No Quick Fix

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    Post by: Annette Lyth, Regional Project Manager of UN-ACT:

    Human trafficking in Thailand has been under the media spotlight in recent months, not least due to the US State Department’s global report on trafficking in persons, in which Thailand was downgraded from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3. The low ranking in the report means that Thailand ranks among the countries judged to do the least against trafficking and that consequently risk some sanctions from the US Government. Although it is positive that more attention is paid to this horrendous abuse of human rights, there is also a concern that the discussion in light of the US State Department report is too simplified in the quest for quick fixes until the publication of the next report.

    Human trafficking in Thailand and the broader region is a highly complex problem. It cannot be fixed with a sweep of a magic wand. Thailand is affected as a source, transit and destination country for trafficking victims. It sees different types and patterns of trafficking of men, women, boys and girls for sexual exploitation and forced labour. It is important to recognize the differences between the many cases and types of trafficking that exist in this complex setting. Thai citizens are being trafficked in different patterns of exploitation to countries in Europe, the Middle East and the US, as well as other East Asian destinations, while citizens from neighboring countries are trafficked into Thailand.

    Trafficking in the fishing industry (in particular onto fishing boats) has been increasingly under the spotlight in Thailand and is a phenomenon with highly complex dynamics. The reliance on migrant workers with little information about or access to safe migration channels is compounded by environmental issues, such as the depletion of fish stocks in the Gulf of Thailand, which compel fishing boats to go further out to sea for longer periods. Trafficking of women for sexual exploitation is linked to gender discrimination and traditions that assign women a lower social status in society and give men a sense of entitlement. Children are trafficked for begging and selling flowers due to poverty, which forces families to give up their children, or when parents are led to believe that they will secure a better future for their children by letting them go with a broker. All of these patterns are complicated by inadequate and unequal enforcement of the law and governance, requiring policy and operational responses at different levels.

    Hence, there is no one single quick fix to human trafficking, no magic wand that can stop all kinds of human trafficking in one sweep. As Thailand takes measures to erase human trafficking both of its own citizens and of foreign citizens on its soil, these efforts must be based on a longer term vision that addresses the root causes of the different types of trafficking that occur here. It is also important that development and industry partners refrain from knee-jerk reactions demanding quick fixes in the short-term that do not take account of the complex structural problems that contribute to human trafficking. More genuine efforts that are effective in the longer term are more important than the Tier ranking in the next TIP report from the US State Department.

    Jeevan Austin

    We face similar challenges while tackling trafficking in India. One major challenge that we face is the lack of coordination – amongst stakeholders – especially amongst government departments (and also amongst international organisations). Often it is the case that government departments try to shift responsibility to one another. Wonder whether UN-ACTs/UNIAPs experience with governments has been the same in the GMS region.


    Dear Jeevan,

    Thanks for your important comment! Strategic coordination and cooperation, both within governments but also amongst other key stakeholders, often remains challenging in our region as well, and it is in fact partly for this reason that UN-ACT was established earlier this year.

    However, there are some promising examples to be reported as well. The COMMIT Process, or the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Trafficking, is an attempt by the six Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) countries (Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand Vietnam) to jointly counter human trafficking in the GMS. In each country, there are so-called national COMMIT Taskforces bringing together all governmental and state institutions working on human trafficking for a coordinated approach to their commitments in the COMMIT framework. Representatives of these also meet at the regional level to report on progress made and make decisions about the direction of COMMIT. UN-ACT serves the Process as its Secretariat. It’s not without challenges, but a promising example of institutionalized cooperation between governments and increasingly also other stakeholders.

    In addition, UN-ACT itself provides for a coordinated approach to combatting human trafficking, as the name suggests: UN Action for Cooperation against Trafficking in Persons. At country level, our offices are actively involved in human trafficking and related working groups, which depending on the country context may involve both governmental and non-governmental stakeholders. At the regional level, we have an active regional network amongst partners working in the GMS and/or Southeast Asia to update on and coordinate our activities. UN-ACT, as the Secretariat to the COMMIT Process, also supports international organizations, UN agencies and civil society stakeholders in playing a more active role in COMMIT. Going forward, current plans include joint COMMIT work planning exercises, with all contributions captured that support the COMMIT Process in meeting its objectives as set out at the regional level.

    We hope you find this of interest. Thanks again for engaging so actively here and on our Facebook page. We of course also still remember you from your time with our Lao Office under the predecessor project, UNIAP. It’s great to see that you have continued your anti-trafficking efforts in India, and that you bring stakeholders in South and Southeast Asia together.

    All the best from UN-ACT!

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