Noor's Story

In 2017, we were a co-plaintiff on a case representing a female trafficking victim, Noor.* When she was only 15, Noor was trafficked from the south of Thailand to a karaoke bar and forced to have sex with at least three customers a day. She was there for eight months until she became pregnant. A police operation freed her and several other victims, at which point we were referred to the case. We funded counseling for the survivors, all of them severely traumatized by their ordeal. In addition, our lawyer represented Noor in court and secured THB 3 million (USD $96,200) in compensation for her from her offenders. She now lives with her daughter whom she named Patience. The lives of our clients and their families are forever impacted by the trauma of exploitation, but we have found that the financial and emotional significance of compensation helps them begin to heal. We also see judgments like this as a way to create criminal deterrence -- trafficking should never be profitable or tolerated.

*Noor is not her real name.

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Nan's Story

Sixteen-year old Nan found herself lying on the bottom of a boat, illegally crossing the border from her village in Laos into Thailand. Along with her three friends, Fai, Soi and Prae, Nan* had been persuaded by Ms. Jat,* a woman originally from her region in Laos, to come to Thailand to work. 

In Laos, Ms. Jat had promised Nan and Fai that they would work reasonable hours at a karaoke bar. But on their arrival in Thailand, Nan and Fai’s lives quickly descended into relentless exploitation. They worked every night at the karaoke bar from 6pm until 2am, after which Mr. Son,* the owner of the bar and Ms. Jat’s husband, would drive them to a farm. Here, they were permitted to sleep for only four hours until they were then awoken at 6 am for a day of unpaid, forced manual labour on the farm, without breakfast, and with little chance to rest. At 5pm, Mr. Son would drive them back to the karaoke bar.

During their nights at the karaoke bar, Nan, Fai and the other girls were sold to customers for 1000 baht per hour (USD $32) or 5000 THB (USD $160) a night. Nan and Fai were not only sexually assaulted, but they were never paid as they were told they would be. Upon their return to the bar, Mr. Son would take the cash from them and give them back half of the total amount in tokens, much like gambling chits. Although these could supposedly be cashed, Mr. Son refused to pay them, saying they must work for six months first. Mr. Son enforced harsh rules, for which the punishment was a deduction of tokens. Making the floor dirty, leaving hair in the bathroom, talking with the other girls and many other imaginary offences would result in him confiscating four or five tokens, sometimes more than what each girl would make in one or two days. In addition, Nan and Fai were promised payment for their months of labour on the watermelon farm. When they requested cash to send home to their families, Mr. Son told them that they must first work for six months. 

Despite desperately wishing to return to Laos, escape was not an option for Nan and Fai. Aside from Mr. Son’s watchfulness, they had no money, no documents and no contacts. Mr. Son threatened to inform the police if they ran away, and then they would be arrested as illegal immigrants. So they endured this life of unending exploitation, day and night, for months. 

One night, our investigative team and social worker, in collaboration with the Thai law enforcement, found and freed Nan, Fai and six other girls from the karaoke bar and arrested Mr. Son and Ms. Jat. In the immediate aftermath of the operation, our social worker comforted a shaking and terrified Nan, who was unable to believe Mr. Son could no longer control her. But Nan was finally free.

Support of survivors must not end at the conclusion of a police operation; it must continue through the criminal justice process and beyond. Nan and Fai’s case was the first that LIFT encountered in which the victims were subjected to both labour and sexual exploitation. Our teams work together to both identify and protect victims and provide them with the resources to become free and flourishing survivors. 

*Not their real names

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Child Begging Ring

While our investigation team was on a case, they noticed something unusual on the streets. They observed Cambodian women with young, lifeless babies in their laps and begging cups set before them. This is sadly a familiar scene in many parts of the world, but there was something different about this. There was a group of adults, each with a child or two, taking in an estimated 3-4000 THB (USD $96-128) a day from money dropped in their cups. The presence of the kids gave the appearance of parents trying to provide for their families. But our team began to suspect that this group of beggars with children were connected because they would observe different kids, ranging from as young as six weeks old to teenagers, with different adults depending on the night. This was evidence that they were organized; perhaps it wasn't as simple as a parent-child relationship. These babies and kids were on the streets all night long, essentially working, being forced to beg. Vulnerable children on the streets of red light areas are extremely susceptible to sexual exploitation. They had been trafficked for labor and were at a high risk of being trafficked for sex. 

We took the case to local law enforcement. Together, we planned and executed an operation to secure the children. Seven women were arrested, and, once it was proved that the kids were not related to the adults, three of the women were charged with human trafficking. Nine children were freed from the begging ring and placed in the care of partner organizations. Some of the children were teenagers and went to vocational training to restore hope for their futures. 

This was the first case of its kind in Thailand. Our team uncovered that this, and possibly other organized begging syndicates, was actually a form of trafficking -- young children were being exploited for money. It's the first time that forced begging was prosecuted as trafficking in Thailand. We were then invited to present at a conference for Thai and Cambodian law enforcement on how to prevent people from coming across borders to traffick children for begging. Local law enforcement and social development agencies are now aware that begging deserves serious attention. We were able to identify these nine children as trafficked, and this will hopefully prevent other children from being trafficked across or within borders to beg. Identification of victims and perpetrators creates advocacy that leads to prevention. 

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