BANGKOK • A new report on the human trafficking situation in Thailand has identified some emerging areas of concern: the use of coerced labour in illegal logging and the trafficking of children for sexual exploitation in webcam sex shows.
The report, made public by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Thailand Institute of Justice yesterday, details the conditions under which people from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are trafficked in Thailand.
The kingdom, Asean's second largest economy, is a transit point as well as destination for people who are smuggled or trafficked into illicit or labour-intensive industries like the fisheries sector.
It hosts an estimated four million migrants, the majority of whom enter from neighbouring countries through informal channels.
While the military government has tried to deter illegal migrants and clean up its fishing industry, Thailand remains on the Tier 2 watch list in the United States' annual report on human trafficking as a country that does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so.
"This is a very low-risk crime compared with other crimes because very little investigation crosses borders," the UNODC's regional representative Jeremy Douglas told The Straits Times.
"We need to have an investigative task force that can work within and across multiple countries at the same time."
The report discusses the economic pressures that compel men, women and children to sign up to be smuggled into Thailand to find work at its construction sites, factories, brothels and even on the streets as beggars, making them vulnerable to criminal networks.
But it also warned of the potential threat from criminals live-streaming sexual abuse of trafficked children on the Internet for paedophiles across the world.
With the Philippines clamping down on this scourge and demand outstripping supply, criminals are eyeing other parts of the region, Mr Douglas said.
A Thai court in July this year sentenced three-star army general Manas Kongpan to 27 years in prison in the country's largest human trafficking trial stemming from a case involving Myanmar's Rohingya migrants.
Of the 103 defendants - including policemen and provincial politicians - 62 were convicted and sentenced to up to 94 years in prison.
But migrant-worker advocates say Thailand is still struggling to put in place a proper system that protects these labourers from exploitation and extortion.
On June 23, the government enacted an executive decree that threatened migrants working without a permit with up to five years' jail and a fine of 2,000 baht (S$82) to 100,000 baht.
Employers, meanwhile, stood to be fined up to 800,000 baht for each undocumented migrant worker they hired.
According to figures from the International Organisation for Migration, more than 55,000 migrants crossed back to Myanmar and Cambodia within two weeks.
Under fire from employers, the government suspended enforcement for 180 days and opened a two-week window for undocumented migrants to register.
At the close of registration on Monday, only about 770,000 - out of well over a million undocumented workers - had signed up.
On paper, an official migrant labourer would be entitled to healthcare and social security, but obtaining documents like passports and work permits remains too expensive for many, explains the UNODC report.
Labour migration for Cambodians, for example, can cost between 20,000 baht and 25,000 baht through official channels, but merely 2,500 baht to 3,000 baht through informal channels.
"States need to actively promote safe migration and deter the use of irregular migration," the report said.