Plight of the stateless

FOR thousands of people living along the Thai-Myanmar border, citizenship is a major issue. So major that it could determine whether they end up being trafficked as sex prisoners, child slaves or forced labour.

Many of the fugitives escaping the military junta in Myanmar have sad stories. Their faces recount torture, savagery, violence and barbaric slavery. Those working as sex slaves are easily spotted in brothels, massage parlours, street corners and condominiums across the globe. The coffee consumed in middle-class living rooms may come from the child working 18 hours a day to harvest the beans. The cheap market trinkets? Think of the young girl stabbed with scissors, forced to work without food and pay, and brutally assaulted for being tired.

For many of these people, citizenship is a word next to heaven. It is the key to restoring their dignity as human beings.

Mer Saw is 47. She fled her hometown near Yangon when she was 16. “If I did not run, I would be killed or enslaved by the military.”
Low profile: Mer Saw and her family live from hand to mouth.
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So she walked to the banks of the Salawin river and crossed to the border of Thailand. For the next 31 years, she roamed the rural villages in Thailand, never daring to venture further for fear of being caught and killed.

Now married with three children, her family moves from one place to another to find work. Other than odd jobs around the villages, her family subsists on occasional gifts of rice and oil from sympathetic people aware of her plight.

Even though Thai law provides for citizenship under certain qualifications, it is often complicated and impeded by practical difficulties. According to the current migration policy in Thailand, all migrants from Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR who do not hold a temporary passport must leave the country by Feb 28, 2010.

For Mer and many like her, citizenship will remain an elusive dream while she continues to eke out a living through whatever meagre means available.

Child protection

The best way to protect a child from being FOR thousands of people living along the Thai-Myanmar border, citizenship is a major issue. So major that it could determine whether they end up being trafficked as sex prisoners, child slaves or forced labour.

Many of the fugitives escaping the military junta in Myanmar have sad stories. Their faces recount torture, savagery, violence and barbaric slavery. Those working as sex slaves are easily spotted in brothels, massage parlours, street corners and condominiums across the globe. The coffee consumed in middle-class living rooms may come from the child working 18 hours a day to harvest the beans. The cheap market trinkets? Think of the young girl stabbed with scissors, forced to work without food and pay, and brutally assaulted for being tired.

For many of these people, citizenship is a word next to heaven. It is the key to restoring their dignity as human beings.

Mer Saw is 47. She fled her hometown near Yangon when she was 16. “If I did not run, I would be killed or enslaved by the military.”
Low profile: Mer Saw and her family live from hand to mouth.

So she walked to the banks of the Salawin river and crossed to the border of Thailand. For the next 31 years, she roamed the rural villages in Thailand, never daring to venture further for fear of being caught and killed.

Now married with three children, her family moves from one place to another to find work. Other than odd jobs around the villages, her family subsists on occasional gifts of rice and oil from sympathetic people aware of her plight.

Even though Thai law provides for citizenship under certain qualifications, it is often complicated and impeded by practical difficulties. According to the current migration policy in Thailand, all migrants from Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR who do not hold a temporary passport must leave the country by Feb 28, 2010.

For Mer and many like her, citizenship will remain an elusive dream while she continues to eke out a living through whatever meagre means available.

Child protection

The best way to protect a child from being sexually trafficked and exploited is to spot the tell-tale signs and take preventive measures.

“We should keep a lookout for those who may not be sex slaves, but are on the path of vulnerability,” said Carmen M. Madriñán, executive director of ECPAT International. (The acronym stands for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes; a global network of independent grassroots organisations.)

The glaring symptoms:

● Absent from school for long periods and suddenly show up owning items they could not afford.

● Appearing to be mentally stressed.

● Very tired physically, due to spending active nights.

● Significant changes in behaviour – moodiness, aggressiveness, or passivity.

● Associating with “new people” in their lives.

“It is important not to penalise the child for being enticed into the flesh trade,” said Madriñán during the global launch of The Body Shop Child Sex Trafficking Campaign in Bangkok.

The proper response is to step in and offer the support that is needed. Once a potential child sex-slave is spotted, measures should be taken to contact the social welfare body as well as relevant NGOs.

“The biggest challenge is to change cultural perception of sexuality,” said Madriñán. “People see having a young partner as a conquest.” Children reaching puberty show signs of physical growth and there is a tendency to see them as “no longer children”, she explained. “This is a norm tolerated in societies in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.”

Every year, an estimated 1.2 million child victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation or cheap labour (ILO and Unicef). Despite international laws to keep them safe, enforcement and complications in social norms often do not result in adequate protection for them.and exploited is to spot the tell-tale signs and take preventive measures.

“We should keep a lookout for those who may not be sex slaves, but are on the path of vulnerability,” said Carmen M. Madriñán, executive director of ECPAT International. (The acronym stands for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes; a global network of independent grassroots organisations.)

The glaring symptoms:

● Absent from school for long periods and suddenly show up owning items they could not afford.

● Appearing to be mentally stressed.

● Very tired physically, due to spending active nights.

● Significant changes in behaviour – moodiness, aggressiveness, or passivity.

● Associating with “new people” in their lives.

“It is important not to penalise the child for being enticed into the flesh trade,” said Madriñán during the global launch of The Body Shop Child Sex Trafficking Campaign in Bangkok.

The proper response is to step in and offer the support that is needed. Once a potential child sex-slave is spotted, measures should be taken to contact the social welfare body as well as relevant NGOs.

“The biggest challenge is to change cultural perception of sexuality,” said Madriñán. “People see having a young partner as a conquest.” Children reaching puberty show signs of physical growth and there is a tendency to see them as “no longer children”, she explained. “This is a norm tolerated in societies in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.”

Every year, an estimated 1.2 million child victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation or cheap labour (ILO and Unicef). Despite international laws to keep them safe, enforcement and complications in social norms often do not result in adequate protection for them.

source: http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2009/11/2/lifefocus/4546664&sec=lifefocus

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Published in: on November 2, 2009 at 7:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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