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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N° 93,  December 2003, pp.

Work among Trafficked Women in Thailand

Sr. M. Supaporn CHOTIPHOL, R.G.S.

Fountain of Life Centre

Pattaya City (Thailand)

Witnesses given by multicultural pastoral centers and ecumenical and interreligious experiences in the world of migrants and refugees, speak on your work among trafficked women. How do you stay close to them and try to tackle the problem at its roots.


“Trafficking in human beings – mostly women and children – has become a global business that affects almost all countries and reaps enormous profits for traffickers and their intermediaries”[1] In this economic transaction the sending countries have to struggle with an ever increasing pool of unemployed people, while the rich receiving developed countries have to battle with the big problem of labour shortage. Most trafficked women find employment in the informal sector which is often not covered by labour laws. They end up doing work which is often referred to as the “3D” types of work, namely dirty, dangerous and difficult types of work.

“The most prevalent forms of trafficking are for prostitution, sex tourism and mail-order bride industries. Women and children are also trafficked for bonded labour and domestic work, and much of this trafficking concludes with their being sexually exploited.”[2]

From recent studies done on trafficking it is very obvious that the distinctions between trafficking and prostitution are very unclear. Very often the data on migration, trafficking and prostitution are indistinct and therefore it is hard to make a definite statement or give an opinion without taking facts from one issue and linking them with another. Writing on this issue Jean D’Cunha noted that “In the effort to decriminalize prostitution and endorse ‘migration for sex work’ the links between trafficking and prostitution are blurred by emphasizing the range of purposes for which trafficking occurs while down playing sex trafficking and de-linking trafficking from prostitution.”[3]

Because of the difficulties in differentiating trafficking for prostitution and for others reasons, in my sharing I will focus mainly on trafficking for prostitution. Tourism with its resultant revenue is next only to the export of rice in the economy of Thailand. This reality has given tourism a privileged status. No one wants to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Nonetheless, serious questions have to be asked e.g. what are the results that emerge because of the connections between migration, trafficking, tourism and prostitution of both adults and children?

Given this reality I see a fourfold response by the Church:

  1. Direct services
  2. Advocacy
  3. Dialogue and cooperation with the existing Buddhist social service groups
  4. Co-operation with like-minded individuals and groups nationally and internationally especially for advocacy works

Direct services would be focussed on the trafficked women and children caught in the vice of poverty and prostitution

Shepherding by accompaniment would be an integral component of direct services.

Besides Shepherding the other services would include being with them and reminding them of their rights as human beings – often they feel they have been forgotten and betrayed by many groups such as those who put them in contact with the trafficker.They also feels betrayed by their government and their families.

Seeing that they receive health care.

Providing other economic alternatives

Education formal and informal – teaching them marketable skills and. 

Assisting them to get their legal papers as many of them are undocumented workers.

Advocacy would involve making the reality of the connection between trafficking, tourism and prostitution known to those in positions of power. It would entail challenging them to recognize the evils of poverty and powerlessness that forces some women to go abroad in search of employment and being forced into prostitution. It would mean also networking with economists, mass media, social workers, psychologists and health care workers so that the complete dimensions of the problem are studied and workable alternative solutions of this problem are proposed.

However it is important for us to understand that many of those who have been trafficked will refuse to testify against their abuser or even want any kind of legal action taken.

The problem associated with taking legal action against the traffickers

Therefore before taking legal action it is always import to remember that trafficked people have excellent reasons – reasons that we will never be able to comprehend – for not wanting to take legal action against their abusers. The paralyzing fear that they experience is something that we must always bear in mind.

Trafficked women are afraid of being deported. This fear stems from having no money when they return. They are also unable to meet the cost of migration. Often their family depends on them. There is also the problem of social discrimination if they had previously prostituted themselves.

Because of their painful experiences trafficked women generally do not trust police. They have encountered corrupt police and have seen how they have abused their victims. Some trafficked women are involved in the drug trade. This makes their situation very dangerous. They have seen the violence inflicted on other women who have tried to escape from drugs gangs. They are also aware of the powerful network that their abusers have and know that their activities can be easily detected in a short time.

Situations such as these can result in a fear that is paralyzing. It prevents many of them from taking any action against their offender. However very often their fear is interpreted by caregivers and social activists as non-cooperation or they are even suspected as accomplices in the crime.

The Church of the poor - and the challenge of solidarity

The heritage that Jesus our Good Shepherd bequeathed to us as Good Shepherd Sisters – is compassion and concern for the poor. This heritage is an integral aspect of our discipleship. We are the Church of the poor and it is an ongoing challenge. Our option for the poor affects our “being” in a fundamental way. The FABC tells us that we must work for the awakening of the poor to their dignity. We are called to move from kindness to solidarity with the poor. Option for the poor is a commitment to solidarity to the cause of the poor and their liberation. “The option for the poor is an act of evangelization”[4]

If we claim to be Jesus’s Followers, we cannot remove ourselves from the world in which we live. We cannot turn a blind eye, a deaf ear or a cold shoulder to the cries of our sisters and brothers who are being abused and exploited. We have to stand in solidarity with them because they mediate God’s presence for us. We have to do all in our power to bring an end to the poverty and oppression of millions of human beings. We cannot remain undisturbed at appalling violation of their rights as human beings. The desecration of the human being is also the desecration of God’s temple and this is an insult to God. “We have to bear witness together to our common conviction concerning the dignity of people. When any person is oppressed, we are all diminished. When any part of creation is abused or destroyed, our lives are improvised”[5]

Dialogue and cooperation with the existing Buddhist social service groups

Since Buddhism is the dominant religion in Thailand and in the most of the countries in South East Asia it is imperative that the Church dialogue and cooperate with other organizations-so that the Church is not a minority voice speaking to this issue. Those who are engaged in advocacy work must also reach out and dialogue with those who may have no religious background but are deeply concerned with these issues.

Jesus and the Prostitute 

Early in the morning Jesus came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman, who had been caught in adultery, and making her stand before all of them, they said to him. “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. What do you say?” they said this to test him so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them.

(Decriminalizing the victim is an issue of justice and human rights).

“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her:

(Release the captives, set the downtrodden free (Luke 4:18))

Woman where are they? Has not one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Sir.” Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and do not sin again (Jn.8:1-11)”

Beside using texts and stories from the Christian sources we also use stories from Buddhist literature which have similar implication as in the story of the Buddhist Master and a Prostitute.

The Buddhist Master and the Prostitute[6]

Once a famous Buddhist master was invited for a lunch offering at a house of a well-known prostitute. Finishing his meal, the master began talking to her about Buddhist meditation. While the master was teaching, the woman broke into tears. Weeping she told him that she could no longer follow his teaching, as she realized how sinful she was through the nature of her occupation. The master then asked: “What made you decide to take up this profession in the first place?” “When I was twelve, my parents who were very poor sold me to a brothel and I have had to do this job ever since, I must beg for your forgiveness for my sin,” she said:

(Decriminalizing the victim is an issue of justice and human rights.)

“Sincerely speaking my girl I see no sin in your life. It was no mistake of yours in taking this profession. Besides there is no use in begging forgiveness from me. It is I and the world that should beg for your forgiveness. For we have not done enough to protect you. Please forgive me and the world for having failed to protect you in the first place.” Saying this the master rose to his feet and bowed to her. Then she said: “if I have not sinned, then were my parents sinful in selling me to the brothels?” “No. said the master.” “Why not?” Asked the prostitute. “Because you and your parents were the victims.” “Then who is to be blamed for the evil of my life?” She asked:

(Release the captives, set the downtrodden free)

“No one” said the Master. “Why” asked the prostitute again. “Because we are all victims,” said the master. The master apologized to the woman because he felt responsible for the suffering inflicted upon her. (Venerable Mettanado Bhikkhu)

[1] Raymond, Janice, “A Comparative Study of Women Trafficked in Migration Process”(Introduction)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jean D’Cunha, “Trafficked in the Migration Process” 125

[4] Vita Consecrata no 82

[5] Good Shepherd Mission Statement

[6] The Buddhist Master and the Prostitute, by the Venerable Mettanando Bhikku