When poverty becomes a catalyst for forced labor, exploitation

Children and teens whose families live in poverty are often persuaded to go seek work with promises of steady pay. Tragically, as Khamsieng’s story illustrates, they often end up in a vicious cycle of exploitation.

Story and photos by Ammala Thomisith, World Vision Laos
Published June 7, 2013 at 12:00am PDT

In early 2004, a broker came to the village in Laos where 15-year-old Khamsieng* lived with her family. The broker was recruiting young men and women to go work in neighboring Thailand.

Among the promises he made: high wages, accommodation, and food provided by employers. He also said he would cover the costs of getting there.

It sounded like a great deal at the time — and because Khamsieng’s family desperately needed money for their house, she decided to go to earn some.

Not long after her departure, however, she realized that what she had gotten herself into wasn’t at all what it originally seemed.

The beginning of a nightmare

Khamsieng was taken to be a housemaid, where she was made to cook, clean, do laundry, and occasionally work on a rubber plantation. She was paid a fraction of the money she had been promised — receiving around U.S. $70 a year for her labor.

The rest, she was told, was being deposited into a bank account for her.

Even the amount she saw was of little use, of course, because she had no way to send it back to Laos to help her family. Ironically, if she had simply stayed in her home village, she could have helped them more by working on the family farm.

Khamsieng’s working conditions were harsh. Her employers regularly shouted abuse at her and refused to let her rest when she was sick. The house where she worked was guarded day and night, so she couldn’t leave.

Incredibly, Khamsieng endured this ordeal for eight years, saving what she could so she had enough money to pay for the bus fare back to Laos. The tipping point came when she became seriously ill, and her employer insisted that she keep working.

A brave escape

Khamsieng knew it was time to go. She escaped by to climbing a tree near the perimeter wall in the middle of the night. She then walked nervously to a nearby train station, constantly terrified that her captors would find her and force her back.

Thankfully, they didn’t. She took a train into Bangkok before getting on a bus to Laos.

When she reached Laos, she received help from the government and was connected with World Vision’s human trafficking prevention project, which helped her to return to her village and reunite with her family.

She was also offered vocational training, and World Vision helped her find a legitimate job. She now works at a local guesthouse, where she earns enough money to be able to help her parents.

Khamsieng finally feels safe and has hopes for the future. She wants to learn how to sew and use the skill to get another job.

Trafficking a worldwide problem

Since 2008, World Vision has assisted 127 children and young adults affected by trafficking in Laos, part of our efforts to fight exploitation through forced labor, sex slavery, and other horrific practices.

Khamsieng’s story highlights a broader global crisis: There are over 20 million people in slavery worldwide, more than at any other time in human history. Some 5.5 million children are trafficked annually for forced labor or sexual exploitation.

Thanks to the advocacy of concerned citizens, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act finally passed the Senate and House of Representatives in February 2013, after having expired for more than a year.

Now, World Vision’s priority is to ensure that funding is made available to implement the law, which represents the cornerstone of U.S. efforts to fight modern-day slavery.

*The girl’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

Learn more

Read more about World Vision’s child protection efforts worldwide.

Four ways you can help

Please pray for children and families left vulnerable to trafficking because of vicious poverty. Pray for the international will to fight this terrible practice, and pray that those who participate in it would be held accountable and would be reformed.

Contact your members of Congress today. Ask them to support strong funding to fight modern-day slavery through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. We’re not asking for more money; we’re just seeking to ensure that anti-trafficking initiatives are not cut.

Make a one-time donation to World Vision’s Children in Crisis Fund — or give monthly to provide support for exploited children. Your contribution will help us bring critical assistance to children who have faced nightmares, using interventions like trauma counseling, medical care, nutritious food, safe shelter, education, vocational training, and more.


  • Not knowing what she was getting into, Khamsieng* agreed to go to Thailand to find work to help her family earn money.
  • The girl’s experience turned out to be a tragic encounter with abuse and forced labor.
  • After escaping, she was connected with World Vision and offered assistance to recover from her ordeal, which tragically reflects what’s faced by millions who are trafficked for exploitation worldwide each year.

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