There are an estimated 610,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Thailand (GSI 2018). The country is a source, destination and transit country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. Thailand’s commercial sex indusrty remains vast, increasing vulnerabilities for sex trafficking. Children are victims of sex trafficking in brothels, massage parlours, bars, karaoke lounges, hotels and private residences. People are trafficked from other Southeast Asian countries, Sri Lanka, Russia, Uzbekistan and some African countries. It is also a transit country for people from China, North Korea, Bangladesh, India and Burma.
Ram ran away from an abusive home and was forced to live on the streets. One day while stealing food from a local market, Ram was kidnapped by a street gang. Ram was forced to steal from tourists during the day and at night was sold for sex to older men. Ram’s exploitation finally came to an end when his trafficker was arrested.
My name is Ram*. I am 11 years old. I come from Sisaket - north from here. I don’t remember my mother. They told me she died when I was a baby. My father went to Bangkok looking for work when I was about seven, I think. He never came back. I lived with my uncle, but he was often angry and beat me. And there wasn’t much to eat. There was always an ache deep inside without enough rice. One day, when I was nine, my uncle beat me badly. He did not want me near, and so I left that place.
I followed the train tracks to the city with some other boys I met along the way. It made me feel safe to travel with them. Preecha* is 13 and Chati* is 14. We are like brothers now. We would steal food from the market together when we were hungry. Then sometimes we would laugh and play games in the streets near the train station because our stomachs weren’t empty. Most nights, we slept on the streets near the train station; it’s where a lot of other boys like us slept. It was cold sometimes, but we were used to it.
One day, it was my turn to grab some street food and run. I was the best at it because I am the smallest and the vendors don’t pay me much attention like some of the taller boys. I grabbed two handfuls of fruit and some grilled pork sticks and ran as fast as I could out of the market and toward the alley, but this time there were men standing around the corner of the entrance and one grabbed me. It was a street gang I had seen before and the one we were always careful to stay away from. We had heard about a boy named Somboon that they hurt. He fought them and they broke his leg and cut him with their knives. Still, I kicked and tried to fight the man, but there were others nearby and they drew in closer. Some were laughing. Some just stared at me in a way that scared me. The man held on tight to me and jerked my arm hard behind my back. Another got close to my face with his knife and said he would hurt me if I fought. His name was Yut*.
That’s how it started.
I had to stay with them or they would hurt me. There were other boys like me. Some were the same ages as Preecha and Chati. After a few days, they caught Preecha and Chati, too. We didn’t laugh anymore. We had to do whatever the gang said, especially Yut - and if we did, they would give us a little food and wouldn’t beat us. During the day, we stole from the tourists when they were taking pictures. Some of the older boys like Chati sold drugs to tourists, too. And they often took us to a hotel late at night where older men were waiting. These men came from other countries. They asked for “the fresh ones” and paid a little money for time with us.
But I will not tell you about that.
I hated these men. I hated these nights.
One night, Yut came to me on the street and told me we were going to the hotel. I stood still and did not look at him. But then he drew out his knife, and so I began to walk. It was like walking to a kind of death.
These nights made me want death. I wondered if the knife might be better. I bit my lip hard thinking of the pain of the knife and tasted blood.
We entered the hotel, and I stared at my feet. There were other boys already there waiting, including Preecha and Chati. Some foreign men were walking around them. I did not want to see their faces. The men were laughing and joking in what sounded like English. One loud one came near to me and touched my face. I felt sick. He opened his wallet and gave ***600 baht to Yut. And then Yut handed a small part of it to the hotel manager who gave him a key.
Yut led us to a hotel room. He began to put the key in the door but we all startled at the sound of many voices in the lobby below. The voices were loud, angry, panicked. It was the police.
I got sick all over the front of my t-shirt.
I was frozen in fear. Yut and the man near me said words that sounded like curses. They tried to turn away, but the men in uniforms were right there, arms grabbing them.
There was a woman in uniform, too. She told me, “You are not in trouble. It’s okay.” I was sure I would get into trouble for all the things I did.
The police handcuffed Yut and the man. I couldn’t look them in the eyes.
The woman guided me to the police car, gave me a bottle of water, and waited with me as one by one, other boys were brought out to sit with us. She kept telling us that we were safe now and explained that what Yut and the men did to us was wrong and illegal. She gently asked questions about us and about the things they did. I tried to not tell her everything. I still wasn’t sure I wouldn’t get into trouble. I saw Preecha and Chati get into a car beside us, and they waited with the other woman as more boys were led out of the hotel.
The woman said I was safe, but I couldn’t remember a time when that was true. I was still scared, but I nodded my head like I agreed.
And maybe I did a little.
They were taking us away from Yut and those men, and that was good.