PHAYAO : Human trafficking remains rampant in the upper North, where people smugglers are evolving their methods to evade authorities and lure young women into the sex trade, activists say.
Supanat Uthaisri, a volunteer at the Foundation of Child Understanding, said he has worked on anti-human trafficking campaigns in the region for a decade and has seen no evidence of a decline in people smuggling.
On the contrary, he said the problem has worsened as traffickers use more sophisticated smuggling methods.
People are being smuggled for use in various illegal trades including prostitution, pornography, forced labour and the organ trade.
He cited sexual-oriented "massage" services as a business that was attracting a high number of human trafficking victims, particularly teenage girls.
The service is known in Thai as nuad kapoo and involves naked female teenagers who use their bodies and hands to sexually stimulate their clients.
He said the service was originally offered in Chiang Mai but has now spread to other provinces in the upper North.
The young women can earn 10,000-50,000 baht per month depending on how much they work.
Mr Supanat said economic problems and materialism attract teenage women to the illicit business while their employers are cashing in on the human trade.
Empowerment of local communities, particularly in more remote provinces, would help combat the trade, he said.
Community empowerment campaigns have successfully stymied the flow of young girls into the sex trade in the northern province of Phayao, he said.
Ranee Wongprachuaplarp, the chief of social development and human security affairs in Phayao, said there had been only one case in the province of a Myanmar girl being lured into working in the sex industry.
That was in 2003, and there have been no similar human-trafficking cases there since, she said.
Ms Ranee said social development and human security officials and staff from non-governmental organisations have joined forces to protect young girls in the province from being lured into prostitution.
Their campaigns focus on encouraging locals to watch out for procurers.
Twenty community-based anti-human trafficking centres have been established in the province to protect local girls. There are plans to extend those facilities to cover all 68 tambons.
Tawatwat Prompao, vice-president of the Phayao provincial administration organisation, said anti-human trafficking campaigns emphasised community empowerment because locals knew when strangers arrived at their villages.
As communities are naturally concerned about the well-being of their youth, they can be persuaded to protect the young from being lured into the sex trade, he said.
Charoensri Chaikhat, head of the Phayao Women's Network, said working groups were campaigning against human trafficking. They comprise government officials and representatives of non-governmental organisations and communities, and are targeting people who are potential victims of human trafficking.
Chin Jaiyen, vice-chairwoman of the women's network, said her organisation had foiled a wedding between a South Korean man and a young Thai woman in Pong district of Phayao.
The group was suspicious because the man planned to take the girl to South Korea immediately after the wedding, she said.
When members of the network convinced the girl's parents to tell the man to stay in the village for a certain period, the man abandoned his marriage plans and fled.
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- Writer: Saiarun Pinaduang