Justice for Thai Juvenile Offenders
Selected Source: See Below
Western media outlets are quick to cast Thai prisons in a negative light. Although the harsh stereotypes that accompany Western perceptions of Thailand’s criminal justice system carry grains of truth, the reality is that the public knows little about this nation’s prisons. The situation is vastly under-reported and under-researched, partially because outsiders have extremely limited access. The prison system is deeply entrenched within Thai society and difficult to infiltrate. Government officials privatize prison maintenance and control, so the ability to access inmates on a personal level requires a tremendous amount of trust and patience.
Scholarly reports have only recently provided insight into key issues regarding Thai prisoners’ human rights. A recent publication, Thai Juvenile Delinquency Justice and its Perception by Minor Offenders, written by the law faculty of Chiang Mai University, has provided some of the initial insight into the growing concern of children’s rights in Thailand. However, very little has been publicized about the Thai juvenile criminal system and the extent to which rights are afforded to child offenders. Until recent years, juvenile detention centers operated under a shroud of mystery and were given less commentary from scholars and the media than the more widely-recognized adult prisons. As international NGOs and international organizations have turned their attention towards juvenile justice issues, access is opening to juvenile offenders within the prison system. International NGOs, such as Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia (BABSEA), have been granted access to male and female juvenile detention centers to teach human rights law and English language courses. This was a dramatic shift in the attitude of Thailand’s Ministry of Justice and in the public’s subsequent perception of how Thailand deals with criminal justice issues.
NGOs like BABSEA work with law faculties to develop juvenile detention center programs and help educate the offenders, the prison officials, and the local community about international rights endowed to child offenders. Grassroots level work has proven effective for many volunteer organizations, in part because the Thailand prison system is not nationally uniform. Many juvenile detention centers and prisons are organized and controlled on a provincial or local level. Facilities are often run differently from province to province throughout Thailand. Consequently, international efforts have had little success persuading the Thai government to address child rights on a national level. The first real signs of reform have been the result of small NGOs working with detention centers on a local level, creating relationships that allow such NGOs to gain access to the juvenile detainees. This approach appears to be working.
However, socio-political troubles convolute the juvenile justice system in Thailand, leaving some of the most dedicated human rights initiatives frustrated. Human trafficking, drug smuggling, sex work, police corruption, and illegal immigration all form a vicious cycle that feeds the Thai criminal justice system with many of its juvenile offenders.
In Thailand’s defense, many of the injustices that occur within its borders are the result of having to mediate between larger, oppressive governments and the international community. Thailand is often the target of intense pressure from nearby nations such as Myanmar and China. For example, ethnic Burmese breach the northern borders of Thailand on a daily basis. Many are children, often orphans, who are involved in slavery, trafficking, or drugs. After being detained by local police or border officials and taken to juvenile facilities, ethnic Burmese orphans are subjected to a revolving-door scheme, falling in and out of juvenile facilities across Thailand. Thai authorities have no option but to return these children within their home country’s borders, only to watch as they flee into Thailand once again.
According to Police Major Apichart Hattasin of the Royal Thai Transnational Crime Unit, one of the biggest obstacles in combating juvenile justice problems is the lack of funding the government allocates to law enforcement officials. Mr. Hattasin says there are not enough police, special operatives, or law enforcement sectors to accommodate the flood of illegal juvenile immigrants from Myanmar. Furthermore, corruption and under-the-table dealings are rampant in large part because the police are underpaid.
Nevertheless, the work of grassroots NGOs is opening the door for international reporters and volunteers. As more information is gained from juvenile detention centers, more exposure is granted to the international community. This will give Thailand a better opportunity to repair its fractured criminal justice system.
-Bangkok Post: http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/146221/us-report-faults-and-praises-thailand-on-human-trafficking, http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/20091/major-boost-for-officials-tackling-illegal-labour
-Seminar: Juvenile Justice and Human Trafficking, hosted by Police Major Apichart Hattasin of the Royal Thai Transnational Crime Unit, Chiang Mai, Thailand (July 2, 2009).
-ALEXANDER SHYTOV & BOONCHOO POMPHET, THAI JUVENILE DELINQUENCY JUSTICE AND ITS PERCEPTION BY MINOR OFFENDERS (Chiang Mai University Faculty of Law ed., 2007).