Cops identify high-risk sex trade zones

Cops identify high-risk sex trade zones

Human trafficking crackdown sped up

Police have accelerated their plan to fight human trafficking and child prostitution after several high-profile cases have drawn attention to the sex trade in Thailand.

Stories that have made headlines recently include police investigations into prostitution in Mae Hong Son and Nakhon Ratchasima, and the recent arrest of a number of Thai women for engaging in the sex trade in the United States.

National police chief Chakthip Chaijinda has consulted with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on provincial zoning and will take action based on the "level of severity", officials said.

Police have mapped the nation into colour-coded zones to identify where the sex trade is most rampant so they can monitor it closely and take appropriate steps, they said. Each province has been coded red (high risk), yellow (moderate) or green (low risk), they added.

Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division (ATPD) commander Kornchai Klaiklueng said the zoning was done according to statistics showing the number of cases involving illegal migrant workers and the sex trade. Many border provinces where illegal aliens are rife fall into the yellow zone, he said.

The nation was demoted to Tier 3 in the US Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report in 2014, the lowest rank, but was upgraded to "Tier 2 Watch List" in the four-tier grading system last year due in no small part to the efforts of the ATPD.

But the latest crackdowns on teen-sex-trafficking syndicates in northern Thailand, as well as the US indictment of dozens of people in connection with the sex trade involving hundreds of Thai women, has set alarm bells ringing.

In one of the cases, the mother of a 17-year-old girl -- one of the victims allegedly forced into the Mae Hong Son flesh trade -- lodged a complaint with Provincial Police Region 5, accusing several high-ranking state officials of being involved in the racket.

In the Nakhon Ratchasima case, the ATPD last month rescued four minors lured into prostitution by a sex ring that advertised using its own Facebook page.

According to police, two 15-year-old girls were also arrested during the operation as they were acting as brokers.

In the US case, acting US Attorney Gregory Brooker said last month a total of 38 people have been indicted for working with a sex-trafficking ring which forced Thai women into sexual slavery. Charges were filed against them at a federal court in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Pol Maj Gen Kornchai said the government is now stepping up its crackdown on the child sex trade.

Gen Prayut instructed police via his deputy, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, that efforts must be ramped up to thwart this illicit business, said Pol Maj Gen Kornchai.

He said the concept of human trafficking is defined differently in each country but in Thailand it refers to women aged 18 or younger who are forced into the sex trade.

The red zone covers 16 provinces – Bangkok, Samut Prakan, Pathum Thani, Chachoengsao, Rayong, Chon Buri, Nong Khai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Sakon Nakhon, Udon Thani, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Samut Sakhon, Nakhon Pathom, Phuket and Songkhla.

The yellow zone concerns 36 provinces, including Nonthaburi, Ayutthaya, Saraburi, Surin, Buri Ram, Tak, Ranong, Surat Thani and Phitsanulok. The other 25 provinces fall into the green zone.

Pol Maj Gen Kornchai said the ATPD has five approaches to prevent and thwart human trafficking: carrying out on-site visits, labour checks, investigations, searches and arrests.

Officers will start by surveying factories in 22 seaside provinces as well as ports and fishing boats, he said. Support is needed from at least four ministries as police resources are stretched, he added.

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