Child prostitution in Thailand
Thailand maintains a reputation as a center for child sex tourism and child prostitution, and although domestic and international authorities have worked to protect children, the problem remains serious.
As founder of Free the Slaves, a non-profit organization dedicated to the eradication of modern slavery, Kevin Bales writes, “Thailand has always had slavery, but never before on this scale.” The forced labor which child prostitutes in Thailand undergo at the hands of pimps and brothels is more than enough to constitute this frightening term. Prostitution has taken many forms in Thailand over the years. It has been a part of Thai culture for centuries, as there’s a reason it’s known as “the world’s oldest profession.”[this quote needs a citation]
Recorded prostitution in Thailand dates back as far as the 14th century, when it was legal and taxed by the government. In the late 18th century and early 19th century, the demand for prostitution rose once again as the immigration of male Chinese men increased dramatically. As Lim writes, “these women were essentially slaves, who could be sold by their owners.” Thus, the abolition of slavery in 1905 by King Rama V essentially made forced prostitution illegal. Two of the main contributing factors to child prostitution, religion and cultural pressure, have been prominent in Thai culture for centuries.
American history has also played a major role in the prominence of child prostitution in Thailand.[original research?] The Vietnam War gave new life to prostitution in Thailand, and allowed it to grow at an extremely rapid rate. Although the demand by soldiers was for women rather than young girls, the industry within Thailand became more developed than it ever had before. In 1968, more than 536,000 troops had been deployed to fight the communists of Northern Vietnam. Vietnamese prostitutes were used to satiate the soldiers[by whom?] at first, but the demand eventually outpaced the supply. As a result, women were taken from neighboring countries like Thailand. There were also five bases located in Thailand, which housed up to 50,000 soldiers. Kathryn Farr makes clear that the correlation between the amount of troops in Vietnam and the amount of prostitutes in Thailand is impossible to ignore. “In 1957, an estimated 20,000 prostitutes were working in Thailand. By 1964, that number had grown to 400,000, and by 1972, when the United States withdrew its main combat troops from Vietnam, there were at least 500,000 working prostitutes in the country. From there on, the Thai sex industry simply exploded.”
Thailand has four distinct areas. Bangkok is the most urban, developed, and wealthy region of Thailand. This area has seen rapid development and continues to industrialize at an impressive rate. According to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, the rate of child prostitution in the city area is increasing. This is because many businessmen or friends use prostitutes for a variety of functions.[original research?] Whether it’s a show of courtesy at an important meeting or a celebration, prostitutes are always in high demand in this urban area.
Northeastern Thailand, referred to as Isan in the country, is a completely different world than Central Thailand.[neutrality is disputed] As Bangkok and its surrounding area continue to develop, Isan is going in the opposite direction.[original research?] Although it is populous, the farming potential for this area is low. The people there are unable to farm, and thus face massive amounts of poverty. This poverty is one of, if not the most, important contributing factors to child prostitution in Thailand.[original research?] In Pattaya alone there is thought to be approximately 2,000 underage prostitutes involved in the prostitution industry, while approximately 900 underaged are thought to come to the area for prostitution every year.
The other two regions of Thailand do not play as large a role in the prominence of child prostitution, but are important because of their connections with neighboring countries. Much like during Vietnam, the demand for young prostitutes in Thailand is beginning to outpace the supply. To satisfy the demands of the market, the slave trade has spread to neighboring countries. The Northern and Southern people of Thailand are in contact with these countries, respectively. The huge demand for younger girls to participate in the sex trade has led to the recurrence of Asia's ancient scourge of slave trading, with gangs of Thai men abducting young girls in order to sell them into the slave trade.
In the early 1990s, Thailand became one of several Southeast Asian countries to join the ranks of the NICs, or “newly industrializing countries.” The country shifted from a rice-based agricultural society to a rapidly industrializing one. This is best exemplified through Thailand’s GDP, which doubled in the short span of only ten years. This economic progress, however, has not advanced all four areas of Thailand. Bangkok, being the urban center of the country, has industrialized rapidly while Isan, or the Northeast, has not. Isan has been left in Bangkok’s dust, and remains as a primarily agricultural-based, arid region. This is a twofold problem for young Thai girls.[original research?]
On one side, people are growing wealthier in Bangkok. Poor agricultural workers are now making more money at a constant rate because of their industrial work. Since prostitution is socially accepted, many men use it for a variety of social functions. With this economic boom, the demand has risen for prostitutes. As this demand continues to grow with more industrialization, younger and younger girls are recruited to meet the expected demand of the future.
On the other end of the spectrum is Isan, where people are struggling to keep up with the industrialization of their neighbors. “Prices of food, land, and tools all increased as the economy grew, but the returns for rice growing and other agricultural practices were stagnant.” The people of Northeast Thailand are poverty-stricken, and are forced to find other methods of income when their land does not permit agricultural work. Pimps exploit this vulnerability, and convince parents to sell their daughters for money. Daughters will be promised stable employment in the city that could aid the family’s financial crisis. Families are presented with false contracts that often seem appealing. In an interview with a sex slave, one young girl recalled that:
“a friend of Kaliyan’s met us and told me and Mum we’d be working as waitresses in a restaurant near the Malaysian border.” However, “the next thing I knew, this woman gave the man $400, drove Mum and me to a nearby house, and locked us in a room. We sat on a mattress on the floor, terrified. We remained there for the next 12 hours. At 4:30 AM, a Cambodian girl came to our room and explained what was going on. She’d been trafficked into the sex trade- and Mum and I had been too.”
This economic boom has also applied a large amount of social pressure to these Northeastern Thai families. As Bales writes on this change, “now parents feel a great pressure to buy consumer goods that were unknown even twenty years ago.” In the Northeast, an object such as a television goes far beyond its basic use. It can mean social progression for a family, and can be used as a symbol for wealth and power. A young daughter cannot be used for any of these purposes. Thus, many families see selling their daughters into the sex trade, or what they often think is a just a steady job in the city, as a way out of poverty. Their daughters, who see this as a way to pay back their debt to their family, often accept eagerly.
Value of Virginity
Throughout the world, virgins are always placed at the top of the prostitution hierarchy. This is for a number of reasons, ranging from cultural value to religion. Most importantly, virgins are often thought to be devoid of any type of sicknesses or diseases. With the rapid spreading of HIV throughout the world, this has become one of the primary reasons virgins are so highly valued. Although they have not escaped AIDS, “Thailand’s epidemic is relatively new when compared to the West.” However, the epidemic is clearly accelerating, as there was an increase of deaths from AIDS from 116 in 1990, to a 16,508 in 1995. As a result, many men are wary of the prostitutes. Research shows that as many as 36% of prostitutes in Thailand are HIV-Positive. In order to avoid this terrifying prospect, many men attempt to sleep with virgin prostitutes. As a result, young girls are used by brothels and sold at much higher prices.
Cultural beliefs also add to what is called the “virgin premium.”It is seen as a truly valuable and special experience. As a result, many men are willing to pay a high price to sleep with a virgin.
Prostitution in Thailand is illegal but occurs openly. The laws are enforced especially “whenever public scandal requires that politicians need to be seen doing something,” and, then, often they are nothing more than a “comic opera.” In one example, the government launched a massive campaign that promised to search through every brothel in the country. By the end of their search, after “working more closely with local police,” only 35 children were saved.
Not only does it drive the economy because wealthy business owners and officials have stakes in the sex sector, but Thai culture is simply too accepting of the practice.
In 1996, the World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children met in Stockholm to “work toward combating all forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children.” This conference emerged with the “Agenda for Action,” or a set of strategies to attack child prostitution globally. In addition, the ECPAT, or End Child Prostitution, Pornography, and Trafficking in Children for Sexual Exploitation, was established and has become one of the leading NGO’s fighting child prostitution on a global scale.
Thailand also recently passed the Prostitution Prevention and Suppression Act. The focus of this act is “the total elimination of entry into the commercial sex business by children of both sexes under 18.” This act also makes individuals behind prostitution, such as pimps and brothel owners, at more fault than the prostitutes themselves. In addition, any official that is part of the government or law enforcement found involved with prostitutes “shall be punished with imprisonment of 15-20 years and a fine of 300,00-400,000 baht.”
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