Last week, we shared a piece on why identification as LGBTQ+ can be a risk factor for youths, especially if they don’t have a strong source of loving support and acceptance. Shunning and shaming may coincide with bullying or abuse, which compounds the risk that they will leave home to escape, and either have to turn to survival sex or succumb to the lures of a trafficker who promises the love, acceptance, and security that they lack at home. Today, we’ll share the story of Petch, one of our students who exemplifies how this kind of risk arises–how youth who identify as LGBTQ+ become at risk for multiple forms of abuse, trafficking being just one of them.
Petch* is a bold and friendly 13 year old boy who makes friends easily and who is always first to volunteer to speak in front of a group, lead a game or make a presentation. He loves to sing. “Even if other people tell me my voice isn’t good, I am confident in my voice and still love to sing,” he says. When he’s stressed, he likes to spend time in nature. Underneath this easygoing exterior, however, are the challenges that put Petch at risk of becoming trafficked.
Petch’s parents separated when he was 3 months old, and since then he has been raised entirely by his grandparents in rural Nan Province. His mother has since remarried and struggles with addictions. Like with many broken families in this area, his mother’s new partner doesn’t take on any parental responsibility for Petch. Many children from former partnerships suffer from parental neglect, and Petch is no exception. After his mom remarried, Petch’s half-sister moved to live with Petch and his grandparents as well.
Petch’s grandparents do their best to care for the children, but the $10 per day they earn as daily laborers isn’t enough for the family to live on. They have a small farm, but with agricultural prices fluctuating, they have around $1,300 of debt. His grandparents are also entirely responsible for Petch and his sisters’ educational costs. Our research shows that for this community, it costs on average $1,880 per year to keep a child in school.
In addition to financial instability, Petch’s grandfather has also struggled with substance abuse. Drug abuse is common in the community, with drugs available cheaply, offering a potential release from the drudgery of life in poverty.
Within the family, there is a huge generational gap, and relationships are strained. In particular, Petch’s grandfather cannot accept that Petch identifies as LGBTQ+ and abuses him in multiple ways because of it. Petch is bursting to be his lively self, but feels constrained, insignificant, and under constant pressure from his grandfather. This conflict is a major source of strain on him.
During school breaks, Petch’s grandmother has previously sent him to live with his aunt near Bangkok. While he was living there, he worked in a karaoke shop with his aunt. His job was to wash dishes and put away plates, but experience has shown that these kinds of businesses can often be sites of sexual exploitation.
How We’re Working to Reduce Risk for Petch
Last year, The Freedom Story began working in Petch’s village in Nan province because we could see how a history of trafficking in the area, high levels of poverty, and high dropout rates were putting children at risk of being trafficked. Petch applied and was accepted into the scholarship program. His family’s financial situation, his status as LGBTQ, his history of multiple forms of abuse, and the isolation he felt within his family were all clearly putting him at risk of being trafficked. Indeed, the job in Bangkok in a karaoke bar was especially concerning and very risky.
The financial support he receives helps his family afford to keep him in school. He has also joined activities at the Resource Center, coming for after school tutoring and homework help and activities on Saturdays. His favorite activity was the life skills camp last year, because he liked working in a group and learning new things. He enjoyed learning about how to express himself, gain confidence, and take responsibility in helping others.
Over the recent summer break, Petch wanted to learn how to raise cows and water buffaloes. We worked with other community members to find someone who could teach Petch these skills while he was on break from school. He was able to learn these skills while also making a bit of extra income for himself and his family.
Mentorship has also been important in supporting Petch. We work with him and his family to help them learn how to understand and support one another more, though the relationship with his grandfather will not be an easy fix. Petch continues to be a dedicated student, with a 3.5 GPA and a desire to develop more professional skills. He dreams of being his own boss, being able to do what he loves, whenever he decides what that is, to take care of his family. Because of the support of our community of committed donors, The Freedom Story will be there to ensure he has a safe space to be himself, to learn and grow, and also to pursue his dreams for the future.
*Name changed and stock photo used to protect privacy.