider conducting a
desk-review specifically addressing the issue of traffickers, possibly followed up
with field research on the subject. The aim, through an improvement of our
understanding of the phenomenon from this perspective, would be the design of
RECOMMENDATION 5: It is suggested that anti-trafficking actors in Laos make
safe migration into one of their priority areas for advocacy and action.
RECOMMENDATION 6: It is recommended that a long-term Thai-Lao (and possibly
Thai-Khmer and Thai-Myanmar) interpreter/social worker be attached to Baan
Kredtrakan, bringing psychological support to the girls, recording their stories in
order to weigh possible Court action against their traffickers and exploiters, and
possibly assisting as an interface between Lao and Thai partners in issues pertaining
to reintegration and prevention.
RECOMMENDATION 7: Consider the establishment of a tracing mechanism for Lao
children trafficked to Thailand.
RECOMMENDATION 8: It is suggested that an information campaign be launched
in Thailand – possibly as a joint undertaking by several anti-trafficking organisations
– addressing the roots of exploitation-prone environments.
RECOMMENDATION 9: It is suggested that anti-trafficking actors in Thailand
consider the creation or improvement of a mechanism for the systematic monitoring
of the situation of children in a likely situation of trafficking or abuse.
RECOMMENDATION 10: An advocacy effort could be coordinated to introduce
more flexibility in the way illegal migrants can be approached, worked with, and
supported. This could include, for example, provision of services and improved
screening of trafficked victims, and advocacy for a stronger commitment to the best
interest of the child.
Annex 1. List of reports / villages
1. Report on Research in Baan Kred Tra Kaan
2. Report from TRACE research in twelve villages in Northern Thailand
3. Report on “Trafficking Discourse in Thailand”
District and Total Shortest Distance
# Village Name of Researchers
Province Pop. to the Border
1 Ahong Outhoumphone, Ms Chinda Thipphavong 1,435 28 km
Savannakhet Ms Souliphone Chaengsavang
2 Biungkang Khongsedon, Ms Soudalay Soonthorn 1,078 22 km
Saravan Mr. Oloth Sene-Asa
3 Biungkham Saravan, Ms Phoutthasone Xay 2,018 60 km
Mr. Kampan Sisouda
4 Dongnoi Outhoumphone, Mr. Kampan Sisouda 631 40 Kilometer
Savannakhet Mr. Oloth Sene-Asa
5 Dongnoi Thai Outhoumphone, Ms Chinda Thipphavong 857 40 km
Savannakhet Ms Souliphone Chaengsavang
6 Huakham Outhoumphone, Ms Soudalay Soonthorn 1,085 33 km
Savannakhet Ms Phoutthasone Xay
7 Kipma Outhoumphone, Ms Phoutthasone Xay 1,137 38 km
Mr. Kampan Sisouda
8 LaoYai Outhoumphone, Ms Soudalay Soonthorn 945 42 km
Savannakhet Mr. Oloth Sene-Asa
9 Nahukhua Outhoumphone, Ms Soudalay Soonthorn 1,232 30 km
Savannakhet Mr. Oloth Sene-Asa
10 Nakeng Outhoumphone, Ms Chinda Thipphavong 35 km
Savannakhet Ms Souliphone Chaengsavang
11 Nonedinshay Lakhonphieng, Ms Souliphone Chaengsavang 698 16 km
Saravan Ms Phoutthasone Xay
12 Nonemuang Champhone, Ms Soudalay Soonthorn 424 55 km
Savannakhet Ms Phoutthasone Xay
13 Nongsano Lakhonephieng, Mr. Kampan Sisouda 440 17 km
Saravan Mr. Oloth Sene-Asa
14 Noneshap Phonethong, Mr. Oloth Sene-Asa 279 10 km
15 Phonejanang Outhoumphone, Ms Chinda Thipphavong 1,677 33 km
Savannakhet Mr. Kampan Sisouda
16 Phonekham Hinboun, Ms Soudalay Soonthorn 581 12 km
Khammouane Ms Phoutthasone Xay
17 Phonenakya Outhoumphone, Ms Chinda Thipphavong 777 33 km
Savannakhet Ms Souliphone Chaengsavang
18 Phonesaoe Nongbok, Mr. Kampan Sisouda 520 6 km
19 Sadue Thai Nongbok, Ms Chinda Thipphavong 685 12 km
Khammouane Ms Souliphone Chaengsavang
20 Sisomsoen Hinboun, Ms Chinda Thipphavong 460 12 km
Khammouane Mr. Kampan Sisouda
21 Vangkong Hinboun, Ms Souliphone Chaengsavang 350 10 km
Khammouane Mr. Oloth Sene-Asa
22 Xox Khanthabouri, Ms Chinda Thipphavong 4,654 17 km
Savannakhet Ms Souliphone Chaengsavang
23 Xoxvang Khanthabouri, Ms Phoutthasone Xay 1,343 20 km
Mr. Kampan Sisouda
24 Yangsoung; Khanthabouri, Ms Soudalay Soonthorn 911
25 Dongmakyang; Savannakhet Mr. Oloth Sene-Asa 740 15 - 17 km
26 Phonesoung 715
Annex 2. Trafficking and the Convention on the Rights of the Child
(Author: Christina Warning)
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) provides explicit obligations on the part of State
parties with regard to the protection of trafficked children. Since child trafficking is almost invariably
linked with exploitative labour and/or sexual exploitation in the recipient countries, responsibility for
prevention does not only rest with the countries of origin. Trafficking responds to an effective demand
in the countries of destination and thus the “prevention” of this exploitative demand is required in the
In the context of cross-border movements of children, it is also important to note that the Convention
on the Rights of the Child is applicable to every child under a State‟s jurisdiction, regardless of why the
child is there or whether or not his or her presence is “legal”.
Whatever the circumstances, children moving across borders are particularly vulnerable and should
never be viewed or treated as criminals.
The linkage between trafficking, exploitation and the resulting need for victim protection is reflected in
Articles 34 and 35 of the CRC, calling on State parties to take national, bilateral and multilateral
measures to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and to prevent the abduction, the sale
of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form.
In light of what has been said before, those duties of protection emanating from Articles 34 and 35
CRC have to be honoured by Thailand and Laos alike, since both States are signatories to the
Convention and are affected by child trafficking as sending and recipient countries respectively.
Further rights of children guaranteed under the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
potentially encroached upon in the process of trafficking are listed in the following articles:
Article 16. Right to be protected from the unlawful or arbitrary interference with his or her family,
home or correspondence, unlawful attacks on his or her honour or reputation.
Article 19. Right to enjoy the absence of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or
negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s),
legal guardians or any other person who has care of the child.
Article 26. Right to accede to or benefit from social security, including social insurance.
Article 27. Right to a standard of living adequate for the child‟s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and
Article 28. Right to education.
Article 32. Right to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is
likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child‟s education, or to be harmful to the child‟s health or
physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
Article 33. Right to be protected from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances
(applicable in particular for trafficking on fishing boats).
Article 36. Right to be protected from all other forms of exploitation prejudicial to any aspects of the
Article 37. Right to be protected from torture or other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment, as well as from arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of liberty. Right to prompt access to legal
or other appropriate assistance.
Annex 3. Outline of the training manual
Outline of the training manual (Table of contents)
DAY 1. Introduction to the TRACE Project
Start research Diaries
Presentation of the project
Roles and expectations
Research Questions and Research Activities
Group activity: Invent a village
DAY 2. Introduction to Trafficking
Cases of trafficking
Definition and causes of trafficking
Create trafficking scenarios
The fight against trafficking
DAY 3. Introduction to Research
Developing a Research Protocol
Role Play: an Introduction to Research
Basic principles of research
Where is the information available?
Defining research questions
Taking notes for analysis
DAY 4. Specific research methods
Identifying research methods
Interview and Focus group discussion
DAY 5. Child participation
Discussing child participation
Children‟s involvement in research process
Guidelines for research with children
DAY 6. Analysis and Report drafting
End of research analysis: Making sense of the data
DAY 7. Research tools
Life story interviews
Exercise: Villager's experience outside of the village – Report Form
DAY 8-9. Field visit and exercise
Annex 4. Research Questionnaire used in Analysis Workshop
I. Village situation
Geographical situation of the village and map
Statistical data: Number of people, households, children, men/women; age distribution
Political and community organisation: Structure of village authorities; Village level
organisations/activities; Government projects in the village ; NGO projects (if relevant)
Children and youth in the village: Situation of children in the village; % of working children;
children's leisure activities; Other comments on situation of children
Information on the village school: What grades are available? How many boys/girls attend? (and
%); How many boys/girls do not attend? Age of children in school; Number of teachers;
Qualification of teachers; General comments/description
Other Services available: Health services; Credit services; Support services for those in need
Socio-economic data: Villagers' activities; Employment situation; Income levels; Income
distribution; Local perception of socio-economic levels
Parental attitude towards children: Parents' attitude towards their children? Are girls treated
equally to boys? How do these attitudes contribute to trafficking and exploitation (if at all)?
Other information: researcher‟s general feelings about the village
II. Migration and Trafficking
Figures: Number of villagers currently out of the village (children; men/women; age)
Profile of migrants/reasons for migration: Profile of migrants (who migrates/stays); Motivations
Migration episodes: How do people migrate? Where do they go? Who helps them? What do they
do when outside?
Time spent outside the village: Duration of stay outside of the village (if seasonal migration,
give patterns); When/why do migrants consider that their experience outside was positive? When
do migrants consider they have been "exploited"? Migrants' knowledge of what to expect when
they leave the village. How does it correspond to reality? How does migration become trafficking?
Perception of out-migrants by others: How do authorities view migration? Are authorities trying
to discourage out-migration? How? Views of migration among those who stay; How are returnees
viewed by villagers?
Agents/brokers: Are there agents operating in the village? Attitudes towards (and interaction
with) agents who help people migrate.
Cases: How many cases of trafficking did you identify in this village?
Profiles of trafficked victims: Who are the people most at risk of being trafficked? (age, sex,
socio-economic background, family situation, Other); What are the differences (individual, family,
social) between villagers who migrate/get trafficked? What are the reasons for trafficking? Why
are some people safe from trafficking while others are exposed to it?
Trafficking episodes: How does trafficking happen? How is trafficking organised? Is it possible
to say if a person is trafficked or only migrating when he/she is leaving the village? What do
trafficked victims do when they are out of the village? What are their working conditions? What
are the routes of trafficking? Are there various kinds of "exploitation"? If so, what are these kinds?
Knowledge of trafficking in the village: How much do people know about trafficking? What do
people know? Contact information for children currently in a trafficking situation (addresses,
Traffickers: Who are the traffickers? Views/attitudes towards traffickers; Addresses of traffickers
Return of trafficked victims: Views of returned trafficked victims; Effects of trafficking on
victims; How do the victims try to cope? Do victims manage to become part of the village again?
Community initiatives: Who is responsible for protecting children in the community? Who is
active in this field? Community action against trafficking; What kind of action? Are actions
efficient? Did villagers have ideas for future action?
Annex 5. Schedule of research in Lao Yai village
January 2004 February 2004
13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Departure from Vientian
Arrive to Lao Yai Village
Introduce purpose of research to village chief
Meet two Research Assistants
Meeting with Villagers
Settling-in period: observation, no question asked
Prepare children‟s research activity
First visit to school
Pilot research in secondary school
Annex 6. Analysis Workshop Module
DAY 1: Outline of research report and process of research
Morning: Introductions (especially for research assistants); Establish a report outline; Organise
Afternoon: (Researchers) Describe/Present the process of research: What did you do? How were you
viewed in the village? How did villagers welcome/accept you? What were your objectives, and do you
feel you have reached them? Explain why. What were the main obstacles to your research? How did
you overcome them? What would you do differently next time? What could be improved? How could
you better involve children/villagers in your research next time?
(Research Assistants) What did you do? How was the researcher viewed in the village? What was the
researcher trying to achieve? Do you think he/she has succeeded? Explain why. What do you think
would be useful to do in your village? (Actions, interventions, etc.) How can it be done? Discuss your
answers to this last question with the other research assistants.
DAY 2: Presentation of main findings
Morning: Researchers index/organise information and prepare presentation addressing (i) General
situation of the village (ii) Migration and trafficking in this village (iii) Other important findings
DAY 3: Research questionnaire and case studies
Morning: Researchers start filling in research questionnaire and write up (or compile) reference
Afternoon: Illustrate write-up with five life stories/cases: Presentation of the facts and the actors of the
case; Description of the process of trafficking (or migration); Analysis of the case: what does this case
illustrate (about the situation in the village, migration, trafficking, etc.)? What questions does it raise?
What hypothesis can it give rise to? What research could be undertaken based on this case? What
action could it entail?
DAY 4: Write-up and analysis (continued)
DAY 5: Write-up, analysis and recommendations
Morning: Write up (continued)
Afternoon: Researchers in pairs prepare main recommendations, followed by three 15-minute
presentations and discussion. To prepare recommendations, researchers can try to answer some of the
- What are the main problems encountered by the community or by families/individuals in the
- Who is affected by these problems?
- What are the community/others trying to do in order to solve these problems?
- What other activities are conducted in the village to try to improve people's situation?
- What ideas have villagers raised in discussions with you about the activities and interventions they
would like to undertake in order to improve the village situation or the situation of individuals in
- From your own viewpoint, what are the most pressing interventions that could be undertaken in this
- Based on your findings, could the community/villagers undertake these interventions alone, or do
they need outside support? What kind of support could be given to the community?
- Practical recommendations for the improvement of the situation (if relevant).
DAY 6: Finalisation of the report and Presentation
Morning: Write up (finalised)
Afternoon: Finalisation of arrangements for next posting: villages, dates, etc.
TRACE: Trafficking – from Community to Exploitation – FINAL REPORT, Draft I – June 23, 2004
Annex 7. Village Report Outline
Section 1: Background and objectives of the project
Section 2: Description of the research process
Section 3: Presentation of the village
4. Socio-economic situation
5. Services (health and education)
Section 4: Migration
1. Causes of migration
2. Who migrates?
3. How does migration happen?
4. Attitude towards migration/migrants
5. Results of migration
Section 5: Trafficking
3. Who gets trafficked?
4. Impact of trafficking
5. Feelings of trafficked victims
Section 6: Specific problems in the village
Section 7: Community level actions
1. Authority actions against trafficking
2. Authority actions against migration
3. Actions in favour of returnees
4. Villagers' attitudes towards local responses
5. Actions not initiated by authorities
Section 8: Recommendations