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Helping survivors of human trafficking in Thailand
Manawi was born in Burma. At aged five, she was taken to China to live with her older brother and work as a maid in his household. When she turned nine, her brother took her to Thailand to work in a straw-making factory.
Having received an advance on her paycheck, her brother left her at the factory and never returned. During the three years that she worked in the factory, she worked more than 17 hours per day. She was not allowed to attend school and never received any wages.
A global evil
Human trafficking cases like this one occur in every corner of the world.ii
In 2017, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation, in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released research resultsiii asserting that:
Forced labor occurs in sectors such as domestic work, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, fishing, and commercial sexual exploitation.
Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, often called the ‘Palermo Protocol’, defines trafficking in persons as:
The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.iv
Prevention and aftercare
In the case described above, Manaw was an underage child who was a survivor of forced labor. This work damaged her developmental health because she was denied the right to attend school and the nurturing environment of a safe family.
She was threatened that, if she ran away, the police would arrest her for living and working in Thailand without citizenship or legal documentation.
Yet at twelve years old, she was able to summon the courage to escape. She requested assistance from a local shop owner who took her to the police station.
Manaw was placed in a government shelter for a few months while her case was investigated and was subsequently referred to the New Life Center Foundation (NLCF) for aftercare.
The NLCF is a legally registered non-governmental organization in northern Thailand that was founded in 1987 by missionaries serving with International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches.
The NLCF serves hilltribe minority girls and young women who are at high risk for or survivors of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and human trafficking.
The organization provides comprehensive residential care, education, life-skills training, and therapeutic services for an average of 70 residential students. Additionally, over 200 non-residential students receive university scholarships, mentoring, and case management.
The NLCF also conducts prevention campaigns throughout the region to educate rural tribal villagers about human trafficking, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. Students conduct campaigns in their own minority languages using drama, music, and dance.
Drawing from over 30 years of grass-roots experience, the NLCF has gained a unique perspective that informs how we provide aftercare services for survivors of trafficking and other kinds of trauma.
The recommendations below are offered with the humble recognition that our experience emerges from a particular context. The reader is encouraged to consider how these principles may be adapted to fit other ministry contexts.
Cross-cultural collaboration as an asset
If you serve in a cross-cultural setting, it is important to work collaboratively with locals from the people group you are serving. At the New Life Center, one of our greatest resources is the broad multicultural blend of our stakeholders:
Tribal staff work collaboratively with the Royal Thai Police, schools, and government social workers to advise on policy issues, advocate for citizenship rights and provide interpretation.
Traditions are valued and respected, and we are also open to experiment with new ways of doing things. All communication takes place in the Thai language, which is the primary language of the country in which we live.
Cross-cultural conversation requires an extra measure of patience and grace, but it also creates a dynamic and effective work environment.
Responsiveness and flexibility
Organizational programming should never become rigid and policy-driven. Each survivor has distinctive needs, interests, and abilities. Beneficiaries should have a forum to express their desires and frustration. Reasonable accommodation should be made to respond to each person as an individual.
For example, the New Life Center received a referral of a girl who was part of a street gang and had been forced to sell her body as part of her gang membership. She had a weak internal locus of control and expressed her anger by becoming violent toward other residents.
After some discussion, staff learned that she wanted to learn how to play the drums. Drum lessons were offered as a reward for controlling her aggressive behavior towards others and gave the child an appropriate venue for releasing pent-up emotions.
Local staff also bring particular skills and gifts and should be encouraged to use them to benefit the organization. An open flow of information should be encouraged across the organizational chart.
Sometimes responding to a new opportunity requires administration to practice flexibility and creative thinking:
The organization exists for the beneficiaries, not for the staff who may prefer to continue familiar programming.
Integration with the surrounding community
One of the key tasks for survivors of trauma is building resilience. This occurs through the establishment of inner and outer resources:
Social competence is developed within the context of community systems; so isolating survivors in an effort to shelter them from danger can actually be more damaging than allowing them to experience the moderate challenges of normal daily life.
In order to achieve integration with the community, organizational programming should make every effort to take advantage of appropriate community resources such as public schools, libraries, vocational training programs, churches and sports activities.
Beneficiaries must become competent to live in the real world after they leave the program. The best way to achieve that is to support and enable them to do so while they are under the care of your program.
Additionally, local schools and training programs provide accredited diplomas and licensures that in-house programs may not. Such locally recognized accreditation makes beneficiaries more employable in the future.
Relying on local resources also reflects good stewardship of organizational funding and benefits the community, as tuition, tithing and membership fees are channeled to local organizations. Being a good neighbor enables us to build relational bridges that, in turn, allow us to shine the light of Jesus Christ in our community.
Family matters, even if less than ideal
If reintegration with family is possible, every effort should be made to achieve it:
Often, survivors of trauma come from troubled family backgrounds. They may have endured abuse or neglect by family members and have mixed feelings about them.
However, it is important to recognize that family dynamics can improve with training and support from effective social workers. People need their families, even if they are complex and imperfect.
At the New Life Center, residents who have parents and guardians are encouraged to bring at least one family member to an annual orientation at the beginning of the school year.
During this orientation, staff emphasize that the family continues to play an important role in the life of the beneficiary. Children and parents are invited to express their expectations and hopes for one another.
During orientation, the senior social worker also educates family members about Thai laws regarding child rights, abuse, and domestic violence. Improving family health goes a long way toward protecting communities from traffickers.
Programming driven by vision, not donor priorities
Every organization should have a clearly stated vision, mission, and values that guide its work. All staff should understand the vision, mission, and values and be able to state them in their own words. You and the staff with whom you work know the needs of your beneficiaries better than donors do.
Therefore, it is not helpful to create a program simply because a particular donor wishes to fund it. The organization should seek funding and educate donors based on beneficiaries’ expressed needs.
Working with survivors of trauma is not easy, but it is purposeful and rewarding. Evangelical Christians should be at the forefront of providing quality aftercare for survivors of trafficking and trauma:
The Scriptures tell us that God has a particular concern for suffering and marginalized people. The prophet Zechariah wrote: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor”’ (Zech 7:9-10a, NIV).
As we invest in the healing and restoration of survivors, we reflect the compassionate nature of God and offer a glimpse into that coming kingdom in which all will be made well.
Rev Catherine ‘Kit’ Ripley has served as program advisor at the New Life Center Foundation in northern Thailand for the last 15 years. She does administration, guest relations, spiritual formation, and therapeutic art.
She is a missionary with International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches USA. Kit received her Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.
This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis and is published here with permission as part of the LGA Media Partnership. Learn more about this flagship publication from the Lausanne Movement at www.lausanne.org/lga
i A pseudonym is used to protect the confidentiality of the survivor.
ii Editor’s Note: See article by Abraham (Abey) George entitled, ‘Human Trafficking and the Response of the Global Church’, in January 2014 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2014-01/human-trafficking-and-the-response-of-the-global-church
iii Global estimates of modern slavery: Forced labor and forced marriage (Geneva: International Labor Organization, Walk Free Foundation and International Organization for Migration, 2017) http://www.alliance87.org/global_estimates_of_modern_slavery-forced_labour_and_forced_marriage.pdf
iv United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols Thereto. (New York: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2004) https://www.unodc.org/documents/treaties/UNTOC/Publications/TOC%20Convention/TOCebook-e.pdf.