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Thailand tackles sexual slavery

From CNN Bangkok Bureau Chief Tom Mintier

With few social safety nets, many poor Thai youngsters find themselves falling into prostitution.
With few social safety nets, many poor Thai youngsters find themselves falling into prostitution.

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Thousands of Thai children are sold into prostitution and slavery.
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Organized Crime

BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- A ten-year-old little girl is among the many victims of sexual slavery here in Thailand.

She was sold into the sex trade by her father.

"They locked me inside a room with a padlock on the door," she said. "When customers arrived, I was sent out."

Now she has a new life -- as a schoolgirl living in a protected environment. But her innocence is lost forever.

Another girl was locked up in a brothel for three years and forced to have sex with more than 20 men each day.

Her mother told CNN that she sold her daughter into slavery for $200, thinking she would work as a maid in Bangkok.

Prostitution is against the law in Thailand but, as in many countries, the law is not enforced.

Sompop Jantraka, who runs a rescue center for children in northern Thailand, says the law could hardly protect the young girls and boys who are at risk of falling prey to a life of prostitution.

"The law is the law, but when the people practice, they don't use the law," he said.

"I have to tell you the truth. Corruption is everywhere. Thai society has had a problem of corruption for a long time."

Thailand's current Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has declared war not only against drugs but corruption and corrupt officials.

He has ordered police to crack down hard, no matter who is involved or how high in society they are placed.

In his speech before the United Nations, U.S. President George W. Bush promised $50 million to assist those who are helping to protect children.

"Those who create these victims, and profit from their suffering, must be severely punished," Bush said.

"Those who patronize this industry debase themselves and deepen the misery of others."

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the United Nation's special representative of the Secretary General on violence against women, says the U.S. president's comments would help, but most organized crime elements come after the trafficking begins.

"The tragedy of trafficking is that the actual recruitment is often by family members, friends . . . then they are sold to brothels run by organized crime," She said.

"But the actual recruitment procedure is not, as I said, abduction. It's by trust."

That trust may be an older sister or an aunt already working in a brothel.

For many girls and boys the funds and the concern come too late. Their lives are already ruined.

At the Child Protection Foundation Center in Bangkok, staff members attempt to repair the damage already inflicted on the children. Some, they say, volunteer to work in the sex trade -- to make money.

Montri Sintavinchai from the Center says even educated children want to be trendy.

"[They] want to have more money. They don't think about being a victim."

Shining the spotlight on human trafficking may be a double-edged sword according to one U.N. official.

There is a fear that any crackdown will result in the enslaved being put in jail, instead of the enslavers.

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