TIME India

6-Year-Old Gang-Raped in Indian School by Staff Members, Say Police

Demonstrators from AIDWA hold placards and shout slogans during protest against recent killings of two teenage girls, in New Delhi
Demonstrators from the All India Democratic Women's Association hold placards and shout slogans during a protest against the rape and murder of two teenage girls, in New Delhi on May 31, 2014 Adnan Abidi—Reuters

India’s National Crime Records Bureau says one rape was reported in India every 21 minutes last year

Furious parents are protesting outside a prominent school in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, where a 6-year-old girl was allegedly raped by two members of staff.

Police say the July 2 assault has only now been reported after the girl complained of stomach pains and was taken by her parents to seek medical attention, reports the BBC.

No arrests have yet been made, but family members of pupils at the school have reacted with considerable anger, tearing down the building’s gates and haranguing staff.

“They have handled [the matter] very shoddily,” Vivek Sharma, the father of a student, told the BBC.

The case will be a test for new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who promised during his election campaign to protect the nation’s 614 million women, but raised eyebrows with a first budget that earmarked only $25 million for women’s safety but $33 million for the world’s largest statue in his home state of Gujarat.

Sexual violence in India has become headline news since the 2012 gang rape and murder of a medical student aboard a bus in the capital New Delhi. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, during 2013, one rape was reported every 21 minutes, despite the vast majority of attacks believed to go unreported.

[BBC]

TIME East Timor

A Harsh Media Law Threatens East Timor’s Budding Democracy

Second Round Of Presidential Elections Held In East Timor
Taur Matan Ruak speaks to the press during the second round of the Presidential elections on April 16, 2012 in Dili, East Timor. Pamela Martin—Getty Images

The law will be "the death" of Timorese media, says a press union boss

Journalists and human rights activists are urging the President of East Timor to scrap a bill deemed a serious threat to press freedom, warning that the nascent democracy could be heading toward renewed authoritarianism.

A former Portuguese colony, East Timor, or Timor-Leste, only won independence from neighboring Indonesia in 2002 following a bloody civil war. Since then, despite being desperately poor, it has enjoyed a remarkably open society.

This is poised to change, say activists, with the implementation of the Media Act, passed by parliament on May 6 but yet to be ratified by President Taur Matan Ruak. The 57-year-old liberation hero has asked for the Court of Appeal to review the legislation’s constitutionality, but critics claim it should be immediately expunged.

“The media played a crucial role in East Timor’s long struggle for independence,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “The President should tell parliament that a media law that stifles free expression won’t get his signature.”

The long struggle that secured East Timor’s independence claimed some 100,000 lives and left the newly liberated population of one million people in abject poverty. Most East Timorese rely on cash crops, mainly coffee, to buy imported rice. A four-month “hungry season” — the period between crops — is an annual ordeal and nearly half of local children are underweight.

However, East Timor boasts abundant oil reserves and petrodollars have begun flooding in. Unfortunately, this opens the door to graft, the exposing of which brings media into direct confrontation with venal officials.

“What we’ve seen in the last few years is more attention to scandals and corruption,” Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia expert with the Center of East Asia Democratic Studies, tell TIME.

Although the Media Act explicitly enshrines “freedom of the press” and prohibits censorship, several provisions would permit government interference with journalists. Rather than the self-regulation favored by media advocates, an official Press Council, staffed by state appointees, would have the power to “grant, renew, suspend and revoke” media credentials. “The law will be the death of [Timorese] journalists,” Timor-Leste Press Union President José Belo told UCA last month.

Around half the adult population of East Timor is illiterate and Internet access is minimal. Newspapers are mostly available only in the capital, Dili, with most rural people getting news and current affairs from radio and TV. If a government was able to influence broadcast content and put pressure on journalists, it would stand a good chance of disseminating its messages unchallenged. The Media Act already proposes to require journalists to “promote the national culture” and “encourage and support high quality economic policies and services.” Such provisions are open to interpretation and abuse, claim critics.

“Journalists, including freelancers, took great risks and made enormous sacrifices while reporting during the darkest days of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor,” said Kine. “The government should recognize that journalists are an indispensable front line against human rights violations, corruption, and abuses of power. Donors should urge the government not to undermine the media’s crucial role.”

TIME Thailand

And Then There Was the College Lecturer Who Gave Out Grades in Return for 7-Eleven Coupons

Inside A 7-Eleven Store Ahead Of CP All Pcl Full-Year Results
A customer exits a 7-Eleven convenience store, operated by CP All Pcl, in Bangkok, Thailand, on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Dario Pignatelli—Bloomberg/Getty Images

“She might have thought it was ordinary practice,” said her boss

A university lecturer in Thailand has been caught offering top grades in exchange for 7-Eleven coupons, or stamps, redeemable at the convenience store chain for small gifts or discounts.

When a class at Kalasin Rajabhat University, in northeast Thailand, complained to the lecturer about the selling of test scores, she rebuked them, and someone in class filmed her doing so.

From the conversation, it appears that 25 coupons earned a one-grade bump, with one student shelling out 400 coupons for an A+, reports the Bangkok Post.

“Khanittha got 17 points in psychology class. She gave me stamps,” the teacher says on the video. “Then, I gave her A+. Do you think you got that grade by your own brain?”

Thailand boasts some 7,000 7-Elevens nationwide — the third-largest presence for the chain after Japan and the U.S.

On Tuesday, the Council of Rajabhat University Presidents of Thailand — known by its unfortunate acronym CRUPT — ordered an investigation.

“Teachers should never exploit their students for any purpose,” said CRUPT president Niwat Klin-Ngam.

Despite suspending the lecturer, who worked for the university’s pre-school education department, acting Kalasin Rajabhat University rector Nopporn Kosirayothin said there may be extenuating circumstances.

“She might have thought it was ordinary practice,” he said. “Judging from what I heard, some lecturers at other places also exchange grades for some beer.”

[Bangkok Post]

TIME Cambodia

In Cambodia, Dozens of Security Guards Are Hurt in an Opposition Crackdown

Police officers scuffle with protesters during clashes at Freedom Park in central Phnom Penh
Police officers scuffle with protesters during clashes at Freedom Park in central Phnom Penh July 15, 2014. Pring Samrang—Reuters

Three opposition MPs-elect were also arrested in the melee in Phnom Penh's Freedom Park

Bloody clashes broke out in central Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on Tuesday morning as security personnel met with stern resistance while attempting to break up an antigovernment demonstration. Three opposition MPs-elect were arrested in the ensuing melee.

Protesters sporting banners and T-shirts reading “Free the Freedom Park” were confronted by dozens of baton-wielding security guards, but officers were soon overwhelmed and many were savagely beaten with improvised weapons.

At least eight district security guards were severely injured, reports the Phnom Penh Post, including one who had a large rock smashed on his skull while lying prone. Smoke bombs were then deployed to disperse the crowd.

Deputy municipal governor Khuong Sreng told the Cambodia Daily that a total of 37 security guards were hurt. “Two others are in emergency care with critical injuries,” he said.

Cambodia has been wracked by political tensions since elections a year ago that returned strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen but were widely condemned as fraudulent.

Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party has now clung onto power for more than 29 years. Officially, it won 68 out of 123 legislative seats in last July’s elections. However, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) maintains it was cheated out of eight seats that would have swung the balance of power.

CNRP MPs-elect have refused to take their seats in protest and have been spearheading ongoing demonstrations, including the one at Freedom Park, where three of them — Mu Sochua, Keo Phirum and Men Sothavarin — were detained

“So far, police have arrested three CNRP lawmakers,” says Khuong Sreng. “Whenever there’s violence, the leaders of demonstration must be immediately arrested for questioning and investigation.”

A ban against public protests was enacted in Phnom Penh after violent clashes involving striking garment workers — many of whom backed the CNRP — broke out in January with the loss of at least six lives. Freedom Park was closed and surrounded by razor wire to deter demonstrators.

“There was every indication from the government that they would not tolerate any attempt to protest, particularly at the Freedom Park,” Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, tells TIME. “But it’s within the rights of the people to protest and push the boundaries.”

CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith told the Cambodia Daily that the organization was “sorry for the violent clash today.” However, he maintained that “it was the security guards who started the violence and attacked the protesters as they often have done before.”

TIME Singapore

Singapore Provokes Outrage by Pulping Kids’ Books About Gay Families

Toddler plays with bubbles as participants wait to take part in the forming of a giant pink dot at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park in Singapore
A toddler plays with bubbles during the Pink Dot parade at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park in Singapore June 28, 2014. Edgar Su—Reuters

One of the books, the multi-award winning And Tango Makes Three, recounts the real life-inspired story of two male penguins raising a baby chick at New York's Central Park Zoo

The Singapore government has ordered the National Library Board (NLB) to remove from library shelves and destroy three children’s books that portray gay, lesbian or unconventional families.

The multi-award winning And Tango Makes Three recounts the real life-inspired story of two male penguins raising a baby chick at New York’s Central Park Zoo. The other two banned titles are The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, which features a lesbian couple, and Who’s In My Family: All About Our Families, which describes unconventional parental set-ups.

The move has resulted in a torrent of opposition in mainstream and social media, the latter largely via the #FreeMyLibrary hashtag. An open letter criticizing the ban has also received more than 4,000 signatures.

“This is a very unfortunate step backwards,” Kirpal Singh, associate professor of English Literature at Singapore Management University, tells TIME. “While we try to balance the conservatives and liberal minded, do we remove anything or everything that gives offense, especially if this offense is quite problematic, quite complex?”

Homosexuality is a sensitive subject in ostensibly modern Singapore. Gay sex remains illegal but is rarely prosecuted, and an estimated 26,000 revelers thronged this year’s annual Pink Dot gay rights rally — one of the largest public gatherings of any sort seen in recent years. Nevertheless, society remains conservative.

According to a NLB statement, “We take a cautious approach, particularly in books and materials for children. NLB’s understanding of family is consistent with that of the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education.”

The ban was reportedly spurred by a complaint from a single library user who is also a member of the Facebook group “We Are Against Pinkdot in Singapore.”

The NLB boasts a collection of more than five million books and audio-visual materials, and a spokesperson told Channel News Asia that it acts on less than a third of the 20 or so removal requests received each year. (James Patterson’s Kill Me If You Can, which depicts incest, was the subject of a complaint but remains on the shelves.)

Naturally, gay rights activists are outraged. “This unfortunate decision sends a message of rejection to many loving families that do not conform to the narrow father-mother-children definition of family that it has adopted,” said Pink Dot spokesperson Paerin Choa by email. “Pink Dot believes that Singapore can be an inclusive home for its people in all their diversity, and that constructive dialogue should be the way forward for a truly embracing society.”

For Singh, the furor may at least have the positive side effect of prompting debate. “This may contribute to a more vital discussion for Singapore in terms of where we are and where we are not when it comes to values, freedoms and an open state for discourse,” he says.

While praising the NLB as an institution, acclaimed Singaporean author Alvin Pang writes: “This is a serious impoverishment of what books are and what knowledge means, and it can only harm our intellectual development and broader social discourse.”

Justin Richardson, co-author of And Tango Makes Three, would no doubt agree. “We wrote the book to help parents teach children about same-sex parent families,” he told the New York Times in 2007. “It’s no more an argument in favor of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks.”

TIME Thailand

The Thai Junta Revokes a Famed Academic’s Passport in Its Crackdown on Dissidents

THAILAND-POLITICS-PROTEST
Thai policemen stand guard during a demonstration by an anticoup protester at a shopping mall in Bangkok on June 22, 2014. Pornchai Kittiwongsakul—AFP/Getty Images

Little wonder the BBC's World Service has launched a new Thai-language “pop-up” Internet service to counter the military's tightening grip on media and opinion

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, the prominent Thai political scholar and outspoken opponent of the country’s coup, has had his passport revoked as part of the Thai junta’s ongoing campaign against dissenters.

“I am now a stateless person,” Pavin, who is based at Japan’s Kyoto University, tells TIME. “The junta not only claims the right to take control of politics, but the right to define who should be, or should not be, Thai citizens.”

Pavin has not been charged with any crime and is now expected to seek asylum in Japan.

Since the May 22 putsch, the junta has stifled all forms of opposition. Politicians on both sides of the political divide have been detained, strict censorship introduced and peaceful protesters hauled off the street by soldiers in civilian clothing for the merest flickers of dissent. These include making the three-fingered salute from The Hunger Games, reading George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, and serving or eating sandwiches — an anticoup symbol — in an “antagonistic” manner.

Thanapol Eawsakul, editor of the Red Shirt–leaning Fah Diew Khan magazine, was detained over the weekend for simply posting on Facebook that military authorities had instructed him to refrain from making critical remarks about the junta. He is expected to remain in custody for seven days.

Until now, only Thai nationals outside the country have felt able to voice opposition to the coup — the Southeast Asian nation’s 12th since 1932. However, this may change now that Pavin has been made an example of. Considerable pressure is also being put on dissenting Thais living abroad, through both diplomatic channels and threats to family members still at home.

Pavin was a particularly vocal critic of the military and repeatedly refused to return to his homeland and report to the authorities as instructed. When first summoned, he famously offered to send his pet Chihuahua instead, and has continued to pen disparaging op-eds and to condemn the junta to foreign media.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the BBC’s World Service launched a new Thai-language “pop-up” Internet service to counter the propaganda being peddled by the military regime.

“One of the fundamental principles of the World Service is to bring impartial and accurate news and to countries when they lack it,” Liliane Landor, controller of language services for the World Service, told the Telegraph. “We think the time is right to trial a new Thai and English digital stream to bring trusted news and information to people inside Thailand.”

TIME Malaysia

Malaysia Is Becoming a Global Hub For Internet Scams Preying on the Lovelorn

IAC Will Turn Match Dating Service Into a Separate Business
The Match.com website is displayed on laptop computers arranged for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The ease of obtaining visas, opening bank accounts and arranging money transfers are all part of Malaysia's newfound criminal appeal.

Lax student visa regulations and a high-tech banking system has made Malaysia a global hub for Internet scams, according to U.S. officials, with money being swindled out of unwitting Americans and Europeans by racketeers prowling online dating sites.

The conmen typically hail from Nigeria or Ghana and dupe lonely, middle-aged men and women from the U.S. and Western Europe through matchmaking services like Match.com, reports Reuters. A dozen new cases are reported to the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur every week, with scam complaints forming four-fifths of new work for duty officers.

“This is a serious issue hurting many Americans financially and emotionally,” said a U.S. embassy spokesperson. “We would hope that through publicity more Americans would be made aware of these scams.”

While most Internet users have received — only to swiftly mock and discard — some crude Nigerian scam emails, these tricksters are more sophisticated, and slowly build trust as a budding romance ripens. Then the request for money comes, normally a relatively small amount at first; but once the hooks are in, the victim struggles to turn down subsequent heftier demands without admitting to having been hoodwinked.

“Some victims find it very hard to break away from the relationship, even when they’ve been told it’s not real,” says Professor Monica Whitty, an expert on Internet fraud psychology. “So the criminal admits to scamming the victim but says that they also fell in love with them at the same time, and they get back into the same scam.”

But it is not just lovelorn Americans who are being swindled; other foreign embassies in Kuala Lumpur are dealing with similar complaints, reports Reuters. Whitty says that at least 500,000 U.K. citizens have fallen prey to such “sweetheart scams” since the phenomenon was first reported around 2007.

Slightly more men than women are duped by fraudulent lovers, but men are less likely to seek recompense out of embarrassment.

“Some people mortgage their houses to pay these criminals,” Whitty says, “but often the devastation they feel is more about the loss of the relationship than the money — of realizing they’ve been duped.”

And worryingly, such scams appear to be growing more common; last year, U.S.-based IT security developer SOPHOS ranked Malaysia as sixth globally in terms of cyber crime threat risks, as the total cyber crime bill topped $300 million. The ease of obtaining visas, opening bank accounts and arranging money transfers are all part of the nation’s criminal appeal.

“Scammers are increasingly using targeted social engineering attacks against their victims due to the extremely high success rate,” Ty Miller, an Australian security expert and founder of Threat Intelligence, tells TIME. “This not only affects individuals, but also organizations.”

Awareness and technology are key to tackling this scourge, says Miller, who is running a fraud-prevention course in Kuala Lumpur in October. “Techniques can be deployed that allow malicious individuals to be tracked,” he says, “which as time goes on will build intelligence to unveil the identity of the perpetrators.”

Amirudin Abdul Wahab, CEO of CyberSecurity Malaysia, an agency under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, says all involved nations must share information and jointly investigate cases according to agreed procedures and technical processes.

“Various authorities from the various countries involved should work together rather than blaming each other,” he said by email. “These countries need to synergize their efforts, in order to effectively address this scam problem.”

TIME southeast asia

Elephants Are Tortured and Trafficked to Entertain Tourists in Thailand

An elephant lifts a tourist during a show in Pattaya, Thailand on March 1, 2013.
An elephant lifts a tourist during a show in Pattaya, Thailand on March 1, 2013. Pornchai Kittiwongsakul—AFP/Getty Images

That obligatory elephant ride and selfie relies on a bloody trade in tormented animals

Wild elephants are being captured in Burma and mentally broken through savage beatings as traffickers seek to profit from a lucrative trade to Thai tourist parks, claims a new report.

According to wildlife-advocacy group TRAFFIC, poachers in Burma, officially known as Myanmar, corral elephants into jungle pits, after which older animals are slaughtered and the more valuable young ones tortured into submission before being trafficked over the porous border to entertain tourists vacationing in the self-styled Land of Smiles. (Formerly, elephants in Burma might have been put to work in the logging industry, but recent curbs have put this trade under threat.)

Sangduen Chailert, popularly known as Lek, has worked in elephant conservation in her native northern Thailand for 20 years. “When they catch a wild baby elephant, some [poachers] told me that in the jungle it’s like a killing field,” she tells TIME. “To take one baby they must kill the mother and the aunties, and it is very risky for the baby as it’s difficult for them to survive without their mothers.”

Thailand vowed to clamp down on the trade in February 2012, yet as elephants can be registered and microchipped anytime up to the age of 4, there is ample opportunity for young trafficked animals to be passed off as locally reared.

“There are gaping holes in the current legislation, which do little to deter unscrupulous operators passing off wild-caught young animals as being of captive origin and falsifying birth and ownership documentation,” said Joanna Cary-Elwes, campaigns manager for Elephant Family.

Healthy young elephants typically fetch more than $30,000 in Thailand, according to TRAFFIC. Venal officials often facilitate their illicit movement across Southeast Asia, even shipping them as far as China or South Korea after giving the animals new identities in Laos.

Lek, who was named one of six Women Heroes of Global Conservation by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010, says educating tourists is vital to combat the trade at the source. Some 6,500 elephants currently live in Thailand, around 2,500 of which are wild-caught.

“Tourists want to see the elephants painting and doing lots of things, especially riding,” she says, but “tourism work is actually the most disturbing to the elephant” as “when logging they only work for part of the year.”

The TRAFFIC study says up to 81 live elephants were illegally captured for sale to the Thai tourist industry between 2011 and 2013. Lax implementation of current antitrafficking provisions means the current plod across the mountainous Thai-Burmese frontier may soon become a stampede once again.

“Unless urgent changes are made to outdated legislation and better systems are introduced to document the origin of elephants in tourist camps and other locations across Thailand, things could quickly revert to their previous unacceptable state,” says Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC’s regional director for Southeast Asia.

TIME Burma

Once Again, Racial Tensions in Burma Turn Deadly

Police officers guard a Muslim residential area in Mandalay
Police officers guard a Muslim residential area in Mandalay July 3, 2014. Soe Zeya Tun—Reuters

Buddhist gangs, including monks, attacked Muslim-owned businesses and a mosque, in violence that has left two dead

A police curfew has helped restore calm to Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, following mob violence between local Buddhists and Muslims that has so far claimed two lives and left more than a dozen injured.

Rioting was sparked Tuesday evening when Buddhist gangs — including monks — attacked Muslim-owned businesses, cars and a mosque with bricks and make-shift weapons, apparently enraged by the rape of a Buddhist woman allegedly by two Muslim owners of a teashop.

“Two men were killed” in overnight attacks into Thursday, Zaw Min Oo, a senior police officer in Mandalay, confirmed to AFP.

One victim, a 30-year-old Buddhist man named Tun Tun, was hacked to death with a sword, according to local officials, while a Muslim man, Soe Min Htway, was apparently killed in retaliation while traveling to dawn prayers. Around 400 local police were deployed Thursday to keep the peace and rubber bullets were reported fired.

Five Muslims were reportedly arrested Friday after security officials searched their homes and found knives. “Police definitely know these are used for ceremonial purposes,” Ossaman, an imam at Mandalay’s largest mosque, told Reuters. “They were not breaking any law.”

Mandalay is the home of extremist Buddhist monk Wirathu and has long been a hub of simmering inter-religious tensions; the controversial cleric appears to have been instrumental is spreading the rape rumors that led to the latest violence via his Facebook page.

On Thursday, he warned of Muslims “armed to teeth with swords and spears” preparing a jihad against local Buddhists, reports the Democratic Voice of Burma.

Sporadic violence between Buddhists and Muslims has convulsed Burma for over two years now, as the former pariah nation emerges from a half-century of brutal military dictatorship. More than 240 people have been killed and at least 140,000 displaced, most of them Rohingya — a heavily persecuted Muslim group largely denied citizenship.

Buddhist depictions of Muslims as sexual predators are commonplace, spurring the sectarian bloodletting; when the most recent spell of violence erupted in June 2012, it was in response to the rape and murder of a Buddhist girl in western Arakan state blamed on three Muslim men.

Extremist rhetoric frequently portrays Muslim men as being hungry for multiple Buddhist wives, forcing them to convert. The prejudice has spurred the introduction of a monk-championed interfaith marriage ban bill, which is currently before parliament.

While official figures state that only four percent of Burma’s 60 million people are Muslim, independent observers put the true as figure significantly higher.

Meanwhile on Wednesday senior Buddhist clergy claimed that all monks present during the Mandalay riots were there as peacemakers. “We are holding a press conference to clarify that the monks were not involved,” Galone Ni Sayadaw, of the All Burma Monks Union-Upper Burma, told assembled media.

Burmese President Thein Sein used a radio address Thursday to call for stability without specifically mentioning the Mandalay turmoil. “For reforms to be successful, I would like to urge all to avoid instigation and behavior that incites hatred in our fellow citizens,” said the former junta general.

Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner who has now been elected to parliament, has faced international censure for her reticence regarding ongoing sectarian violence, but briefly addressed the subject during an interview with Radio Free Asia.

“The authorities should properly handle those people who are spreading rumors,” she said. “Without rule of law, more riots will come.”

TIME southeast asia

A Young Girl Kept as a Slave for 5 Years in Thailand Wins Landmark Damages

Illegal Myanmar Immigrants Make Living In Rubbish Field in Thailand
An illegal-immigrant boy from Burma works at mountains of rubbish in Mae Sot, Thailand, on July 18, 2013 The Asahi Shimbun—Getty Images

Sold as a 7-year-old, she keeps the spotlight on the dangers faced by the estimated 4 million migrant workers in Thailand

A 13-year-old Burmese girl who was tortured for five years by a Thai couple who treated her as a slave has finally been awarded $143,000 in compensation by a local court, ending one nightmare but throwing the spotlight on the plight of countless other vulnerable migrants who suffer similar abuse.

The victim, who was just 7 years old when she was sold into slavery, must live with horrendous scars over half her body after she was regularly drenched with pots of boiling water for perceived disobedience. (The extent of her disfigurement can be seen on this Thai news report, but be warned — the images are distressing.)

The girl, an ethnic Karen known as Air, says she was kidnapped while her illegal-migrant parents were working in sugarcane fields in northwest Thailand. She was then sold to a Thai couple who made her work as a maid and sleep in a dog kennel. Air says she escaped once and summoned the police, only to be returned to her abusers, who allegedly cut off the tip of her ear as punishment. The girl eventually escaped successfully on Jan. 31 last year.

“The couple is still at large, but lawyers will investigate all of the employers’ properties to compensate her,” Preeda Tongchumnum, the assistant to the secretary general of the Bangkok-based Human Rights and Development Foundation, told the Irrawaddy. “She cannot make a 100% recovery, but the doctor will help her to move her body like any other person.”

Although Monday’s award must be deemed a victory of sorts, the uncomfortable truth remains that the girl’s plight mirrors that of many of the estimated 4 million migrant workers in Thailand, who toil with virtually no legal safeguards and are often exploited by venal officials.

Compounding matters, the couple accused of torturing Air — identified as Nathee Taengorn, 36, and Rattanakorn Piyavoratharm, 34 — skipped town after they were inexplicably released on police bail despite facing seven serious charges. Local media reports alleged the pair had “influential” connections. The police have yet to offer an explanation for Air’s claim that they returned her to her captors after her first escape bid.

Such official indifference to the plight of migrant labor has contributed to the U.S. State Department’s decision last month to relegate Thailand to the lowest rank of its Trafficking in Persons report — putting the self-styled “Land of Smiles” on par with North Korea for its inability or unwillingness to protect workers from abuse.

“There cannot be impunity for those who traffic in human beings,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to mark the report’s release. “Whether it is a young girl trapped in a brothel or a woman enslaved as a domestic worker or a boy forced to sell himself on the street or a man abused on a fishing boat, the victims of these crimes all have names, all had families.”

Sadly, all four of the examples citied by Kerry are commonplace in Thailand, which has long been a hub for migrant laborers fleeing war, poverty or political persecution in less affluent neighboring countries. The Thai fishing industry has come into particular scrutiny recently.

This already dire situation has been further complicated by Thailand’s military coup on May 22. Fears of a crackdown prompted an exodus of more than 250,000 mainly Cambodian workers, although the junta insists that by requiring all companies to “submit comprehensive name lists of their employees” it is now working to prevent “illegal activity, drugs, crime, unfair employment and bodily harm.”

Such assurances have not convinced human-rights activists, though. “Migrant workers make huge contributions to Thailand’s economy, but their daily life is unsafe and uncertain, and they face abuses from many quarters,” Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, calling for the junta to “reverse this [exodus] disaster by quickly putting into place genuine reforms that would protect migrant workers’ rights, not threaten them.”

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