by Jay Milbrandt (JD/MBA ’08),
Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. Isaiah 1:17.
In Northern Thailand, there’s no one to defend the fatherless. Many of the children I know have been thrown into jail because they did not possess papers. Although I sympathize with limiting the flow of illegal immigration, the response has been inhumane and illegal. The problem is, there’s no one to advocate for the rights of children. I’ll be documenting the stories of some of these kids of the course of this trip, then offering some suggested ideas later. In the meantime, I want to briefly layout some issues that I’ve been learning about so far.
I acquired these are original photos of actions violating the Rights of the Child. They were taken when some of the kids I know, including Faifah, were detained. Thailand was a signatory to the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In part, the Convention states:
• Article 36: States Parties shall protect the child against all other forms of exploitation prejudicial to any aspects of the child’s welfare.
• Article 37: State Parties shall ensure that:
1. No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offenses committed by persons below eighteen years of age;
2. No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;
3. Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age. In particular, every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child’s best interest not to do so and shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits, save in exceptional circumstances;
4. Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action.
The photos and stories I am collecting directly contradict subparts 2, 3, and 4.
Violations of Subpart 2:
The children are being detained anywhere from two weeks to one month. Faifah explained that she was detained 18 days. By no means is this the shortest appropriate length of time.
Violations of Subpart 3:
The photo here shows a young girl–maybe 3 or 4 packed into the jail cell alongside other adults. The convention requires that children be separated from adults, but this has not been done. Faifah testified that when she was taken to Mae Sai—the Thai border city—they were in separate cells by gender, but not children from adults. She said that some of the adults would take their clothes off, which made her very uncomfortable.
Violations of Subpart 4:
The children and their families were given no prompt assistance and no right to challenge their citizenship. Since they had no papers to show, they were simply deported to Burma. In my interview with the stepfather of one of my children, he testified that he was born in a hilltribe village in Thailand—giving him the right to be a Thai citizen. Yet, he did not have papers, so he was given no hearing or forum to prove his immigration status. When I asked whether they had a hearing or attorney present, the response was a blank stare and confusion—the concept was totally foreign
At the end of my interview with one family, I asked if they had anything further they would like to share. “We don’t want to talk about the time we spent in jail because it is too difficult,” the mother replied. “But we were treated like pigs and fed like pigs.” This statement summarized the situation. The hilltribe families, and particularly the children, were being treated like animals—rounded up, packed into cages, then shipped off. The problem will continue until there is someone here to encourage them, to defend them, and to plead for them.
I’m leaving now for a meeting with the dean of a local law school. I’m planning to discuss the possibility of a legal aid clinic for children the families. If the right pieces could fall together and local law students would get on board, this clinic would help children and families with citizenship documents, street law rights, and public defense. It would provide a place for access to justice and someone to defend their rights before the above violations occur.