historyIt is estimated that there are over 100 million people representing ethnic minority groups throughout the Mekong sub-region (the area including Southwestern China, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand).

Each ethnic group has its own distinct culture, language and traditions, which can be seen through the style of dress, ceremonies and local games.

Rapid urbanization and economic modernization in the 1970’s and 1980’s created a drastic shift in life circumstances for tribal people in Thailand. Deteriorating economic conditions drove increasing numbers of tribal girls to leave their villages in search of work.  Without the ability to speak Thai, and lacking the legal citizenship which would guarantee them basic human rights, girls became increasingly vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking.

Many things have improved in Thailand over the last 15 years regarding this situation. There are now more schools in rural areas, and most tribal boys and girls have had a few years of elementary education. Tribal adults are more aware of the perils of sending their children away to work. In 2003, the Royal Thai Government began implementing countrywide anti-trafficking campaigns. These campaigns, along with efforts to enforce anti-trafficking laws, have led to a significant reduction in the number of women who have become victims of human trafficking, particularly in the sex trade industry.

In Ratburi 1 1However, the overall problem of vulnerability to human trafficking and labor exploitation for tribal persons still persists. Chronic risk factors include lack of legal Thai citizenship, functional illiteracy, labor discrimination, and widespread alcohol and drug abuse. Cultural traditions continue to place the burden of economic responsibility for the family on daughters. Recent referrals to the New Life Center and similar cases at other NGO’s indicate that young tribal girls continue to be sexually assaulted in their villages, forced into domestic labor for which they are not paid, denied educational opportunities, and sexually exploited in restaurants, shop houses, local markets and karaoke bars.

paul and elaineThe New Life Center Foundation ("NLCF") was opened by anthropologists Dr. and Mrs. Paul and Elaine Lewis. Supported by the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (today known as "American Baptist International Ministries") Dr. and Mrs. Lewis worked with tribal persons in Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand for forty years. Seeing multiple changes in tribal culture, and witnessing first hand the number of women caught in exploitative labor, the Lewis’s opened the first residential program of the NLCF in 1987. Rev. Lauran Bethell served as the NLCF’s first director.

lauren and fayToday, the NLCF is a legal Thai Foundation, supporting over 200 women per year through educational and residential services, vocational and life skills training, and therapeutic activities. The NLCF has assisted over 1,000 women throughout its history who are victims of human trafficking, prostitution, labor exploitation, and sexual abuse. NLCF staff partner with the Royal Thai Government’s Department of Social Development and Human Security, assisting social workers in victim identification, interpretation, and family tracing activities.


New Life Center Foundation
P.O. Box 29 Chiang Mai 50000 Thailand
E-mail : newlife@pobox.com Tel: (+66) 53 351 312 Fax : (+66) 53 380 871