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Anti-slavery law in Thailand
BY VIET PHUONG
(TN-BANGKOK) The local case this week of 21-year-old Nguyen Thi Binh, who was allegedly kept prisoner and tortured for 13 years, bares a horrible resemblance to a story in Thailand early this year when a Bangkok woman was sentenced to 10 years for treating her 13-year-old maid as a slave for a year.
In 2003 the Thai courts found Bangkok businesswoman Wipaporn Songmeesap, 50, hired a 13-year-old girl, nicknamed Chand, as a maid. Chand was force to work for the family of five from 4 a.m. until midnight without days off.
The girl was ordered to clean the house, do laundry, wash the cars and cook the meals, but she was given only one or two meals a day with a small portion of cold rice. Sometimes she had to eat the leftovers. Sometimes she was just given rice and chili. If she made her boss angry, Chand was starved. She was beaten by Wipaporn with an iron rod or a belt if she did not finish her work on time. As the beatings were repeated her wounds never healed and her employer wouldn’t send her to the hospital. Chand’s wounds became seriously infected. She was never paid during one year’s work. Wipaporn didn’t allow her to go outside the house or contact her parents in Thailand’s Buri Ram Province, one of the poorest provinces in Thailand.
After a year of physical abuse, neglect and maltreatment by the Wipaporn family, Chand became so sick with fever and infection that Wipaporn sent Chand back to her home village in Buri Ram. Once home, she was rushed immediately to the hospital and was treated there for several weeks. The seriousness of the wounds on Chand’s body shocked the doctors. They contacted human rights groups to ask for help and a two-year-long legal battle to bring Wipaporn to court began.
In April this year, Wipaporn was sentenced to seven years in jail for treating Chand as a slave and another additional three-and-a-half years for causing physical harm. The boss was also ordered to pay 200,000 baht (US$5,900) to Chand in compensation. However, Wipaporn was released on bail later. But this was the first time that the 51-year-old anti-slavery law had ever been used in Thailand.
According to Thai Criminal Code, subjecting a person to slave-like conditions can be invoke a sentence of a maximum of seven years in jail. If the incident relates to children under 15, the punishment could be up to 10 years in jail. Although Wipapron’s lawyer said that the woman would appeal the decision, the Thai media dubbed it a historic case. Chand’s case was a landmark that paved the way for similar cases.
According to the Thai human rights lawyer Siriwan Vongkietpaisan, abusive maid employers had only ever been charged for physically abuse and violating labor laws which meant less severe punishments. It is also hard to discover cases of maids being abused where the houses are closed and the maids are imprisoned such as in Chand’s case. Chand’s boss was convicted because of the clear evidence of wounds on the young girl’s body. “We cannot expect the problem of slavery to go away unless we tackle our own prejudices that endorse the exploitation,” Siriwan was quoted by Bangkok Post as saying.
Nguyen Thi Binh, a child worker in a noodle shop in Vietnam, was beaten for 13 years not one. If Chand’s boss were punished 10 years in jail, then the question is how many years should Binh’s bosses sentences be if they are found guilty?