Time to look within

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The annual three-month Buddhist Lent, starting today, aims at giving monks time for intensive meditation and spiritual contemplation. Many devout Buddhists also use this period to observe more strictly the sila or moral precepts.

All Buddhists can recite the basic five precepts by heart: refrain from killing, stealing, violating others' beloved, lying, and using intoxicants. Many observe more than five precepts during the lent. . No matter how many precepts one is observing, however, they are based on the principle of non-harm and non-exploitation.


For a country which prides itself on being a thriving centre of Theravada Buddhism, this is high time for serious soul-searching: why it has become home to one of the worst forms of exploitation — human trafficking. On Monday, the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report put Thailand in its bottom tier ranking for the second year in a row for failing to make significant efforts to eliminate the machines of modern slavery.


While the use of slave labour in the fishing industry has brought the country under worldwide condemnation of late, the report makes it clear that the trafficking of women and children for commercial sex remains a paramount problem.


The frauds, extortion, torture and severe labour abuse that have maimed and killed many victims are not possible without collusion from government This is why the first two recommendations from the TIP report for Thailand are calls to punish corrupt officials and traffickers.


While convicting the offenders is mandatory, it is all too easy to blame individuals as the main evils without considering other factors that sustain human trafficking.


Human trade and labour abuse on an appalling scale has been going here for several decades. The tentacles of trafficking networks have reached far and wide, which weakens law enforcement and efforts to protect the victims. None of this is possible without deep-rooted ethnic discrimination and race-based nationalism which condones labour exploitation of migrant workers.


Buddhism teaches that all human beings — despite their different races, creeds and genders — are one and the same, interconnected and similarly subject to the laws of impermanence.


Such a realisation, usually derived from meditation and deep contemplation, will erode the illusion of "me and mine" and generate boundless compassion. The question is why ethnic and gender discrimination...


The TIP report has several recommendations to better protect human trafficking victims. They include a better labour recruitment system and more training for officials to identify trafficking victims.


Clearly, the problems stem from the general lack of respect for migrant workers' human rights as a result of prevalent ethnic discrimination.


There is no denying that our education system plays an important part in promoting racial superiority and perpetuates antagonism toward neighbouring countries. Subsequently, many come to believe that migrants can be treated as lesser than us.


Instead of getting nationalistic and angry with the TIP report for tainting the country's name, we should take an honest look at what makes it possible for such horrific human abuses to take root here. The education system is among the first things that must be overhauled.


During the lent, apart from doing prayers and giving alms, it pays to contemplate why many Buddhists feel indifferent to gross exploitation of migrant workers. The answer is necessary for the country to start effectively tackling human trafficking, and for Buddhist Thais to become real Buddhists.


Source: bangkokpost.com (July 31, 2015)