Isolation. There is a feeling of quiet isolation, a certain invulnerability, that I feel in this place. I’m hidden in a small bamboo village that sits perched atop the edge of a large valley buried in the jungle of Northern Thailand, making conversation with the children who call it their home.
Astonishingly, these children are not actually Thai citizens, and even if they sought citizenship it is unlikely they would be granted it. The children around me were born in Thailand, but belong to a hill tribe from the Tibetan Plateau. The Lahu people settled in Northern Thailand centuries ago, yet have been shunned by most of society. Without citizenship, they cannot attend government-funded schools or secure land rights. It is also much more difficult to get a stable job without proof of public education or ID. With little money and no rights, the people of the hill tribes are of the most marginalized in the country and fall victim to one of Southeast Asia’s most sinister industries: human trafficking.
Despite prostitution being illegal, Thailand is known as the sex tourism capital of the world, and the Thai legal system can be described as faulty at best as little to no arrests for sex trafficking are ever made. This is due to both corruption and gaps in the system. For example, there are certain bars where a customer will be seated at a table and then immediately greeted by a girl. While at the table, the customer is allowed to do whatever they wish to the girl, and the girl’s job is to convince the customer that she adores them. Eventually, the customer approaches the bar owner and pays a bar fee to take the girl away with them for the night. Since the customer is paying the bar owner and not the girl, and the payment is not explicitly for sex, it is not legally defined as prostitution.
There are countless stories of hill tribe girls being taken from their homes and forced into the sex trafficking industry. When they arrive in Bangkok, they work in bars where they sell themselves to strangers and become trapped in psychological slavery due to filial piety and threats. It becomes a painful cycle of guilt and suffering.