Even if you managed to spot Pettonpung Gym from the road, you probably wouldn't guess that it’s produced some of the most renowned female fighters in Thailand and that it’s been an integral part of making the nearby city of Chiang Mai the epicenter of female kickboxing in Thailand.
When Ponnipa Chanpeng was 22, she turned to dealing drugs to support her family. Seventeen years later, she's still in prison for her crimes. But a vocational training program for female prisoners is giving her hope for the future.
In Thailand's underage sex industry, the word "trafficking" as we know it in the West, doesn't get used much. The phrase "buying and selling" is more common. But however you describe it, the practice of taking underage girls from their homes in the north and forcing them into the sex industry in Chiang Mai (and beyond) hasn't gone away.
Under pressure by the US government and American evangelicals, the Thai government has stepped up raids to rescue sex trafficking victims. The trouble is, many of the "rescued" sex workers may not have been trafficked in the first place.
Myanmar continues to reintegrate with the rest of the world, gradually opening up and loosening restrictions on its residents. But over its years of isolations, many thousands fled. Now, though, they're not rushing to return, unsure what future awaits them.
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