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U.N: Laos Plagued By Child Traffickers - 2004-10-26


The United Nations says Laos must confront the growing problem of child trafficking. As VOA's Benjamin Sand reports from our Asia News Center in Hong Kong, every year thousands of Lao children are lured away from their homes and end up working as virtual slaves in neighboring Thailand.

The U.N. Children's Fund is calling for urgent action to stop the exploitation and abuse of Lao children.

In a report released Tuesday, UNICEF says Southeast Asia accounts for more than one third of the one-point two million children trafficked in the world each year for sex and cheap labor.

UNICEF spokeswoman Ruth Landy is based in Vientiane and she says Laos is increasingly vulnerable. She says,

"It's a very poor country… but its situated at the cross roads of a region that's developing extremely quickly…you have easy access to Thailand, and its prosperity and apparent opportunities are a lure to young people and traffickers exploit this."

UNICEF says there are no reliable figures on how many children are taken every year in Laos, but estimates that 60 percent of those trafficked are girls between 12 and 18 years old.

These teenagers end up as prostitutes in Thailand, others are sent to sweatshops or forced to work as domestic servants.

Ms. Landy says the children are usually approached by someone they know from within their own communities. Promises of work in Thailand and a chance to send money back to relatives is often more than enough to tempt the girls away from home.

Tuesday's UNICEF report was jointly drafted with the Lao government, which has pledged to do all it can to combat the traffickers.

But Ms. Landy warns there are no short-term solutions, saying

"It's going to be a long term process. What we really need is to create better opportunities for Lao young people at home…improve education, improve vocational training, provide them with jobs…."

Ironically, what little economic development has been spreading to the Lao countryside may be doing more harm than good.

More and more young children in Laos have access to televisions. And as they watch popular Thai soap operas, U.N. studies show the children increasingly want the glamorous lifestyles they see on TV. Traffickers need only promise what the children want: fast cars and fancy clothes.

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