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Human traffickers prey on vulnerable in Thailand

world Updated: Jul 29, 2010 11:34 IST

Sixteen-year-old Kaew slumped into unconsciousness in a van somewhere in southern Thailand, believing she was on her way to work in a textile factory near the border.

She woke up in Malaysia to discover that she had been sold into the sex trade.

Hers is just one of a multitude of cases of modern-day slavery in Thailand, most of which involve a mix of poverty, violence and betrayal.

Apparently drugged and later locked in a room in Kuala Lumpur, Kaew met three other Thai women who asked if she had been lured to work like them.

"I had no idea what they were talking about, but then they told me what kind of job they did and what kind of job I had to do. I was very scared," said Kaew, whose name AFP has changed to protect her identity.

She managed to escape before her first job, using money she had been given to buy food to take a taxi to the Thai embassy.

Now she is now being cared for at Baan Kredtrakarn, a government-run shelter just outside Bangkok. But she can't help thinking of the women she left behind -- or her abductors.

"I want them to be punished. I am very angry," she said.

The US State Department last month put Thailand on its human trafficking watchlist, accusing it of not doing enough to combat trafficking.

It said the country was a source, destination and transit point for trafficking, with ethnic minorities and citizens of neighbouring countries at particular risk of sexual abuse or forced labour.

Victims -- mainly from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos -- have been found in the fishing industry, seafood factories, sweatshops and domestic work, while young girls are also ensnared in Thailand's vast sex industry.

They form part of a vast shadow economy across Asia that generates about 10 billion dollars in yearly profits from forced labourers, mainly prostitutes, according to a 2005 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

It estimated there were 1.36 million trafficking-related victims in forced labour in the Asia-Pacific region -- more than half the global total.

Thai authorities are believed to have identified and helped 530 foreign victims of trafficking last year and repatriated 79 Thai citizens who had been taken overseas.

But experts say that is just the tip of the iceberg, partly because many victims do not want to identify themselves by making a complaint.