An offer too good to refuse leads to a nightmare

When 15-year-old Mai* accepted an offer to work as a housemaid in Bangkok, Thailand, she didn’t know she’d end up trapped in a nightmare of forced labor and exploitation.

By Cecil Laguardia and Peter Warski, World Vision communications. Photos by Vanhlee Lattana.
Published July 17, 2011 at 12:00am PDT

In 2009, Mai* of southern Laos was approached by a work recruiter who offered her a job as a housemaid in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city.

At face value, it seemed like a great opportunity. The recruiter told Mai that she'd be paid about $100 U.S. for the position — money she could save up while spending time in a big, exciting city.

“All I wanted was to earn income, help my family, and be able to save money for my education,” says Mai. So her family helped her raise funds for the recruitment fee, and she crossed the border into Thailand.

Walking into a trap

But it didn’t take long for Mai to realize that the so-called “job” wasn't at all what she was led to believe. She had been trafficked for labor.

Along with two other Laotian girls, she was required to perform domestic chores at the residence of a Thai family — such as cleaning and mopping floors and feeding the family dogs. She was never paid a cent of the compensation she was promised.

“I cried every day for one year,” Mai recalls. “I was homesick and scared.”

A break didn’t come until one day when the lady living at the residence forgot to close the door on her way out — leaving an opportunity for Mai and the two other girls to escape.

A taxi driver took them to a police station. Soon thereafter, the apartment where they were trapped was raided.

‘We were treated like prisoners’

The terror is over, but the memories and lessons of it are not.

“My biggest lesson is that it is never safe for young girls to venture in a faraway place,” says Mai. “We were treated like prisoners and were not allowed to go anywhere. We worked all day. We were even beaten at times if we committed mistakes.”

Reflecting on what good could possibly come from such a tragic experience, she adds, “It taught me how dangerous it is to go to another country, especially if you do not know anything. I am sharing my story to others for them to be forewarned.”

A time of recovery

Mai shares a laugh with one of the trainers at the weaving shop where she now learns. Photo: ©2010 Vanhlee Lattana/World VisionWith the help of a regional World Vision project aimed at fighting child trafficking, Mai was eventually reunited with her family in Laos. Now, she’s learning how to make bags and acquiring other basic skills at a weaving shop that is providing a second chance for survivors of exploitation like her.

“I want to learn new skills so I can move on,” she says resolutely. “I love making bags and would love to learn more.”

Sadly, Mai’s story is reflective of a much bigger global crisis — one in which some 1.2 million children are trafficked each year for forced labor. The practice occurs in every country in the world, including the United States, and represents a modern-day slave trade that World Vision is committed to ending.

*Name has been changed to protect the girl’s identity and safety.

Learn more

Learn more about child trafficking and exploitation and what you can do to help stop this tragic practice.

Four ways you can help

Please pray for children around the world like Mai who have been affected by trafficking and exploitation. Pray for their rescue and recovery, and pray for a transformation of those who commit this crime.

Call your senators to voice your support for the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). As the cornerstone of U.S. policies to fight human trafficking, this bill must be reauthorized every few years. It is set to expire on September 30, 2011.

Make a one-time gift to help provide hope for girls in crisis like Mai. Your donation will help World Vision provide protection, counseling, education, vocational training, and more to girls and women who were formally subjected to abuse or exploitation.

Give monthly to provide support to children affected by exploitation. Your monthly gift will help provide assistance like safe shelter, nutritious food, medical care, trauma recovery counseling, and more to children who have suffered from trafficking and abuse.