The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Child Trafficking in Southeast Asia’s Fishing Industries

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on November 22, 2010

In this blog, I discuss the predicament of child labour in the fishing industry. This is another reflection on the conference on Human Trafficking in Asia-Pacific held in October, where thematically the prevalent biases in research produced on human trafficking were examined. Amongst these was the uneven focus on certain industries and actors: Southeast Asian women and girls forced into the sex industry. Due to the popular connection between human trafficking and sexual exploitation, the International Organisation for Migration pointed out that child exploitation in the fisheries industry in Southeast Asia was an area suffering from a lack of attention.

Globally, the fisheries industry is highly profitable, with pirate fishing accounting for US$10 – 23.5 billion each year. The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations has recorded 132 million children in the agricultural industry, a subset of which is the fisheries industry, whose numbers cannot be ascertained because the labour is “widely dispersed in small-scale and family enterprises — or is actively hidden by employers,” in a predominantly non-industrialised sector.

In Southeast Asia, the fisheries industry is an essential trading sector for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. At the conference, it was suggested that 80 percent of the global fishermen are in East Asia, with Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam producing a large proportion of fisheries’ production. Thailand is a significant destination country for many migrant workers into its fisheries industry and the conditions of the labour have been likened to situations of human trafficking; mainly of men from Cambodia, Lao PDR or Myanmar. In an interview with Cambodian trafficked workers aboard a Thai fishing vessel in 2009, the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking found that eighteen percent of those interviewed were under the age of 18. The factors underpinning entry of children into this form of labour and the activities children may be engaged in are elaborated in the links provided. It has been documented that Thai fishing vessels tend to stay at sea for years at a time. The resulting malnutrition due to neglect and precarious working conditions was a contributory cause of the deaths of 39 Burmese fishermen aboard a Thai vessel in 2006.

Enforcement plans need specific research on the prevalence of child labour in the fisheries industry, including research on the actors and operational nature of the trade-value chain of fishing products. The plans ought to advocate observance of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child; Articles 32, 34 and 35, its Additional Protocol on the Sale of Children and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, whilst not exhaustive; Conventions No. 182 and 188. Recognising the connection between child labour practices and parental poverty, brings the viability of legislative bans into circumspection.

Significantly related is sustainable development of children, particularly through ensuring they are encompassed in development achievements; Goal 2 of the Millennium Development Goals and ensuring through socio-economic support children complete their education. In addition, development measures should address the causal link between a lack in parental empowerment to a high probability of their children becoming enslaved again.


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