Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Trauma in Migrant Workers and Migrant Child Laborers in Thailand

This time, LPN is permitted to publish a written work of 2010 from our previous intern, Ms. Sutikant Ratanachaiyaphan, who is currently studying at New York University, on our blog. This paper is writing on the trauma among migrant groups in Thailand based on theoretical and clinical perspectives. As the paper is quite long, we decide to put only an introduction on the blog. Provided anyone is interested in reading the whole paper, please contact us at:

         Systematic political repression and brutality in Burma has been forcing millions of people to flee their homes – taking cover in the jungles or escaping to neighboring countries. Perverse human right abuses by the Burmese military junta, including torture, forced labor and relocation, forced recruitment, extrajudicial killing, rape, political imprisonment, and cutting access to information, health care, and fundamental needs for living are commonplace. Many ethnic nationalities have taken flight through Thai-Burmese state boundary, only end up living in darkness on the Thai side. Once they cross the border into Thailand, they are often regarded by the Thai society as the aberrant – unqualified political subject whose lives do not qualify to be accounted for (Tangseefa, 2006).
         Approximately 150,000 now live in the refugee camps in Thailand (“Regional thematic”, 2008), where life offers limited hope and self-determination that further proliferating the suffering brought on by the human rights abuses they have endured. In addition, millions live outside the camps as undocumented migrant workers: filling the difficult, dangerous, and dirty jobs with limited legal protection and redress under Thai law and remain vulnerable to human rights violations, physical violence, and exploitation (“Regional thematic”). Female are particularly vulnerable to rape, trafficking, and unwanted pregnancy. Their children, whether accompanying them at the time of migration or born in Thailand are also considered undocumented and hold illegal status. Throughout this paper I will use the term migrant worker and child laborer for them.
         Not only did they endure trauma in their country of origin, but they will also have been exposed to trauma during their journey across the border, and will continue to suffer relentlessly from persistent trauma in the destination country. The children, they are often pressed into child labor and denied the opportunity to enroll in a school: instead, they are forced to contribute to the family’s income to help them survive. While in Burma they are likely to have been exposed to war-related traumatic events such as witnessing people being severely beaten or being in close proximity to gunfire. Their childhood traumas are generated from outside, but damage them internally. Like rheumatic fever, it stays inside the body and remains active for years; often to the detriment of the young (Terr, 1991).
          My experience working with migrant workers and their children have been harrowing, the torments inflicted on them under the Burmese dictatorship and the Thai government that chooses not to see, have been imperceptible to the outside world. Their sufferings have rarely been adequate redress. Therefore, this paper attempts to examine their traumatic experiences and especially to focus on the plight of children by drawing on my fieldwork experience with them in Thailand. 

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