Chiang Mai: Statelessness and Vulnerability in Thailand

Elephants seem to be a theme for us in Southeast Asia. Dawn and Tara have been in Thailand for the past week, first in Bangkok and now in Chiang Mai. We're hoping that they've been spending quality time with the elephants in-between visits to sewing centers.

Source: NY Times

So far, we've heard that Thailand has brought fabulous street food and that when she got to Chiang Mai, Dawn got a foot massage (well deserved, we're sure). 

So, in Bangkok we talked about how officials and rescue workers have a hard time defining who is a victim and who is a victimizer, as there are multiple reasons why someone wouldn't admit to having been trafficked. If you didn't see that post, click back and read it!

In Chiang Mai, we're talking about statelessness. It's an issue that makes people of the "hill tribes" outside of the big cities in Thailand highly vulnerable to trafficking. Humantrafficking.org says that the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization has named statelessness or lack of proof of citizenship as the single greatest contributing factor that makes women and girls from these communities vulnerable to trafficking.

Who are the hill tribe people? In Thailand, many different ethnic minorities lives in the highlands in villages. The Thai government only recognizes 9 of these people groups. Several groups have no official recognition, which means that they are not considered citizens of Thailand. 

How many people are we talking about here? A couple different estimates put the number of people in the hill tribes total somewhere in between 600,000 to 1 million people. 

So, what's the issue here? Even if hill tribe families have lived in their villages for generations, many are not recognized as citizens and therefore do not have paperwork. Why does that matter? This means that the approximately 40% of hill tribe people that are not recognized as citizens (read: hundreds of thousands of people) have limited access or no access to: healthcare, state benefits and protections, education, travel (even within the country), jobs, free speech, ability to join unions, voting rights, political party membership, and government assistance when rescued from trafficking situations. That's a pretty long and significant list. 

Women and girls from this demographic epitomize the idea of marginalized women, which refers to women who have been pushed to the margins of society and have been treated as less than others. What keeps them from applying for citizenship? Like many things, citizenship costs money. And it likely requires them to leave their village - a difficulty since without papers for citizenship, travel is limited.

These people are always at risk for deportation, as the law says that they have no legal right to be in Thailand. Traffickers prey on women and girls at this level of vulnerability, who have limited opportunity and who have been pushed to the fringe of society. 

Dignified employment for survivors of sex trafficking who have no officially recognized nationality is a huge help in restoration. Not only does this provide the formerly marginalized women with wages, skills, and dignity, but it also protects them from further exploitation and can be a stepping stone towards getting citizenship.

Want to be a part of providing #dignifiedemployment? Through the end of this month, Made For Freedom is multiplying its impact by donating an extra 30% of your pre-tax purchase to our friends at Not For Sale. Your purchase of Creabeli products goes even farther! So, get shopping!