Child prostitution in Thailand

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Thailand has a reputation as a center for child sex tourism and child prostitution.[1] Although domestic and international authorities have worked to protect children, the problem is serious in many Southeast Asia countries.[2]


Prostitution in Thailand dates back as far as the 14th century, when it was legal and taxed by the government.[3] In the late-18th century and early-19th century, the demand for prostitutes increased when the immigration of male Chinese increased dramatically.[4] As Lim writes, "these women were essentially slaves, who could be sold by their owners."[4] The abolition of slavery in 1905 by King Rama V 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.[5]

The Vietnam War gave new life to prostitution in Thailand and allowed it to grow.[citation needed] Although the demand by soldiers was for women rather than young girls, the sex industry in Thailand became more developed than it ever had before.[citation needed] There were five US bases in Thailand, which housed up to 50,000 troops.[6] Kathryn Farr makes clear that the correlation between the number of troops in Vietnam and the number 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".[6]

Extent of the problem[edit]

According to ECPAT, "...due to the hidden nature of child sexual abuse reliable figures are hard to compile...."

One reviewer believes that, "...the magnitude of sex trafficking cases is overestimated".[7]

A journalist declares that, "Child prostitution in Thailand involved 800,000 children under the age of sixteen in 2004." Her next paragraph claims that, "Available figures estimate that currently some 30,000 to 40,000 children, not including foreign children, are exploited as prostitutes."[8]

In Pattaya, another journalist claims that there are 2,000 underage prostitutes involved in prostitution there, with approximately 900 minors coming to the area to work as prostitutes every year.[9]

Yet another study says that, in 1999, an estimated 80,000 women and children were trafficked into the commercial sex industry in Thailand, of whom 30 percent were under 18 years of age.[10]

Contributing factors[edit]

Economic disparity[edit]

In the early-1990s, Thailand became one of several Southeast Asian countries to join the ranks of the NICs, or "newly industrializing countries".[11] The country shifted from a rice-based agricultural society to a rapidly industrializing one. Thailand's GDP doubled in the short span of only ten years.[11] This economic progress, however, has not advanced all four areas of Thailand. Bangkok, being the urban center of the country, industrialized rapidly while Isan, or the northeast, did not.[citation needed]

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."[12] 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.

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."[12] 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.[citation needed]

Value of virginity[edit]

Throughout the world, virgins are always placed at the top of the prostitution hierarchy.[citation needed] 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."[11]

Government cooperation[edit]

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".[12] In one example, the government launched a massive campaign that promised to search through every brothel in the country.


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".[6] This conference emerged with the "Agenda for Action", or a set of strategies to attack child prostitution globally. In addition, ECPAT, or End Child Prostitution, Pornography, and Trafficking in Children for Sexual Exploitation, was established and has become one of the leading NGOs fighting child prostitution on a global scale.[6]

Thailand also passed the Prostitution Prevention and Suppression Act.[13] The focus of this act is "the total elimination of entry into the commercial sex business by children of both sexes under 18".[4] This act also finds individuals profiting from prostitution, such as pimps and brothel owners, more culpable than the prostitutes themselves. In addition, any official who is part of the government or law enforcement and found involved with prostitutes "shall be punished with imprisonment of 15-20 years and a fine of 300,00-400,000 baht".[4]

In popular culture[edit]

In 2009, Canadian playwright Andrew Kooman wrote She Has a Name, a play about child prostitution in Thailand.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Singh, J.P.; Hart, Shilpa (23 March 2007). "Sex Workers and Cultural Policy: Mapping the Issues and Actors in Thailand". Review of Policy Research. 24 (2). doi:10.1111/j.1541-1338.2007.00274.x. 
  2. ^ "Strengthening Thai laws to fight travellers who sexually abuse children". UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 14 March 2012. Retrieved 9 May 2015. 
  3. ^ Heather Montgomery, Modern Babylon?: Prostituting Children in Thailand (2001), p. 41.
  4. ^ a b c d Lim, Lim Lean, ed. (1998). The Sex Sector: The Economic and Social Bases of Prostitution in Southeast Asia (PDF). Geneva: International Labour Office (ILO). ISBN 92-2-109522-3. Retrieved 16 October 2016. 
  5. ^ [Baker, Chris, and Pasuk Phongpaichit 2005, A History of Thailand. New York: Cambridge University Press]
  6. ^ a b c d Farr, Kathryn (2005). Sex trafficking: The global market in women and children (Paper ed.). Portland: Worth Publishing. ISBN 0-7167-5548-3. 
  7. ^ Desyllas, Moshoula Capous (May 2007). "Book Review: Sex Trafficking: The Global Market in Women and Children". Journal of International Women's Studies. 8 (4): 167–172. Retrieved 16 October 2016. 
  8. ^ Iaccino, Ludovica (2014-02-06). "Top Five Countries with Highest Rates of Child Prostitution". International Business Times (IBT). Retrieved 16 October 2016. 
  9. ^ Kumaran, Steve (2010-07-11). "Breeding a Culture of Child Prostitution in Thailand". Pattaya Daily News. Archived from the original on 14 September 2010. Retrieved 16 October 2016. 
  10. ^ "Trafficking in Women for Prostitution: Thailand" (PDF). Worldoutreach International. Retrieved 16 October 2016. 
  11. ^ a b c Jackson, Peter A; Cook, Nerida M., eds. (1999). Genders & Sexualities in Modern Thailand. Silkworm Books. ISBN 9747551071. 
  12. ^ a b c Bales, Kevin (2004). Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy (Paper) (2nd ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520243846. Retrieved 16 October 2016. 
  13. ^ "PREVENTION AND SUPPRESSION OF PROSTITUTION ACT B.E. 2539 (1996)" (Translation). International Labour Organization (ILO). NATLEX. 1996-10-14. Retrieved 16 October 2016. 

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