CHIANG MAI, THAILAND, June 02, 2015
A Thai monk known as "Pra Chai” is behind bars for trafficking and exploiting teenage boys. Pra Chai is the sixth Buddhist monk to be convicted for sex crimes in an investigation IJM has been supporting since early 2014.
He was the ringleader of this trafficking ring, and the court’s strong sentence of 124 years reflects the country’s commitment to holding criminals accountable—no matter their position.
"When you take down the guy on top of the ring, you take down the whole thing. You’re not just helping kids now, but helping kids for the future,” says IJM Field Office Director Khem Saksakunmongkhon.
Twin Boys Suffered Together
Dahm* and Dang* are twin brothers. Their mother was only 12 when she gave birth to the boys, and she eventually sent her sons to live with their grandparents. The twins dropped out of school at age 12, and they found solace and community in a tight-knit group of other boys who were likewise from broken homes.
Pra Chai was one of the monks who preyed on Dahm, Dang and the other boys in their group. They bought the 15- to 17-year-olds small gifts and gave them money to keep silent about the sexual abuse.
"Because the boys are from broken families, they have been through so many hard situations. They are street kids and they have had a lot of hard experiences and they have gotten through those situations, so they’ve learned to be so tough, they don’t think this abuse hurts them, but the thing is, it affects them a lot, they just don’t realize how,” explains Wibunrat Ladaphongpattana, IJM social worker and project manager for child sexual assault cases.
The police contacted IJM for help with this complex case in March 2014. Pra Chai and the other monks were respected in the community, and gathering solid evidence was critical.
Justice Is Done and the Ring Starts to Crumble
Over the course of several months, IJM helped public prosecutors prepare arguments against each monk. Several of the boys also chose to come forward and share their stories.
The boys’ testimonies—and testimony from some of the other monks—pointed to Pra Chai at the top of the pyramid. He was the one who procured the boys and operated as the trafficker in charge.
His trial began in October 2014, and it ended on March 16, 2015. Pra Chai pled guilty to the charges of human trafficking and exploitation of minors. He was sentenced to 124 years, but he will only serve 50 since that is the maximum prison time for these crimes in Thailand.
Pra Chai’s Conviction Sends a Strong Message
The sentences delivered last year to the first three monks convicted of sexually abusing children were relatively week—one to three years, mostly on probation.
"In the Bhuddist community, the monks have a high place in society; we give them a lot of respect. It’s quite difficult to reach them and bring them to justice,” explains Wibunrat. She adds that this year’s case and strong ruling against Pra Chai is a sign that the culture of impunity that has long protected men in positions of power is starting to change.
Dahm and Dang are now 16 years old, and they continue to receive trauma-focused therapy and aftercare support from IJM. They spent time living in an aftercare shelter and are now back with their grandparents. IJM is providing counseling to the whole family, including the boys’ mother, to help ensure a healthy, safe home and future for the boys. They are also enrolled in a part-time high school program and working.
Wibunrat and the IJM team will keep walking with the boys; she says, "I think they need good role models and good advisers, and now we can be that for them and try to understand what their background is. It’s beginning to change them… one of the boys, he is starting to realize has to take care of his grandmother. He is starting to work in construction, and saving money and concentrating in school… showing that his behavior is getting better, that he is growing up.”