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Meet the New Heroes
Sompop Jantraka

Photo: Actual Films

Sompop Jantraka

Project: Development and Education Program for Daughters & Community Center (DEPDC)

Location: Mae Sai,Thailand and Mekong sub-region (including Laos, Burma and the Yunnan Province of China)

Sompop Jantraka has put his life on the line to save young women sold into prostitution by poor farming families. He is also proving that these women can be far more valuable to Thailand as educated members of the work force than as sex slaves.

Jantraka offers the poor families of young women between the ages of 8 and 18 (who are often desperate for income and easily deceived by brothel owners) an alternative to sending their daughters into prostitution by providing the girls with education, job training and employment assistance. Eight different projects focus on children at risk, children's rights, child sexual abuse and forced labor.

Since 1989 when he founded the Daughters Education Program, Jantraka's work has directly affected more than 1,000 children. Starting with an initial group of 19 students, the program is now supporting more than 360 girls and boys.

Jantraka considers education and training the keys to allow these girls to find alternative employment, improve their communities and reach their full potential.

What Does DEPDC Do?

The Development and Education Program for Daughters & Community Center (DEPDC) is an organization that offers education and full-time accommodation to at-risk children in order to prevent them from being trafficked into the sex industry or other types of forced labor. The program offers alternatives through education and life-skills training, as well as by strengthening families and communities.

Human sex trafficking is a worldwide problem, but it is especially tenacious in Thailand. Victims can be Thai women and children, ethnic hill tribe minorities, and women who migrate illegally from Burma, China and Laos.

Without citizenship or land tenure, the majority of northern Thailand's hill tribe people live in poverty without access to education, health care or legitimate work opportunities. Drug addiction and HIV/AIDS infection are also pervasive problems in the region.

Brothel owners have networks of agents who comb villages and seek out troubled families. The traffickers offer to exchange the families' young daughters for money. The problem consists of a complicated web involving relatives, village and city authorities, police, government officials and business people who all profit from the girls' labor.

Every year, in conjunction with teachers, village leaders and monks, DEPDC identifies children most at risk. They may be orphans or have parents who are drug addicts. Many have older sisters or other relatives already working as prostitutes.

Jantraka hopes that the schooling and vocational training these children receive through DEPDC offers a viable alternative to the sex industry, providing them with a good start to leading a healthy life.