Thai religieux get ready to fight human trafficking
by Weena Kowitwanij
A workshop organised by the Federation of International Religious explains how to counter agencies that entice and exploit Thais for sex or work.

Nakhorn Pathom (Asianews) – Thai religieux are committed to fighting human trafficking through education and teaching victims about their rights and duties.

For this purpose, the Federation of International Religious, the Association of Italian Religious and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) organised a workshop on "Counter Trafficking Training Programme for Religious Personnel" at the Baan Phu Waan or Pastoral Training Centre.  Representatives from 17 female religious congregations, priests and some lay people attended the week-long seminar.

The seminar was meant to help religious personnel learn about the causes and process of human trafficking, develop their skill and social learning, and enable them to cope with the present world situation.

Sr Francios Chiranon, Provincial Superior of the St Paul de Chartres Congregation and president of the seminar's organising committee, said: "Human Trafficking is an international problem. The project began when a police officer asked our sisters in Chiengmai (northern Thailand) to take care of some street kids who were in danger of being taken by agencies for the purpose of trafficking".

The first step in this project was the building of the Princess Ubonrat School. It was set up in order to teach street kids to respect the dignity and rights of women and girls, and teach everyone how to protect themselves and not be deceived.

In fact, agencies that engage in human trafficking offer money to very poor residents of rural villages to get them to hand over their children, ostensibly so that they can work "as waiters" in Bangkok. In some cases, parents are tricked into giving away their children on the pretence of a job overseas.

"Unfortunately," Sister Francios said, "if you add the materialism and consumerism of our times to ignorance [about the real situation], you can understand why some young women are tempted to get lots of money doing an easy job".

Sr Boonlom Panthong, from the Lovers of the Cross Congregation in Ubon Rajathanee province (eastern Thailand), works at the Women's Centre helping orphans and exploited women.

"Our duty is to promote a self-sufficient economy to stop people from leaving their villages. We must teach them about the rights, duties and dignity of being a citizen as well as the knowledge to understand the value of their lives," she said.

"The seminar helped us with information on human trafficking.  Our sisters pay more attention on migration since it is closely linked to the business of human trafficking," said Sr Michael Lopez, from the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. "I'd like to see parents, the Church and schools work together on the issue," she added.

Fr Waranyu Laoboonma, a Stigmatine priest from the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Ranong province (Surat Thani diocese) spoke about the problems faced by the 40 Catholic families who live in his parish as well as the flow of legal and illegal migrants from Myanmar.

"These people are not paid proper wages. Some are not paid at all, whilst others are victims of sexual abuse," he said. "With the support of the Federation of Religious Superiors in Thailand we are going to open a Burmese Child Centre to teach them Thai language so they can continue their education in government schools.  We now have 96 children in our care".

Fr Stefano Volpicelli, from the IOM in Rome, said: "Human trafficking is international in scope, and to stop it we need the cooperation of the religieux who are part of society and can be of great help".

"I expect all participants to gain greater knowledge of the problem and be able to network with others to share what they learnt," he said.  "For our part, we shall continue our work with courage and a better vision."
According to international sources, it is still impossible to estimate the exact number of people involved in this type of trafficking.