According to a data compiled to inform an annual US report which ranks countries on their anti-trafficking efforts, Thailand saw a drop in the number of cases filed in 2020. From 288 cases in 2019, it came down to a total of 131 cases last year.
The report showed that ‘curfews and temporary closures of … businesses reduced possible opportunities for sex and labour trafficking.’
“A greater number of migrant workers returned to their home countries awaiting the re-opening of workplaces, while border-control restrictions made it more difficult for transnational organised crime groups to commit human trafficking”, said the report.
Advocates and anti-trafficking experts questioned whether the drop in cases was solely due to less criminality. They also pointed out that the fallout from the pandemic may have led to increased labour exploitation among certain groups such as migrant workers.
Due to scrutiny from the US, Thailand has pointed to improved efforts to stop trafficking in recent years. They were also criticised for its failure to tackle abuses in its lucrative seafood and textile sectors, as well as the sex trade.
“COVID-19 did not result in fewer human trafficking crimes, but it resulted in authorities doing less inspections,” said Papop Siamhan, a lawyer with expertise in human trafficking and director at the Human Rights and Development Foundation.
“For instance, last year fewer authorities were inspecting fishing vessels, so it’s not surprising that the numbers have lowered,” he added.
Yet police colonel Choosak Apaipakdi said authorities had targets to meet on anti-trafficking inspections, and that performing such visits had not been hindered by the pandemic.
“The Thai government is not staying idle,” said Choosak, superintendent at the government’s anti-trafficking division.
“The prime minister has ordered the Royal Thai Police to increase prevention of human trafficking,” he added.
Trafficking convictions fell last year to 141 – a 35% drop from 2019 – as fewer cases were sent to court, the data showed.
The report will be sent to US officials by the end of January. Last year, Thailand was ranked as a middling Tier 2 in the US. Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which noted that the country was making significant efforts to combat the crime.
According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index by human rights group Walk Free, Thailand is home to an estimated 610,000 modern slaves.