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March 1, 2019

International Women's Day: 10 Years of Assisting Thailand's Victims of Human Trafficking

"Human trafficking" refers to recruiting, transporting, transfering, harboring, taking receipt of or procuring people in a vulnerable position through such methods as violence, threats, abductions and fraud to exploit them, e.g., by forcing them into prostitution or slave labor. About 70 percent of the victims are female (adults and children). It has been 10 years since JICA started a project in Thailand to assist those who provide protective services to victims of trafficking through capacity building, standards setting and strengthening of coordination among stakeholders. The initiative now involves countries beyond Thailand in the Mekong region.

People who lack educational and work opportunities sometimes try to go work in another country to support their children and families and improve their lives, and subsequently have painful experiences. Such people need encouragement and help rebuilding their lives.

Ahead of March 8, International Women's Day, JICA looks back on its assistance to victims of human trafficking in Thailand and the Mekong region.

More and more people are coming around to Japan's victim-centered approach

photoA girl victimized by human traffickers, left, is counseled by two LOL members.

"We former victims of human trafficking now can listen to victims and make suggestions to governments about how to improve support services from the perspective of a victim. That is our big accomplishment in the past ten years."

So says a member of the self-help group "LOL (Live Our Lives)," which is run by former trafficking victims who returned to Thailand.

Since 2009, JICA has been working with the Thai Ministry of Social Development and Human Security's Division of Anti-Trafficking in Persons to carry out a project to assist Multi-Disciplinary Teams(MDTs) made up of social workers, police, judicial workers, immigration officers, Ministry of Labour officials, educators, medical personnel and NGO personnel. The project aims to strengthen the teams' capacity to coordinate among agencies. A lack of such coordination has been cited as a challenge. The project supports the creation of a framework to listen to victims and then rapidly and comprehensively protect them. It also supports the work of self-help groups like LOL.

photoMembers of the Thai Multi-Disciplinary Teams take part in training in Japan for a child abuse prevention program that can be applicable to victims of human trafficking

In addition to supporting efforts in the field, it also holds annual training sessions in Japan.

In training held in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, last October, Darunee Manussavanish, head of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security's 24 Hour Hotline for victims seeking help listened to a talk by a counselor in Takarazuka's domestic violence counseling center. Based on what she heard, she said, "Human rights are being respected with regard to the protection and welfare of victims. I understood that consideration is being given to their safety of victims, including in the way they are treated when they come for help, and well-organized assistance is being provided." She showed enthusiasm for providing victim-centered assistance in Thailand.

JICA Expert Tetsuro Oda, who coordinates the work of the project, said that as it has proceeded, "there have been more and more -assistance providers (or service providers) who understand specifically how to carry out work based on Japan’s principle of putting the victim first."

Toward seamless coordination in the Mekong region

More than half of the victims being protected in Thailand are non-Thais from neighboring countries, so it is essential to coordinate with those countries to help victims reintegrate into society after they return home. Since 2015, Thailand has worked to coordinate with the Mekong region, which consists of, in addition to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

photoA representative from Cambodia involved in an anti-human trafficking initiative talks about the initiative at the workshop.

At the end of January, the 9th Mekong Regional Workshop for the five countries of the Mekong region was held in Bangkok and participants shared the countries' initiatives to strengthen regional cooperation. "I've realized that anti-human trafficking cooperation is moving forward in the border areas of Thailand and neighboring countries, and this is leading to better countermeasures," said JICA Expert Shoko Sato, a member of the project.

photoJICA Expert Shoko Sato (second from left) and JICA Expert Tetsuro Oda (center) discuss border-area cooperation with people involved Laotian anti-human trafficking efforts.

In terms of human trafficking, Thailand plays a complex role. It is both an originating country, one whose own citizens become victims in other countries, a transit country through which victims are trafficked before being victimized in other countries, and a destination country, where residents of other countries in the Mekong region are victimized.

There is a view in the Mekong region that a lot of victims identified and protected in Thailand come from neighboring countries, so it is sometimes tricky for Thailand and neighboring countries to cooperate on anti-human trafficking measures because of mixed feelings about Thailand. Sato says JICA's involvement serves as a lubricant between Thailand and other countries.

As the number of foreign laborers is increasing in Japan and stronger anti-human trafficking measures are sought, Sato realized there are many things Japan could learn from initiatives in Thailand and the Mekong region.

In the workshop, handbooks made by the project were introduced. It spells out the process of helping victims return and be reintegrated into their countries. Sunee Srisangartrakullert, the head of Thailand's Division of Anti-Trafficking, says, "The division of responsibilities in assistance have become clear," so better cooperation on anti-trafficking efforts is expected in the Mekong region.

photoRepresentatives from Japan and five countries in the Mekong region involved in anti-human trafficking measures who participated in the Mekong Regional Workshop.

Multifaceted thinking on human trafficking

photoAt the joint workshop for the five countries of the Mekong region held in Bangkok at the end of January, Matsuno, the project chief, explains a handbook made by the project that spells out the process of helping victims return to and be reintegrated into their countries.

"Concerning anti-human trafficking measures, in addition to 'protection’, such as social reintegration support for victims, which JICA has been supporting, 'prevention' initiatives that stop human trafficking before it happens also are needed," says Project Chief Ayaka Matsuno.

According to Matsuno, as for JICA, working to prevent human trafficking in a multifaceted way is as effective as tackling it exclusively. For example, this could include making it possible for women to make a living without leaving their home countries by focusing on rural development and empowering women on income generating capability, and companies keeping an eye out for human rights violations such as human trafficking among their workers all along every corporate supply chain.

JICA is now carrying out anti-human trafficking projects in countries such as Myanmar and Vietnam, in addition to Thailand. JICA is committed to continuing its support to help such women become resilient, and overcome their human trafficking experiences and find new ways of life.

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