Statistics, both official and from relief organisations, reflect the widespread activities of vicious human-trafficking rings in this region and the countries most involved in their operations.
They list Vietnam as the biggest source in the Mekong region as a transit point and destination for human trafficking, both for sex and labour exploitation.
More than 500,000 Vietnamese work in foreign countries and some 180,000 Laotians work illegally in Thailand, according to the Thai government.
World Vision says 44 per cent of Laotian families have no idea where their children go to for work. Of those who return home, 13 per cent claimed they were raped.
Singapore – one of many destinations for human traffickers – has no effective anti-human-trafficking laws.
Few Malaysians are trafficked to countries such as Singapore, China and Japan, but trafficking of foreigners within Malaysia is rife.
Human-trafficking sources reported there are more than 100,000 immigrants working in the Thai fishing industry. Job placement agencies estimate that illegal workers generate more than Bt50 billion in revenue for the sector.
Migrant workers have left their countries either voluntarily or by being duped to escape a life without hope. Many decided to leave home in quest of a better future, meaning a more comfortable and successful life, often described as possessing as many materials as friends or others do.
For instance, Ni, a 20-year-old Laotian woman, recalled how she started life in Thailand as a domestic maid and ended up as a prostitute at a karaoke shop in a central province of Thailand.
She said she paid Bt30,000 to an agency in Sawannaket province of Laos to work as a maid in Bangkok tending to children for a monthly salary of Bt5,000, but her life was a misery. “I had to send money home every month and had only B500 left for my own upkeep. Work was awfully exhausting so I called up my friend,” she said.
The friend led her to work as a waitress in a Nonthaburi restaurant at the same salary as a maid, but she got lots of tips from clients. “Life was a bit better because what I had to do was just dress up and talk to customers and I had to learn to drink liquor,” she said.
Ni’s earnings could not match her spending after having lived beyond her means. Clothes, mobile phones, even plastic surgery plunged her deep into debt. When she could not send money home, she decided to enter the sex industry.
“In the beginning having sex with five men per day was an ordeal. I needed drugs and alcohol to give me the guts,” she said.
She receives about Bt800 from each client she sleeps with, which means over Bt4,000 per day, excluding what the shop earns.
While Ni may be endangering her life by exposing herself to risk of contracting Aids, Molui Sengko, a 20-year-old Burmese, risks being killed and dumped into the sea working in the fishing industry.
He was duped by an agency that promised him a construction job in Thailand. After having paid them Bt15,000, he was forced to work for nine months on a fishing boat before being rescued by police.
“I and 13 others thought we would never have the chance to see land again. Life in the boat was a living hell. We were beaten to work non-stop. No time even to eat. They threatened to throw us into the sea if we stopped working,” he said.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is opening a battlefront against human traffickers in the Mekong region.
In Thailand, the UNODC signed an agreement with the Central Investigation Bureau to suppress sexual-related crimes before the Asean Economic Community takes effect in 2015.
The UNODC has supported the Thai police to adopt the concept of community policing, which has proved a |success.