Human traffickers in Thailand have ignored court orders to compensate victims in more than 99% of cases in recent years. Fueling fears that many survivors could be re-trafficked.
Thai courts have ordered traffickers to pay their victims more than $4.3 million for damages caused in about 1,335 cases since 2014, according to the latest available statistics from the Office of the Attorney General.
But the money was only paid in five cases, with survivors receiving a total of 5.6 million baht. Excluding cases settled out of court – found data from the government’s anti-trafficking department, obtained via Thailand’s freedom of information law, Reuters reports.
Although Thailand has rescued a record-breaking 1,000-plus trafficking victims this year. Campaigners are concerned that the failure to pay compensation will leave them in fresh danger.
“It’s an important issue that is unfortunately being neglected,” said Chonticha Tangworamongkon. Chonticha is a program director at the Human Rights and Development Foundation. The foundation provides free legal aid to migrant workers and trafficking victims.
“This money will enable (victims) to start a new life and prevent them from being re-trafficked. However the government’s role in assisting victims in pursuing the claims is still not clear.”
Seized Money to Pay Victims
Thailand is considering amending its 1999 anti-money laundering law to allow offenders’ assets seized by the Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) to be used to compensate victims.
Four public hearings were held this year to discuss the legal amendment.Seized assets are currently state property – but it is unclear when it will be reviewed by the cabinet.
Thailand is home to about 610,000 modern slaves. About one in 113 of its 69 million people are inslaved – according to the Global Slavery Index by the rights group Walk Free Foundation.
The United States called on Thailand in June to increase compensation to victims in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. Ranking Thailand as a Tier 2 country – meaning it is making significant efforts to combat the crime.
Trafficking victims are automatically compensated through a government fund – which provides living and rehabilitation expenses and lost wages. – However Chonticha says these sums of money are not sufficient for victims to rebuild their lives.
While Thai law allows victims to claim compensation from convicted traffickers. offenders have refused to pay in more than 1,000 cases – for which there is no legal punishment.
The law requires the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security to assist victims in enforcing their compensation claims, yet anti-trafficking charities and campaigners say it has failed to ensure that fines are collected from offenders.
But pursuing claims is a complex process, which involves tracing offenders’ assets and bringing in the Legal Execution Department – which enforces court orders – to seize them.
Ratchapon Maneelek, a director at Thailand’s anti-trafficking department, which falls under the social ministry, said several government agencies had been holding meetings to determine the extent of their legal powers to enforce claims.
“This is something new for us that we may not have expertise in,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
No Money to Pay Trafficked Victims
Aged nine, Bo Soe’s mother took him from Myanmar to Thailand in 2013, where he was forced by a trafficker to sell roses.
For five years, Bo Soe and about 10 other children were forced to tout to tourists in Bangkok from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. He recieved no pay and was given only one meal a day.
“It was very horrible and I was scared. Whenever I couldn’t sell all (the roses), I would be beaten,” the 15-year-old told Reuters. Bo Soe lives in Thailand’s western region of Mae Sot, with his grandmother and aunt.
In May, judges upheld a lower court ruling convicting a man and woman of trafficking, jailing them for 12 years. They were then ordered to pay 1.26 million baht in compensation to Bo Soe.
“I don’t know whether or not I will receive the money. …But I’m happy to be back with my family,” said Bo Soe, whose name has been changed to protect his identity as a minor.
Papop Siamhan, a lawyer who has followed the case, said Bo Soe was unlikely to ever receive the money. Since his traffickers could not afford the compensation. The long prison sentence also meant they would not be able to gather money to pay.
Lawyers and charities, are often hired by trafficking victims to trace offenders’ assets. However seizures by AMLO can actually thwart survivors’ efforts to obtain restitution.
The AMLO will seize the vessels and freeze the bank accounts of offenders,” said Siamhan. “(This) means the victims’ lawyer will have to track down other assets.”
Human Trafficking Victims Lives Are Cheap
Sugunya Rattananakintr, a public prosecutor who focuses on human trafficking cases, said court rules should be amended. Offenders who were ordered to pay compensation should do so before they are released.
“The problem is the enforcement of compensation orders since the ministry doesn’t have knowledge in this area,” she said.
“If you wait until the case reaches the highest court, the offenders will transfer all their assets. There for leaving them with nothing left to pay (in compensation to victims).”
Maneelek from the anti-human trafficking division said the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security and other related government agencies signed an agreement last year to help victims with their cases and track down offenders’ assets.
“We are in the process of looking for ways to cooperate (within government), which might take some time,” he said.
However, time is not a luxury that many victims can afford.
Having been trafficked at 22 and forced to work on a fishing boat for three years without pay. Aung Aung was hopeful when the six traffickers were jailed in July and ordered to pay about Bt2 million compensation.
But Aung Aung does not know when he will receive the 65,000 baht he was awarded. He is now looking for work at sea again in southern Thailand despite knowing the risks involved.
“It was like hell, working so hard … for more than three years. Our lives are so cheap on the boat,” he said.
“I hope I will get the compensation money some day.”