A Thai provincial court has awarded a compensation of 4.6 million baht to a young Karen girl who escaped her Thai employers last year after being subjected to four years of continuous abuse and torture while living under their roof.
The ethnic Karen girl, referred to as “Air”, was allegedly kidnapped in 2009 when she was nine years old, and forced to work as a housekeeper for a couple in Kamphaengphet province, in northwestern Thailand. Natee Taeng-on, 35, and his wife, Rattanakorn Piyaworatham, 33, routinely beat and tortured the young girl, until she managed to successfully escape last January when she squeezed underneath a fence while chasing a cat.
According to a press release by the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), a Bangkok-based rights group providing legal assistance to the now 13-year-old girl, Kamphaengphet provincial court on Monday awarded 4.6 million baht, approximately $142,000, in damages to Air “for inflicting on her cruel treatment and enslavement.”
This amount will cover incurred and future medical expenses, as well as damages that the victim has suffered, including “a loss of ability to reproduce” and “a loss of beauty” to the plaintiff.
The couple also face several criminal charges, including causing grievous bodily harm, enslaving a child below the age of 15, and human trafficking.
Summoned by the police in February 2013, they reportedly posted bail at the amount of 700,000 baht, roughly $23,411, and absconded. They are currently still at large.
Preeda Tongchumnum, assistant to HRDF’s secretary general, said that HRDF will have to get Air’s compensation from the seizing the couple’s property.
“The burden is on us to estimate the property of the employers because at the moment, the employers are still at large,” Preeda said. “If we have the information to prove that [the property] belongs to them, then we can ask the court to permit us to seize the property so that we can get the money to give to the girl.”
According to Air, her employers used to torture her by pouring boiling hot water over her while she was locked in a dog cage. She had tried to escape once and went to police, but the police took her back to her employers. As a punishment, the couple bashed her head against the wall, used a shoe to slap her face and cut off the tip of her ear with scissors, she said. Questions remain as to why the police had initially returned Air to her captors after her first escape.
Dr. Arthi Kruwait, a surgeon at Bangkok’s Ramathibodi Hospital who examined Air, testified in court in March about her wounds, mostly sustained by the boiling water inflicted upon her, which were all over her back, arms, legs and chest. The boiling water had also fused her left arm to the side of her body, and required surgery in order to separate them. He also testified that Air suffers from severe mental trauma due to the maltreatment.
Urging the police to find and arrest the couple, Preeda hoped that the severe compensation by the provincial court could serve as a reminder to all Thais that they could face stiff punishment if they were to mistreat their workers.
“This kind of case can be a precedent for lawyers to apply to help other victims,” Preeda said. “We can advocate to the public to tell them that employers should respect more of the rights of the employees.”
Thailand – host to an estimated three million migrant workers, the majority of whom are Burmese – has been a source of controversy for its treatment of migrant labourers and record of human trafficking.
Last month, the US State Department downgraded the country’s ranking in its annual Trafficking in Persons report to the lowest Tier 3 level for showing no discernable improvements in combating the trafficking of workers who face severe abuses in several of the country’s industries. The report also criticised the government’s inability to harshly prosecute the people involved in trafficking and abusing migrants, especially if they are in the Thai military, navy and government.