One of the nicest aspects of living in Thailand is the way in which it embraces its children and families. Bangkok offers an impressive array of activities for children from Dusit Zoo to iceskating, from Lumpini Park to the Aquarium but they are only accessed by a small minority of Thailand's children.
Children's Day is a lovely idea and everywhere seems to celebrate it. Our local 'moo baan' shopping mall had a bouncy castle and free face painting, the local supermarket gave away freebies such as milk to passing children. All over Bangkok, there were events large and small in honour of Children's Day.
Coming from the UK and dealing with strict child protection laws, I have always felt uneasy about the constant picture taking of my child. We were in Rayong last April and the beach was empty except for a few local people, suddenly I looked up and my two year old had vanished. I panicked, calling his name and seconds later he comes running out from behind a palm tree where a lady was taking his picture. The language barrier meant no remonstration was possible but also the cultural barrier meant my concerns would be also lost.
Thailand may have an official Children's Day in the calendar but it still remains high on the list of United Nations transit hubs for trafficked children. In 2010, the Thai Government acknowledged 'weak inter-agency cooperation' and promised to do more in its second six-year strategy against human trafficking. The numbers of children exploited for labour and sexual purposes is rising, one reason may be Thailand's geographical position but also its relative wealth compared to its neighbours. Thailand is easily accessed from Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar making cross-boarder trafficking easy. It's easy to say Thailand must do more, but how?
Training is needed for the agencies working at ground level and with UNICEF estimating that as many as 50% of all trafficking victims worldwide are children and that as many as two thirds of those children are at some point forced into the sex trade. Thailand could be at the forefront, leading in child protection and anti-trafficking measures in ASEAN.
According to UNICEF, two children are SOLD every minute and not just by strangers but also family members. Lisa Rende Taylor, chief technical advisor for UNIAP (United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking) for Southeast Asia, said "children are being rented or sold by their families or guardians, and then controlled in order to make money for someone, and whether or not permission was granted, these children are victims of trafficking" . Most of the street beggars and flower sellers are Cambodian or Burmese children, you don't have to walk very far in Bangkok or the busier resorts to see trafficked children.
I am under no illusions, child trafficking isn't just the domain of SE Asia, it happens all over the world and in the UK too. Thailand has a respect for its children and unlike the UK, Thai children enjoy a special status within society. But this status cannot just be attached to the minority, it must be applied to all children.
Thailand can use Children's Day in two ways, not only as a celebration of its children but also to raise awareness of trafficking. Child Protection policies need to be implemented in all government departments across education, health and law enforcement agencies to identify children who are victims of exploitation.