At an age when we would regard them as still being children, over a thousand young girls from northern Thailand are being lured every year into prostitution. Girls as young as 10 are being sold to the brothels of Bangkok, other Thai cities and overseas. In some places as many as 90 percent of girls have left their village to work.
They come from families in the "Golden Triangle" area trapped in a cycle of poverty and debt. Their parents are subsistence farmers or landless villagers with few work opportunities, and their traditional lifestyle and values are being constantly eroded by the influx of consumer goods.
Faced with these pressures parents come to view their daughters as commodities that can be traded. Brothel owners have networks of agents combing the villages seeking out troubled families with daughters, who move in with tempting offers of money. So begins a cycle in which relatives, village headmen, police, government officials and business people all benefit from the girl's labour.
Once sold or coerced, the girls find it difficult to escape prostitution and the reality is usually very different from what they have been promised. Many believe they are going to work as housemaids, in beauty salons, bars or in other fields of entertainment but instead find themselves imprisoned in damp, dirty, over-crowded conditions. These children are often abused by clients or pimps and face the ever present danger of contracting HIV, which is epidemic in Thailand.
The Daughters Education Programme was begun in 1989 by its present director Sompop Jantraka. It was conceived as a community-based initiative aimed at preventing girls being forced into the sex industry .
Today, this programme has become Development and Education Programme for Daughters and Communities, assisting 400 girls and their families. Its headquarters are in Mae Sai, the northernmost town in Thailand, with other centres spread across Chiang Rai. From these bases staff work among Akha and other hill tribe groups and lowland villages.
DEPDC offers young women from eight to 18 years old an alternative to prostitution by providing them with education, job training and help in finding work. It considers education and training to be the key to providing opportunities and allowing these girls to reach their full potential.
DEPDC currently runs various programs supporting, educating and empowering young women and their communities against the tragedy of child prostitution and risks of HIV infection. DEPDC operates on the belief that through the financial and moral support of young women to remain in school or to be trained for alternative employment the material and spiritual quality of their lives and of their communities can be improved.
Grass roots activity like this is the only way children trafficking can be stopped in Thailand. Forced child labour and the socio-economic problems of the "have- nots" of our world are problems for all nations to act on.
At DEPDC we urge all people around the world to aid the empowerment of those vulnerable to exploitation.
The Development and Education Ptogramme for daughters and Communities is currently conducting the following projects. All projects are aimed at preventing children and young women from being coerced into the child sex trade.
Support of 300 girls to attend primary and secondary school in six districts of Chiang Rai province. All have been identified as veing at risk of entering prostitution or enfored child labour. Most live at home but attend extra- curricular activities at the DEP Centres. Approximately 70 live at the centres,mostly from the Akha hill tribe. (Funded by: individual donations, Asian Children's Fund, UNICEF, IYF/NCYD, Danida, TACAP.)
Support of 24 girls who have already left school to continue their education through the non-formal education system. At the same time they participate in personal and leadship development activeties and work experience with a view that they will be future community leaders. (Funded by: UNICEF.)
Disseminates information about problems which affect children in the north, through girls doing their own research and producing a newspaper, puppet shows and other forms of media. (Funded by: International Labour Organisation).
A small restaurant and supplies store at the Mae Sai centre, providing staff and "daughters" with vegetarian food and other supplies. Operated by members of the Youth Leadership Program. (Funded by: IYF/NCYD.)
Conduct of vocational training in sewing, weaving, computer operating and typing for over 100 girls most of whom also study non-formal school on the week-ends. (Funded by: International Labour Organisation (ILO-IPEC).)
Day care and instruction in basic literacy for children from very poor and troubled families who have difficulty enrolling in the formal education system. (Funded by: IYF/NCYD.)
Monitoring of past "daughters'" welfare and regular contact and support when required. Includes advocacy and intervention services. (Funded by: UNICEF.)
A new venture in 1996; Takes basic mobile education to the children begging in the streets of Mae Sai. Teaches literacy, basic mathematics and health and hygiene.
The present founder and director of the Development and Education Programme for Daughters and Communities, Mr. Sompop Jantraka originally comes from southern Thailand and graduated from Chiang Mai University in 1984. His background includes being a musician with a popular rock band, a flute maker, music teacher in a community school and a tour guide with an alternative tour organisation. In 1989 he was funded to conduct research into the economic situation of the north o Thailand. His last project involved the study of child prostitution and the sale of daughters from poor communities in Chiang Rai province.
For the previous 10 to 20 years the Thai sex industry had been developing into a highly lucrative commercial industry. This gave rise to the debt-bondage deals and systematic exploitation of poor families with available daughters. The demand for child prostitutes grew as AIDS became more threatening and people believed younger girls would be safer. The belief that sex with a child is rejuvenating and the publicity of Thailand as a sex- tour destination for paedophiles and all clients contributed to the thriving trade in young girls.
The findings of this research included: While the Thai economy had rural families suffer because they are landless and/or in debt to money lenders. In an effort to deal with this situation men go away to the cities to look for casual work. Often they do not return, leaving their wives to bring up their families single handed.
Brothel owners in Chiang Mai and the South of Thailand have well-established networks of agents in the north. These agents systematically target families who are undergoing economic hardship and try to convince them to sell their daughters for much needed cash.
The introduction of consumer goods, and the need to have money to buy these goods, has fostered an attitude that the sale of young girls to brothers agents is an acceptable form of income.
In some villages in northern Thailand up to 60 to 70 percent of young girls, aged from 11 years up, have entered prostitution. While many had been sold by their parents, others had been introduced to the sex industry through an older sibling or relative. In some cases young unskilled girls drift into prostitution. They move from their villages to larger towns looking for employment. From there they migrate to cities such Chaing Rai, Chaing Mai or southward to Bangkok. In these cities their options are limited and they are likely to end up working in poorly paid jobs with substandard conditions such as factories or restaurants. These workplaces often have links to the sex industry.
Local leaders, including some village headman, police and government officials are involved in the recruitment and transportation of girls from the area, to work in the sex industry throughout Thailand. Protection provided for brothels in the Mae Sai area for agents moving girls to the South. Assistance is given in matters such as establishment of an apparently legitimate business as a disguise for a brother. Documentation is arranged which will allow young girls, without the necessary legal papers, to travel around the country.
Mae Sai is located on the Burmese border where drugs such as opium and heroin are cheap and freely available. Many parents and young people are addicted, especially among the Akha hill tribe. Parents who are drug addicts may have been arrested and jailed, leaving their children to fend for themselves. Those adults provide poor role models and may even encourage their children to commence drinking alcohol, sniffing glue or using other drugs before they reach ten years of age. Many intra-venous drug users share needles with the attendant risks of the spread of AIDS.
Many children along the border do not have birth certificates or family documents or have lost the document. Their parents have migrated from Burma, Laos or China within the last fifteen years. Girls who do not have these document have difficulty enrolling at school and then obtaining Education Certificates of their academic record. Without this Certificate girls cannot obtain legal employment. They are therefore easy prey for brothel owners and employers with unsafe working conditions. Faced with exploitation they are unable to complain to the police because of their illegal status.
Seeing for his own eyes the plight of young girls about to join the sex industry in Bangkok or other cities, Sompop Jantraka requested support from Michiho Inagaki, the Japanese journalist who had funded previous research. With some financial backing and a conviction that keeping these children in the education system would provide better future opportunities, he established the Daughters Education Programme in 1989, starting with 19 girls from the Mae Sai district.
Seven years after Mr. Jantraka took decisive action to prevent the exploitation of Chiang Rai's children, the sale of children into the sex industry continues. Brother agents still scour villages for vulnerable families, big cities and western culture are glamourised as poverty increase and perspective change.
The crime of selling a child attracts heavier penalties now but the complexity of the corruption remains a major obstruction to justice. Children as young as 11 are available in local brothels, HIV infection is assessed at around 10 percent of the general community and many children are under constant threat of abuse and exploitation.
Today, this programme has become Development and Education Programme for Daughters and Communities, supporting almost 450 girls to remain in education or vocation training in Mae Sai, the northernmost town in Thailand, with other centres spread across Chiang Rai province. From these bases staff work among Akha and other hill tribe groups and lowland villages.
DEPDC works closely with teachers and village leaders to identify girls most at risk. Complicity in the trade by families and village members produces a major stumbling block as they often involved in the debt bondage arrangements, linking families with brothel agents and benefiting financially from the sale. Staff incorporate a mix of official documentation, information, persuasion and an argument based on the basic rights of children to convince parents not to sell their daughter. They persuade them to reconsider their options for the child and educate parents about the perils of the sex industry. Information about HIV/AIDS brothel conditions, laws, penalties and other potential dangers supports their argument. In many successful cases the decision of the child to continue their education overrides the parents desire for monetary gain.
DEPDC aims to prevent children at risk being forced into the sex industry or child labour due to outside pressure and a lack of educational and employment alternatives. It also aims to improve the material, social and spiritual quality of life for these children and their communities and it encourages the children to their culture and customs.
DEPDC conduct eight distinct projects, all concerned with children at risk, child rights, child sexual abuse and forced labour. DEPDC considers education and training to the key to providing opportunities and allowing these girls to reach their full potential. DEPDC currently runs various programs supporting, educating and their communities against the tragedy of child prostitution and risks oF HIV infection. DEPDC operates on the belief that through the financial and moral support of young women to remain in school or to be trained for alternative employment the material and spiritual quality of their lives and of their communities can be improved.
DEPDC is an independent organisation with no religious or government affiliations which relies on grants and donations to continue its work. You can donate to DEPDC by:
Account Name : DEP
- Account No : 636-2-04182-9
Development and Education Programme
for Daughters and Communities Centre
PO. Box 10
Mae Sai, Chiang Rai 57130, Thailand
Phone: (053) 733-186 Fax: (053) 642-415
The Development and Education Programme for Daughters and Communities has been a member of the Coalition Against Prostitution & Child Abuse in Thailand (CAPCAT) since April 1996.
CAPCAT, begun in September 1994, is a non-
profit, non-governmental, secular volunteer
organization that provides Internet services,
promotion and fund-raising support for
organizations in Thailand fighting prostitution
and the abuse of children through labor and
prostitution. Visit our website at:
For more information, please e.mail Sean Parlaman at: firstname.lastname@example.org .