|Four-year-old Tong makes a tie-dye t-shirt for sale in the centre’s gift shop.|
Photo © Andy Brown/2011/Thailand
Run by the Volunteers for Children Development Foundation, the centre focuses on preventing and supporting the victims of sexual abuse. Many of the street children in Chiang Mai were sold to child traffickers at the Burmese border and brought into Thailand to work in the sex industry. Once in Thailand, these children are considered ‘stateless people’ and are not entitled to identity cards. This denies them the right to education, healthcare and – when they grow up – to legal work.
The Foundation helps these children by providing life skills training and sexual health education. Condoms and pregnancy tests are available free of charge. UNICEF helped fund the centre’s HIV prevention work and is now evaluating it. “We do outreach to around 800 children in Chiang Mai,” Foundation Director Ake told us. “They come from ethnic minorities and broken homes. Lots of children end up here because of the sex trade. We build their trust on the streets, then we invite them to visit the centre. Here they can get food, milk and informal education.”
The drop-in centre was a small building in a side street, with an open-plan play area on the ground floor and an office upstairs. While Ake told our bloggers more about the project, I started taking photos of the children. Most of them were ethnic Shan Burmese, as in Fang, but some of them were Thai. They were watching an exercise video and copying the dance moves. A girl in a white vest punched the air enthusiastically in time to the music.