According to Curtin University sexologist Lorel Mayberry, sex trafficking among the Thai hill tribes is real and driven by overwhelmingly by poverty.
Dr Mayberry established Borderless Friendships WA (BFWA) six years ago, which she said had transformed the lives of more than 450 hill tribe children in remote areas of northern Thailand.
“A sense of entitlement drives men, both local men and travellers, to abuse the children,” Dr Mayberry said.
Her catalyst for action came after two teenage girls died of AIDS after being dumped back with their tribes after years in the sex trade.
“The girls had been sold by their impoverished parents and taken to the south of Thailand and used as sex slaves,” Dr Mayberry said.
“They were returned to their hill tribe village to spend their last months in shame and without a community burial.”
Dr Mayberry said she quickly became committed to providing the many other children at risk with ways of escaping a similar fate.
“My main aim was to provide the children, many of whom are orphans, with education and adequate living conditions,” she said.
“It was a tall order. We formed a small band of people and began by selling wooden frogs that croak.
“So many times over the past six years, when we were feeling desperate about our fundraising, small and large miracles have occurred.”
Dr Mayberry said BFWA went from raising $6000 in the first year to more than $150,000 last year, but more money was needed through sponsorships.
Monetary donations have gone to building safe houses and providing scholarships to students to ensure children are safe day and night.
She said knowledge was power when it came to improving the lives of young people and education had extended to sex education facilitated by tribe leaders.
“The children are highly motivated to continue on beyond primary school but parents often need their children to return to their village to help in the fields,” she said.
“We support the children continuing at high school by offering education scholarships.
“This makes a huge difference for a poor family.
“You have to tackle poverty. We know if you support parents with things like sustainable agriculture and access to low cost loans, they will give their children an education… this is breaking the cycle.”