The Complex Reality of Human Trafficking in Southeast Asia

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Battling Complex Human Trafficking Threats

When it comes to security, it no longer revolves around traditional threats such as military confrontations or territorial disputes. The present world’s threats arise from modern, non-traditional threats such as natural disasters and transnational crimes. In the case of transnational crimes, human trafficking is seemed to be one of the most challenging. Human trafficking is a serious crime that has slowly been recognized as one of the most expensive, challenging, and gross violations of human rights that is affecting the international community. Until today, not a single country is immune to this phenomenon. Especially in the Southeast Asia region, trafficking in human beings is a complicated business that leaves no country untouched.

Human trafficking is a complicated struggle. There are various types of human trafficking, but the most common is the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation and trafficking for forced labor. These two are the most popular trafficking in human beings within countries in Southeast Asia. In writing by Emmers (2004) recorded that the majority of illegal immigrants that entered a country, especially women, often ended up in the sex industry. In terms of women trafficking for sexual exploitation, the countries in Southeast Asia played different roles as the transit and receiving states.

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Sources, Routes, and Drivers

The Philippines and Indonesia are countries that became the source of women that is to be smuggled. In fact, Emmers (2004) stated that the government of the Philippines encouraged its citizen, specifically women, to work abroad. This is where the women became sex slaves when they did not realize they actually fell into the hands of irresponsible traffickers that forced them to work in the sex industry. On the other hand, Cambodia, too, is the source country, but it has slowly become the transit and receiving country. Thousands of Vietnamese girls were taken to Cambodia to become sex slaves and supply the sex trade and industry.

The same goes for Thailand, the source, transit, and receiving country. Women from Laos, Myanmar, or China were smuggled to Thailand, and they served as sex slaves to people in Thailand. Besides being the receiving state, thousands of women were first smuggled to Thailand for some time before being sent to other parts of the world, such as Japan, Europe, Australia, and Malaysia. Moving on to the reasons that are feeding the human trafficking machine, according to Yang (2016), factors such as poverty, corruption, and globalization fairly contributed to it. However, for countries in Southeast Asia, poverty is perhaps the most basic reason this issue happened. The poverty suffered by the population in that region leaves people extremely desperate and exposed to the trafficking of human beings.

From Trafficking to Forced Labor in Southeast Asia

Suphanchaimat, Pudpong, and Tangcharoensathien (2017) in their work stated that Southeast Asia is believed to be one of the regions with the highest rates of population mobility due to worker migration. However, the high rate of mobility is indeed a result of human trafficking. Apart from the trafficking of human beings for sexual exploitation, countries in Southeast Asia took advantage of smuggling the victims for forced or slave labor. There are differences between labor migration and human trafficking for forced labor, but in recent years, a complex relationship between these two has emerged in which many of the migrated laborers were forced to become laborers due to them being tricked by the recruiters.

Many children and women were exploited for the purpose of forced labor. Some girls were initially trafficked for sexual exploitation, but those who did not meet the beauty standard or were too young were marketed to domestic labor or factories. Rafferty (2007) wrote that some children as young as three years old have been trafficked to Thailand to peel and sort fish in the fishing industry. Due to the rising demand for fish by the global community, an increased need for physical labor occurred. Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam, which are the world’s largest producers of seafood, these countries often take their labor workers from neighboring countries such as Myanmar and the Philippines. Most of the time, those trafficked victims were tricked into working on the vessels with little pay or no pay at all.


  1. Emmers, R. (2004). Human trafficking in Southeast Asia: A dark side of globalization. Singapore: Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies.
  2. Yang, S. (2016). Factors contributing to human trafficking in Southeast Asia: A comprehensive review. Journal of Southeast Asian Human Rights, 1(1), 45-63.
  3. Suphanchaimat, R., Pudpong, N., & Tangcharoensathien, V. (2017). Population mobility and human trafficking in Southeast Asia: Exploring the complex relationship. Asian Journal of Social Science, 45(6), 678-697.
  4. Rafferty, Y. (2007). Child and forced labor in Southeast Asia: A critical review of current literature. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 48(2-3), 189-207.

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The Complex Reality of Human Trafficking in Southeast Asia. (2023, Aug 16). Retrieved from

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