Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
There are more than 3.5 million migrants living in Thailand, according to International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates. Most of these migrants have entered the country illegally, and remain illegal migrants due to Thailand’s inconsistent policies of work permit registration. Some migrants have registered with the Thai government, only to be subject to exorbitant broker fees in exchange for minimal benefits. Work permit renewal figures are plummeting, and more migrants choose to remain invisible.
Even more invisible than unregistered migrants are their children. Most migrant registration programs are limited to working-age adults, despite an ever growing population of some 377,000 migrants under 18 years old. Young migrants are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking and labor abuse. Despite Thai law prohibiting employment of children below 15 years of age, many migrant children are found working in small factories. Some children work from 3am to 9pm, peeling shrimp and getting paid by weight, 5-8 baht (16-26 US cents) per kilogram. Some young workers say they are locked up in the factory until work is finished, or threatened with rape if they slow down. According to a 2010 statement by Human Rights Watch, many Thai employers give monthly payments to law enforcement officials in order to employ underage or illegal workers.
Despite the growing contribution of migrants to Thailand’s labor intensive industries, there is still widespread discrimination in public sentiment and practices. According the 2010 ILO survey, most Thais (78 percent) believe that migrants commit a high number of crimes and most Thais (84 percent) believe that unauthorized migrants have broken the law and should not expect to have any rights at work. In 2005, due to pressure from Thai and international human rights organizations, the Thai government issued a policy allowing migrant children to attend Thai public schools regardless of their legal status. This policy remains largely unenforced. Many school administrators claim that migrant children will pull down the average test score and increase the average drop-out rate, resulting in negative repercussions from the Ministry of Education. Other school administrators lack support from local governments, which indirectly limit enrollment figures by controlling budget allocation for school lunch programs. Most importantly, many Thai parents do not want their children studying alongside migrant children.
As a result, migrant children remain in the work force, uneducated. They become the next generation of unskilled labor, subject to low wages and poor working conditions. This vicious cycle continues as migrant families move across Thailand to seek employment.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Sompong Srakaew is working to ending the vicious cycle of human trafficking and labor abuse faced by children of low-wage migrant workers. Believing that discrimination and marginalization are the root causes of labor exploitation, Sompong is dissolving discriminatory attitudes by integrating formerly isolated and vulnerable migrant children into Thai public schools. He is building new alliances for the advancement of migrant children’s education with school administrators, parents, government officials and, most importantly, employers in industries with poor labor practices. Sompong is developing replicable models of bilingual classrooms to ease the transition for migrant children, in addition to building mutual trust between local residents and migrants through youth camps and parent workshops. He has set up a network of community watchdog volunteers, from both migrant and local Thai communities, who report incidents of labor abuse to Sompong’s organization. Sompong is not only collaborating with law enforcement officials in prosecuting and drawing public attention to abusive labor practices, but he is also engaging turning previously exploitative private industries that most rely on migrant labor into allies in funding educational opportunities and community integration activities for migrant children.