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.