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From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Tue Jul 11 2000 - 03:26:59 EDT

With human trafficking on the rise, Vitit Muntarbhorn highlights some of
the issues of this illegal trade between Thailand and Japan in a paper
presented at the AsiaPacific Symposium held in Tokyo recently.
The trade and trafficking in human beings, especially women and children,
has become a global phenomenon. A case in point is the trafficking between
Thailand and Japan. Shockingly, for example, some Thai women have been
carried into Japan in suitcases for this purpose.
Sources estimate that two years ago, there were some 37,000 Thais in Japan
of whom a number were in this country illegally including victims of
trafficking. A large proportion of this group were/are women in the sex
trade. There are different opinions concerning whether they came to Japan
of their own accord, of their own free will or whether they were
tricked/coerced into coming here as trafficked victims. Many have landed up
in exploitative situations and are controlled and abused by criminal
elements in Japan, even if they may have come to Japan on their own
initiative. Protection and assistance thus need to be accorded to both
victims of trafficking and those who find themselves in exploitative
situations, even if they are not victims of trafficking.
In Thailand, there have been some key legislative and policy developments
which should contribute to preventing and suppressing the criminal elements
operating in Thailand and interlinked with Japan and other countries. These
*The 1997 Constitution which guarantees child rights against violence and
*The Criminal Code which sanctions against sexual and other crimes which
may include human trafficking, coupled with the 1999 Amendment to the
Criminal Procedure Code which now allows videotaping of the testimony of
child victims/witnesses to prevent further traumatisation of the latter;
*The 1996 Act on the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution which
protects those under 18 years of age absolutely against sexual
exploitation, irrespective of the child's consent to the sexual act;
*The 1998 Labour Protection Act which prohibits children under the age of
18 from being employed in various hazardous activities.
Most directly on the issue of human trafficking is the 1997 Act on the
Prevention and Suppression of the Trafficking in Women and Children.
Basically, it sanctions against the trafficking of these vulnerable groups
within the country and externally. It introduces the crime of conspiracy in
relation to trafficking. Law enforcers are only allowed to detain the
victims for up to 24 hours and would need to notify the director general of
the police force. According to the new law, the victims may be housed in
government or other shelters, including those of NGOs. Complaints from the
victims concerning the crimes must be lodged immediately with the courts.
The law is relatively new and, to date, there have been few investigations
and prosecutions under this law, indicating the need to reinforce
implementation of the law and capacity building of law enforcers and civil
society to trace and track the criminal elements involved in the
trafficking. On a positive front, there are now more active information
campaigns against human trafficking, socioeconomic help to assist families
against poverty, and cooperation to facilitate the return of the victims to
their homes.
A key problem facing the trafficked person is that he/she may regrettably
be classified as an illegal immigrant under Thailand's national immigration
law. From the human rights' angle, it is essential to treat the trafficked
person as a victim, not a criminal as implied by the status of "illegal
immigrant". It is thus important to attenuate the negative impact of the
immigration law. One example of a humane development on this front was the
1999 memorandum of understanding between government agencies and NGOs in
Thailand to treat women and child victims of trafficking humanely.
Crossborder cases will no longer land in immigration jail in Thailand for
having entered the country illegally. The victims will be sent to welfare
homes pending return to their country of origin rather than immigration
jail. Likewise, local victims will be treated humanely and will now be put
in the care of welfare institutions rather than law enforcers.
Thailand also has various national plans concerning women and children
which provide the policy inputs against human trafficking and help to guide
officials and other catalysts against the phenomenon. These include the
current Action Plan for the Prevention and Suppression of Commercial Sexual
With regard to developments in Japan which have direct impact on Thais and
other nationals trafficked into Japan, it is important to note the new
Japanese Law for Punishing Acts Related to Child Prostitution and child
pornography and for Protecting children (1999). It protects absolutely
those under 18 years of age against sexual exploitation, including in
regard to the trade in children. Article 8 of this law criminalises those
who buy or sell a child for the purpose of sexual intercourse, child
prostitution or child pornography. A Japanese national who transports a
child who has been abducted, kidnapped, sold or bought in a foreign
country, out of that country is also criminally liable. Importantly, child
pornography is now illegal in Japan, although there are vague areas in the
law concerning possession of child pornography for private use and pseudo
or fictitious child pornography.
This new Japanese law needs to be implemented effectively.
Vitit Muntarbhorn is a professor at the Faculty of Law, Chulalongkorn

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