Pattaya Daily News

06 January 2009 :: 22:01:51 pm 2136

US Attempt to Help Sex Trade Victims in Jeopardy

A humanitarian American university project to help stateless women in Thailand, by educating them, despite hopeful beginnings, is floundering due to lack of funding. This despite young American, Joseph Quinnell‘s valiant efforts to bring some hope to these young women who are at risk from the flourishing sex trafficking trade, largely in the vicinity of Mae Sai.
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Quinnell first learnt of the plight of these stateless women and children when he visited Thailand in 2005. A victim of childhood abuse, himself, the student was astounded when confronted with a 12-year old girl in front of a brothel , whose asking price was $15 an hour. He went on to document the child sex trade with his camera, taking hundreds of photos.

The women and children, most at risk, were born in Thailand but lack citizenship, have little or no access to government health care, education or travel and are effectively prisoners in a country which doesn’t even deign to accord them their rights. In Thailand, an estimated 500,000 hill tribe and minority people are stateless. Some have lived in the hill villages for generations. Others are illegal immigrants from Myanmar, China or Laos. 

<em>Photo by Joseph Quinnell : Fongtip Boonsri (left) and Srinuan “Aor” Saokhamnuan go for a ride on donated bicycles in Wisconsin Rapids. The 19-year-olds from Thailand are students at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point through a program aimed at undocumented women at risk of being sold into forced labor</em>
Photo by Joseph Quinnell : Fongtip Boonsri (left) and Srinuan “Aor” Saokhamnuan go for a ride on donated bicycles in Wisconsin Rapids. The 19-year-olds from Thailand are students at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point through a program aimed at undocumented women at risk of being sold into forced labor

The plight of these women, in particular, plucked at Quinnell’s heartstrings to such an extent that he wracked his brains, eventually coming up with the idea that he could afford them some hope by helping them gain a university degree and then return to Thailand to fight statelessness and the illicit sex trade from within the system. 

In Mae Sai, he had come across an NGO that provides free education for young women at risk of child prostitution, the Development and Education Program for Daughters and Communities. This was to be the start of humanitarian project, which is still ongoing . 

As a first measure, Quinnell, an art student at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, enlisted the university’s help and started a campaign to foster indignation by putting on an art exhibition with 150 giant posters around the campus, highlighting the plight of the vulnerable women and children, with slogans such as “Do you have sex with strangers?” “Thousands of children are forced to every day. Get ready to join the fight against child prostitution. Get angry. See red.” 

He managed to get radio time and was able to propose “Let’s bring women from the Thai development and education program to UW-Stevens Point.” This eventually led to a university foundation creating a Thailand Project fund to accept donations and money began to flow in. Elders at Frame Memorial Presbyterian Church even pledged financial support for one student for one year, at a cost of $20,500 each. The students also had to convince US state officials they wouldn’t become illegal immigrants, to which the founder of the Development and Education Program for Daughters and Communities, Sompop Jantraka, responded by offering to employ them on their return. 

 The first two prospective students,Fongtip Boonsri and Aor Saokhamnuan, are members of the Shan tribe, who were born in poor villages in the Chiang Rai Province. Sompop’s school had recruited them at a tender age, helping both avoid the sex trade. Aor wanted to become a spokeswoman for Sompop’s organization, while Fongtip wanted to counsel victims of forced labor and prostitution. 

Visiting Thailand many times, Quinnell tried vainly to get the first two prospective students the necessary documentation to allow them to leave the country, but constantly fell foul of the system, despite extensive research of Thailand’s nationality laws. It was only when he managed to get help from the supporters in Thailand, including Sompop and two law students from Thammasat University that the two 19-year–old girls got their approvals, with Aor gaining an alien travel document, and Fongtip finally acquiringThai citizenship. 

With permission to leave the country, the students, Fongtip Boonsri and Aor Saokhamnuan started at the University of Wisconsin -Stevens Point, to earn degrees. However, now, despite all the good intentions of those involved, their funding has dried up and they only have enough until May, and they need more to finish a further four years of the course. 

To date, the volunteer group the university formed to raise money hasn’t raised sufficient donations. Quinnell, however, said. “If it dies with these two girls in one year, we’re never going to be able to get this again.” But Quinnell is no quitter and is committed, believing the project is central to the university’s mission of global awareness and public service, so he will carry on to attempt to raise funds to see the initial project through and continue into the future .


Fongtip Boonsri (center, in striped shirt) and Aor Saokhamnuan (center, in green sweater and pink shirt)
gather with children at the Development and Education Program
for Daughters and Communities  in Mae Sai, Thailand.
Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : PDN staff   Category : Society

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