Refugee problem thwarts fight against child labor in Thailand

Non-governmental organizations warn that Thailand will not meet its goal of ending child labor by 2025 if its efforts do not include migrant children.

“An estimated 100,000 migrant children have arrived in Thailand since the end of last year alone. But our country has no measures to take care of them,” said Surapong Kongchantuk, president of the Cross-Cultural Foundation, which promotes and protects human rights in Thailand. Surapong was speaking on the eve of the World Day Against Child Labor, celebrated on June 12.

While Thai law states that all children are entitled to 15 years of free education, migrant children cannot attend school in Thailand unless they obtain special permission from authorities, he said .

This puts migrant children at risk of exploitation.

“If children don’t go to school, they enter the job market,” he said.

Child labor situation

The number of children forced into the worst forms of child labor in Thailand fell to just 948 in 2022, according to official figures.

This is a dramatic drop from 3,222 and 3,188 in the previous two years.

The worst forms of child labor include slavery-like employment, prostitution and pornography, other illegal activities including drug trafficking, and employment that threatens the health or moral development of children. .

Statistics from Thailand’s Department of Labor Protection and Welfare show that of the 948 children engaged in the worst child labor in 2022, 860 were involved in drug trafficking, 76 in prostitution and 12 in jobs involving health and moral risks. These figures were based on children aged 15 to 17.

Drug trafficking is responsible for more than 90% of children employed in the worst forms of labor since at least 2019.

The U.S. Department of Labor says Thailand has made moderate progress in its efforts to protect children from the worst forms of labor.

In 2022, the Thai government amended the anti-money laundering law so that assets seized from human trafficking perpetrators can be used as financial recourse for trafficking survivors, including sexually exploited children.

It also established the Center to Combat Child Sexual Exploitation to facilitate the investigation of child pornography offences.

However, the US Department of Labor points out that Thailand has not yet reached the international minimum working age standard because Thai law does not provide protection to children working outside of formal employment.

It also notes the lack of research and data on the prevalence of child labor in high-risk sectors such as agriculture, garment manufacturing, domestic work and construction.

Legal complications

While the last government imposed 15 years of free education and banned school-age children from entering the labor market, the Ministry of Labor Protection and Social Welfare allows children aged 15 to 17 years working.

However, their work must be safe and carried out in an appropriate environment. For example, employers should not let children do welding work.

They also cannot be hired to perform tasks involving abnormal levels of heat, cold, vibration, noise or lighting. The department also prohibits the use of children in slaughterhouses and places of entertainment.

Additionally, employers are not allowed to force children to work at night between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless they obtain special permission from the department’s director general.

“If children stay in school for 15 years, they should only start working around the age of 18,” Surapong commented.

This is why Thailand should change its laws so that there is no more room for child labor, he said. Asked about children needing to earn a living, Surapong said special permission could be given if they really needed to work.

Concerns about refugee children

Surapong is particularly concerned about the plight of migrant children fleeing conflict or other problems in neighboring countries.

These young migrants, he explained, cannot enter the refugee camps which are already full to bursting.

“As a result, many are forced to look for work. Some have already left the border provinces towards Samut Sakhon and Bangkok,” he said.

He is concerned for their well-being, pointing out that because they entered illegally, they must also work illegally.

This increases the likelihood that they will be exploited by illegal sectors such as the sex trade and extorted by corrupt officials.

“They are at risk of being victims of human trafficking or crimes,” Surapong stressed.

Adisorn Kerdmongkol of the Migrant Working Group echoed these fears, pointing to evidence that migrant children are used in Thailand’s agricultural sector.

“We have found that employers are violating the rights of the children of migrant farm workers,” he said.

Many Thai farms exploit children under 15, according to a study by his group.

These children may face health risks from tasks involving handling agricultural chemicals – primarily in the form of pesticides and herbicides.

“It can be dangerous,” he said.

Children in the fishing sector?

Adisorn also opposed ongoing efforts to change laws to allow children to work as interns in the fishing industry.

The current ban on children working in fishing is a good thing, he said.

“But that could change if the new law is passed.”

National Fisheries Association president Mongkhon Charoensukkana called for awareness and understanding of the culture and context of the Thai fishing industry.

“Many children of fishermen started running trawlers at the age of 14 or 15,” he said. “It’s their way of life.”

Mongkhon explained that the new law, if passed, would only apply to the children of fishermen.

He said the bill was prepared to ensure that fishing families could continue their way of life by passing on the skills necessary for their livelihood to the next generation.

“If we strictly adhere to international labor conventions, their way of life and livelihoods will collapse,” Mongkhon said.

What is the government’s plan?

Labor Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn stresses that Thailand is required to comply with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes point 8.7 – taking “immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking and ensure the prohibition and elimination of forced labor. the worst forms of child labor, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and end child labor in all its forms by 2025.”

By Thai PBS World General Office