updated 30 Apr 2011, 23:48
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Thu, Apr 14, 2011
The Nation/ANN
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Mighty Mira
by Kupluthai Pungkanon

Academy Award-winning actress and anti-trafficking activist Mira Sorvino was in Bangkok last week to kick off a "Day of Action" to highlight the need to stop sex trafficking of children. The goodwill ambassador of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime stressed that paedophilia and sex trafficking must stopped and stated that everyone should help protect children.

Sorvino has been involved with the issue for more than seven years and is well informed about the situation in Thailand where she has been filming "Trade of Innocents". The movie, which also stars Dermot Mulroney, is about a couple who've lost their daughter and cope with their grief by setting out to rescue girls sold into the sex trade. Directed by Christopher Bessette, the drama is set in Cambodia, but is being filmed here.

Sorvino, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in director Woody Allen's 1995 romantic comedy "Mighty Aphrodite", got into her "Innocents" character by getting hands-on experience at some of Thailand's child-protection shelters.

She says she realises that Thai society prefers not to talk about the sex trafficking of children because it might be offensive to cultural values. However, not talking about the crime, she says, helps those who are involved in it. "Silence never helps in protecting the child."

"As a mother of three children aged six, four and one, I understand the preciousness of children and human society as a whole," she says.

"I heard that although Thailand has a good law against human trafficking, for children it is low priority. There is no specialised agency to deal with specific issues on child sex trafficking. The investigation is of concern because it is reactive rather than protective, which means that the child must necessarily be victimised before the jurisdiction procedure takes place. This allows the paedophile to rape or commit a sexual violation to the child before he goes through the jurisdiction," she points out.

She would like to encourage the Thai government to take the lead role in stopping sex trafficking, proving that the country has zero tolerance for the external or internal practice of foreigners in violating our children's rights.

"Hopefully the investigation can gain more strength and catch the criminals so that the child does not have to go through the rape report form. The paedophile or the trafficker will be caught planning to commit the crime. This is very important," she stresses.

Children being trafficked for sex are getting younger, she says. "Apparently, the appetite of the paedophile is now for younger children. Prostitution is more acceptable in some countries but child prostitution will never be acceptable," Sorvino says. "It is absolutely evil of those paedophiles to have sex with children and treat them like objects."

Sorvino says that recently she visited a child protection shelter in Pattaya and learned that almost 90 per cent of the children under care have been harassed and violated and 10 per cent are officially victims of the sex trade.

Children on the street are at high risk because they are afraid of being killed or shipped to other countries.

Some foreign men come to this country to marry poor Thai women in order to get access to her children to abuse them for their sexual pleasure, she says. The Internet is a powerful tool for international crime with a major network used by paedophiles to buy their child victims.

"There is a terrible case of an older man who looked like a kind of Santa Claus," says Sorvino. "He is a teacher and in his home he kept four or five Thai children and sold sex to his foreign friends when they came to Thailand."

Often the situation is exacerbated by shoddy investigation of the cases. Many paedophiles are not afraid of committing sexual crimes in Thailand. After making a bust, the police responsible for the case are often transferred so the investigation is interrupted and delayed. "Some paedophiles could commit the same crime four or even five times crimes. They did not go to jail. They know that they can bribe the police, or pay some money to the family of the victims and get away with it. This sort of situation must end," Sorvino stresses.

Perhaps even sadder is the story of a young man sexually violated at the age of 12 who, finding himself unattractive to paedophiles when he grew up, became a broker and sells other boys. Infected with Aids and tuberculosis, he spreads disease to the children with whom he has sex.

But the actress is not totally depressed by what she sees. "When I visited children shelter, some of the kids held my hands and invited me to sit on the floor. My heart filled with love. They have beautiful souls."

"I realised that there are possibilities for many victims to be lifted up and have beautiful lives. They all deserve the chance."


- Mira Sorvino is helping with the petition campaign by the Body Shop and Ecpat International Foundation.

- The three-year effort has resulted in more than 5.4 million signatures on petitions worldwide calling governments to improve child protection against sex trafficking.

- The goal is 6 million signatures and 200,000 signatures from Thailand. The petitions for Thailand and 40 other countries will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September.

- For every Bt250 (S$10.40) of Soft Hand Kind Heart hand cream sold by the Body Shop, Bt100 will be donated to Ecpat as well as Bt70 for every Bt290 "Back for Life" tote bag sold.

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