[Stop-traffic] News/THAILAND: TEARFUL 7-YEAR-OLD TELLS OF HORROR OF LIFE AS A SLAVE.

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/THAILAND: TEARFUL 7-YEAR-OLD TELLS OF HORROR OF LIFE AS A SLAVE.
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Thu Jan 04 2001 - 20:52:56 EST


21/Dec/00 THAILAND: TEARFUL 7-YEAR-OLD TELLS OF HORROR OF LIFE AS A SLAVE.
By SUCHEERA PINIJPARAKARN.
A SEVEN-year-old girl rescued from a child-kidnapping gang has given a
harrowing account of the three years she endured working as a beggar for
her captors.
Kesorn Manpook said she and other abducted children forced to beg for the
gang would not be fed unless they raised Bt500 a day. Even then, the meal
would be little more than cold rice with a splash of fish sauce.
Thai and Cambodian gang members hooked the children on amphetamines to make
them reliant on their captors and to discourage them from running away. The
drug also enabled the children to stay awake most of the day and night to
beg.
Kesorn was only freed from the gang's clutches after an incredible chance
encounter with her mother, Huad Susaeng, in Phuket last Thursday.
Divorced and with five other children to feed, 34-year-old Huad travelled
south last month to find work. Last Thursday, she took pity on a scrawny,
dirty little girl she spotted begging on a Phuket street and offered her a
Bt10 coin.
Ignoring the money, the street urchin looked intently into Huad's face for
several seconds before asking softly, "Mum?", then burst into tears.
A dumbstruck Huad examined the girl and found identifying scars on the
frail body of her daughter, who disappeared while playing outside a
relative's home in Khon Kaen three years ago. "At first, the mother was
unable to do anything because a member of the gang was standing watch,"
district police chief Praveen Pongsirin said yesterday.
"She told the gang member she felt sorry for the girl, and was going to
take her off to buy her some clothes. Then she ran to the police station
with the girl, saying she believed it was her lost daughter."
Three small scars on the child's head, leg and arm confirmed her identity.
Praveen said police had arrested seven gang members, including five
Cambodian women and two Thai men.
Another four children had been rescued and police were searching for their
parents. The police chief said the children had all been kidnapped from
Northeastern provinces.
The gang first set to work erasing the children's identities. They were
taught to speak Khmer and given amphetamines.
The children spent a few months at various tourist spots throughout
Thailand, moving to new locations when the beggars became too well-known in
one resort and lost their "tourist appeal".
A still distraught but relieved Huad said yesterday she was shocked that
Kesorn could speak so little Thai.
"We communicate rather awkwardly because my daughter can speak only
Cambodian," Huad said. The girl was badly undernourished and addicted to
drugs, she added.
Since their reunion, the girl has not left her mother's side, fearful she
might "disappear" again.
Huad yesterday appealed to state agencies to provide financial assistance
as the little money she makes is sent to her other children. She said
Kesorn would need to go to school, not just for general education but to
learn to speak Thai again.
"I would like to go to school," Kesorn said hesitantly in broken Thai after
listening to her mother's plea. "I want to work to support my mother. It
might be tough, but I will do it."
Several agencies yesterday promised to assist the family, including the
Children Protection Foundation and the Public Welfare Department's Phuket
office.
Praveen also said yesterday that some gang members had admitted abducting
children from the Northeast and smuggling them to Cambodia.
"The gang initially lied to Thai authorities, saying the children's parents
were Cambodians badly wounded by landmines. They said the children had no
choice but to become beggars in Thailand to pay for their parents' medical
treatments," he said.

The Nation, agencies.
(c) 2000 Nation Multimedia Group Public Co., Ltd.
THE NATION (BANGKOK) 21/12/2000
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