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Child Labor Situation in Thailand

May 29, 2006

The child labour situation in Thailand is improving...but young migrants pose new challenges. 1

The child labour situation in Thailand has improved in the past five years, but human trafficking and young migrant workers are posing new challenges for the country, according to a global report released yesterday by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The report, the second by ILO on child labour, says the number of ethnic children, aged 13-14, in Thailand's labour force has dropped from 40% to 10%, but the shortfall may have been taken up by an influx of children trafficked in from neighbouring countries.

Children made up around 1%, compared to 5% in 1992, of the country's total workforce, said ILO senior specialist Ms. Panudda Boonpala. Other positive signs included the fact that protection under a special labour law would be extended to cover workers in the 15-18 age group, she said. A low birth rate and the government-promoted education continuation programme, which extends compulsory education from six to nine years, as well as annual surveys of the national labour force have contributed to the improving situation, Ms. Panudda said.

However, the government needed to carry out mapping in order to prioritise and identify areas of concern in monitoring the migrant child labour situation – especially in the agricultural and fishery sectors – and in considering giving education to this group of child workers. She also noted that the increase in the number of migrant child workers was intertwined with human trafficking. A joint-university research showed that over 10% of migrant workers were recruited or brokered into Thailand, she said.

The ILO could not provide the exact figures of child workers, including migrants, in the 15-18 age group, but a Thai labour official estimated that some 30-40% of around one million migrant workers were children and women. The Labour Ministry has started conducting a national survey of migrant child workers, to be concluded later this year. Ms. Panudda commended Cambodia, Laos and Thailand for their cooperation in the fight against trafficking in children and women. She also praised the private sector for having paid serious attention to the issue.

''Yet, we could not be complacent as child labourers are still found in factories, fishing, construction, agriculture, and service sectors, commercial sexual exploitation and begging,'' she said.  A global picture showed the number of child labourers had fallen by 11% in the last four years, or 28 million fewer than in 2002, said ILO deputy regional director Lin Lean Lim. The sharpest decrease was in the area of hazardous work.

''The remarkable improvement is due to political mobilisation of workers, employers and governments combined with practical action of parliaments, NGOs, local authorities, consumers and the public at large,'' Ms. Lim said.  The ILO believed child labour could feasibly be eliminated, in most of its worst forms, in 10 years as pledged by member states. However, this could not be delivered unless there were expansions of quality education, involvement by parents and communities, poverty reduction, as well as law and regulation enforcement. Ms Lim said.

It was a good economic move to invest in child labour eradication as the countries doing so would gain six times more than their investment costs. They would gain a much more skilled and healthy workforce in about 10-20 years after such investment.

Read the ILO Global Report on Child Labor.

1 Achara Ashayagachat. "Child labour situation here improving...but young migrants pose new challenge." Bangkok Post. 5 May 2006.

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