A report from the UN Human Rights Office has revealed the alarming extent of human trafficking in South East Asia, where criminal groups are exploiting vulnerable individuals to support illegal gambling operations.
This trafficking generates billions of US dollars annually but comes at a grave cost to the victims, who face threats to their safety and well-being. Many have already experienced torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and other abuses.
The report identifies Myanmar as a significant source, with around 120,000 people forced into online criminal activities, including illegal gambling. Cambodia is also deeply affected, with an estimated 100,000 victims. Laos, the Philippines, and Thailand also report tens of thousands of cases. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue, pushing criminal networks to exploit migrants in precarious situations due to the closure of regulated casinos and the shifting of activities to less monitored areas.
Most trafficking victims are men, though women and adolescents are also affected. Many have higher education degrees and technical skills, making them targets due to their computer literacy and language abilities. The victims come from a range of Southeast Asian countries, as well as further afield from regions like China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The report emphasizes the role of the Philippines Offshore Gambling Operations (POGOs) in facilitating these crimes. Although legalized in 2016, POGOs operate in regulatory gray areas, and many aspects of their activities remain unregulated or outside the law. The report points out that more than 230 POGOs were reportedly operating in the Philippines, with only a fraction holding licenses and paying taxes.
The UN has criticized governments across the region for inadequate responses to human trafficking. Despite legal and policy frameworks, these measures often fall short of international standards and fail to address the evolving tactics of criminal networks. Many governments misidentify trafficking victims as criminals or immigration violators, depriving them of necessary support and subjecting them to criminal prosecution.
The report's findings highlight the urgency of addressing the human trafficking crisis in South East Asia comprehensively, with a focus on strengthening human rights, governance, and the rule of law. Only through a holistic approach can the cycle of abuse be broken, ensuring protection and justice for those who have suffered profoundly.
By fLEXI tEAM