KAMPHAENG – A Thai couple accused of kidnapping, torturing and enslaving a 12-year-old Karen girl for over five years, are on the run from authorities today after refusing to show up for police questioning, according to Thai media.
The Thai government has offered a THB 100,000 (USD$ 3,349) reward to anyone who can offer information that will help locate the fugitives. The Burmese embassy in Bangkok told DVB that it is the responsibility of the Thai government to ensure that the two are found and brought to justice.
“We have sent letters to the Thai foreign affairs urging for justified actions [against the couple]. Since they are hiding in Thailand, I believe Thai authorities should follow up with it,” said Naing Htun, Labour Ministry Director, speaking from the Burmese embassy in Bangkok.
It follows news that a young Karen girl – born to illegal migrant workers in Thailand – was brutally tortured and kept as a household slave in north-western Thailand for half a decade. Images of the young girl’s severely burned body circulating in the media have shocked the country and raised fresh questions over the mistreatment of Burmese migrants in Thailand.
The couple – identified as 35-year-old Natee Taengorn and 33-year-old Rattanakorn Piyaworatham – reportedly paid THB 700,000 (USD$ 23,441) in bail money to a local court last week, before absconding. The police learned that the couple had fled, after they took out over one million baht (USD$ 33,487) from their bank accounts.
“We will forfeit their bond and seek arrest warrants for them,” Superintendent Akkasorn Srisupat, from the Muang Kamphaengphet police station, told the Nation.
The child, known only as “Air”, told police that she was forced to work as the couple’s slave and subjected to gruesome torture, including being drenched in boiling hot water, while locked up in a dog cage. She said that her captors cut off a tip of her ear when she first tried to escape three years ago. Questions remain over why the girl was subsequently returned to her captors, who have been described as having “influential” connections.
The couple faces seven charges, including slavery, torture, forced labour and child trafficking. The pair initially denied the charges and told police that the girl “accidentally” injured herself with hot water. They were due to testify ahead of the Department of Special Investigation today.
Last week, a delegation from the Burmese embassy visited the Kamphaengphet Children and Families Shelter, where the young girl is being cared for, to present her with THB 25,000 (US$ 837) to assist with her medical expenses. They have also offered to help provide legal aid.
According to doctors at the Kamphaengphet hospital, 50 percent of the girl’s skin has been seriously burned, subsequently fusing her left arm to the side of her torso, and she required immediate surgery. But the girl is said to be receiving trauma counselling and socializing well with others, although she still shudders at the sight of hot things.
The treatment of migrant workers in Thailand has been a source of controversy for many years, drawing regular criticism from human rights groups. Up to three million migrants in Thailand, or about 80 percent, are estimated to come from Burma, and often occupy a quasi-legal existence that leaves them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.