I didn’t fully understand the scope of trafficking and child exploitation when I arrived in Thailand. Having grown up in a pretty sheltered part of the world, my experience with human trafficking has been limited to several viewings of the 2008 blockbuster “Taken” and the various stories of investigations, rescues, and survival that float into my cube at The Exodus Road offices.
Thats why, when approached by an eight year old boy selling roses on a dingy street in southern Thailand, I bought one for my wife. “Let’s arm wrestle. The loser has to buy a rose for your girlfriend,” he said, extending a tiny arm onto the table of the bar I was sitting at.
One of our investigators leaned in, fresh off my loss, “You see those two guys over there? Those are his handlers. They send him into the street and take all the money he makes. Just watch.”
And sure enough, three arm wrestles later, the boy marched over to the men standing in the shadows and handed them the money.
An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 homeless children wander the streets of Thailand, “the majority of these children have been trafficked, endured crimes of pedophilia or other physical and emotional abuse” (Human Health Network). UNICEF Child Protection Officer Sirirath Chunnasart notes that “children who live or work on the streets are at great risk of violence, abuse, exploitation, drugs and HIV. They often have little or no access to health, education or other social services.”
That’s where Khru Ja comes in. The Exodus Road and Khru Ja began partnership in 2012. Khru Ja, an expressive, joy-filled man, runs a safe home for the once trafficked and displaced children in southern Thailand. The home, refuge to 38 children (12 girls, 26 boys) helps children that have been victims of any number of horrors to reenter society poised for success. Khru Ja, formerly a street child himself, was given a chance to receive an education and as a result has spent his life offering the same opportunity to children. Reflecting on the value of his education Ja notes, “It was generosity that saved my life, the least I can do is offer the same opportunity.”
The safe house, a near self-sustaining facility, features a vegetable garden, chicken coop, basketball court, soccer field, and five apartment style homes for the children to live in. A staff of six provides ongoing care to the children and maintenance of the property. Once at the home, children are provided with the educational tools and emotional support to begin the process of restoration. The project is entirely led by nationals.
In addition to providing a safe home to children in Thailand, Khru Ja works with local authorities to identify perpetrators of human trafficking and sexual abuse throughout the country. In his career he has worked on an estimated 350 western pedophile cases and 150 Thai sexual abuse cases. In the words of The Exodus Road Team, “Ja is a doer, he gets things done.” Ja has been working in this field for over 25 years and his kindness, laughter, and generosity are striking. When asked about his work, Ja, smiling from ear to ear declares, “I have been working for many years on the streets of Thailand. You see so many boys, girls… children, walking around, abused, neglected, forgotten. This place is a part of changing that.”Ja was recently one of twelve recipients for a governmental nationwide award given annually to recognize notable leaders in the field of counter-trafficking.
The Exodus Road Team of investigators and partnering police are key investigative partners of Khru Ja and work with him on a regular basis. In addition to investigative support and networking case management, The Exodus Road has given a motorcycle to Khru Ja’s team and has provided internet services for his facility. The Exodus Road is currently working on providing school fees for some of the children at the home.