Sex industry in Thailand

Thailand is very rich in natural resources. Moderate-hot climate, an abundance of good fertile wetlands have made Thailand one of the most powerful exporters of cereals. Hunger in the history of the country has been rare, social stability is a usual norm. In sharp contrast to the main territory is north of the country, which has been attached to Thailand only in the XIX century. Only the tenth part of this land is suitable for agriculture, although it is the most fertile in the country. People who live in the highlands are poor. The level of their life, culture and customs is very different from the life of the inhabitants of the plains. Over the centuries one of the main means of survival for the northerners has been selling their daughters (but never sons) into slavery or servitude. Sale of children is considered to be socially acceptable because of certain features of Thai Buddhism. This trend sees a woman being unable to achieve happiness as the ultimate goal of the believer. Birth in a woman’s appearance indicates the sinful life in the past. It is like a kind of punishment. Sex is not a sin, it is just a natural part of the material world of illusion and suffering. Decent people having sex, try to avoid emotional involvement. Thai Buddhism preached humility and obedience to the suffering, because everything that happens is karma, from which the person can’t go away. Such traditional notions facilitate the functioning of slavery, of both the old and new (Bales, 15-38).

Religious belief in the inferior position of women is not the only cultural tradition that supplies slavery in Thailand. Birth is considered to be a great gift, education and maintenance are two more of them. As a thanks, humble self-sacrifice was always required from the girl (Peracca).

Over the last 50 years Thailand has changed a lot. The economic boom, which stopped only in 1997, had an enormous impact on the lives of northerners. While the central regions were rapidly industrialized, economic life in the north remained unchanged. Prices for food, land and agricultural implements increased, but the proceeds from the sale of agricultural products remained the same. This was the policy of the Government, which provided low prices for food for industrial workers of the center. North was full of consumer goods: refrigerators, TV sets, cars, etc. Growth of the consumer demand with low paying ability of northerners led to the significant increase in sales of women. According to the results of the researches, the family that sold one or more daughters at 60% of cases could avoid this, but chose to buy a TV or video.

The same economic boom that determined the demand in the  northern villages, filled the wallets of workers in the central regions with money. Yesterday’s poor immigrants appeared to be able to afford something that had always been a privilege of wealthy Thai men, regular visits to a brothel. Because of the increased purchasing power of this growing number of customers the need for girls from the north increased. Currently, the number of bought is close to 35000. Slave-girls serve the lowest segment of the market – poor workers, students, etc (Rudi). The total number of adult prostitutes in Thailand is about half a million, and only every twentieth is in slavery. Most prostitutes are volunteers. Sexual services are sold everywhere, even in cafes, hairdressers and monasteries. For Thai men buying women is like to buy a drink, a good and legitimate investment. Polygamy in this country has always encouraged and reflected the social status of the individual.

Today mistress and the younger man’s wife give a man weight in society, but consumption of commercial sexual services has sharply increased. Not only men, but the female population has a positive attitude to this fact (Bales, 167-171).

However, over time, the economic boom that has increased the  need for new prostitutes, can put an end to sexual slavery in Thailand that is the positive side of the problem. Now women are more into the overall process of education and training, they overcome their ignorance and socio-cultural deprivation, which is the base of enslavement. Better-educated girls are less inclined to blindly trust the promises of intermediaries. The traditional responsibilities of girls in relation to the family become to be less important. No matter how cynical it may sound, television, that has been bought with the money from the sale of one of the daughters, may serve as an important tool for education and prevent the sale of her younger sisters.

For slave holders such changes represent a serious challenge against the backdrop of increasing demand and supply reduction. Their attention is drawn to other regions, where catastrophic lack of social information is mixed with poverty. From the border areas, such as Burma and Laos to Thailand arrive thousands of economic and political refugees in search of work. Most of them are usually illegal immigrants. In Thailand, they are completely defenseless. Traditionally a strong antipathy between the Thais and Burmese only reinforces discrimination and arbitrariness. For example, the police chief in southern Thailand Mr.Ranonga doesn’t hesitate to declare publicly that he finds it unacceptable and disgraceful to allow male Burmese to use the services of Thai prostitutes. Therefore, it is “understanding” refers to the ability of Burmese prostitutes to work in his city (Nicholas).

The flow of women and girls across the Thai border flows in both directions. Export of indentured prostitutes is a good business, finding a high demand in the brothels in Japan, Europe and America. In 1997 law on prostitution has been revised. The system of fines for those who are engaged in sex with prostitutes under the age of 18 years significantly increased (fine of 60000 baht plus 3 years in prison). In case of sex with a girl under 15 years old the punishment is a fine of 400,000 baht plus 15 years in prison. It is worth remembering that according to the law on prostitution of the 1960, all those involved in the sex industry had to be punished, except the client. According to the new law, a prostitute has to pay a small fine plus to stay 1 month in prison. Girls under 18 are not punished, but they are sent to a rehabilitation center for 6 months, and then at two-year course of any profession. The Act also establishes penalties for parents, agents, brokers and brothels holders. However, the key issue remains the same: prostitution is criminalized in Thailand, pimps and police work together. Despite the adoption of new laws, the position of the Thai government on this issue is very ambivalent. At the end of 1970’s American bases that could deliver 40 thousand potential visitors to brothels were shut down. In this regard, the Government was desperate to find ways to compensate the loss in revenues. A new source of profit was sex tourism. In the late 80’s Vice-Premier of Thailand called on the governors of provinces to create more institutions of providing sexual services to attract tourists to the province. In 1984 the country was visited by 2 million of tourists, in 1988 by 4 million, in 1996 by more than 7 million (5 million of them were single men). Thai income from sex industry is 13 times more than from the assembly and export of computers – one of the main sectors of the economy. These money do not stimulate the construction of new industrial enterprises and infrastructure development (Sittitrai).

Studies of the 2003-2004 years have pointed out that in  several countries in South-east Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand), where prostitution has long been one of the sources to maintain the most basic needs of the family, from 0.25% up to 1.5% of the female adult population are involved in prostitution. However, these numbers can’t be exact. Number of prostitutes varies radically depending on the methods used in the calculations. Thus, according to estimates of the Ministry of Health of Thailand, there are 13,000 prostitutes, according to the Commission on Women’s problems their number is from 30000 to 35000, according to the calculations of the statistical office it is from 200,000 to 800,000 thousand and the last number only includes children under the age of 18 years (Kara, 13-16).

For Thailand sex tourism is a usual thing. The vast majority of tourists are men (about 70% of the total number). Developing of the sex industry in Thailand began with the Vietnam War. The Americans waged a war in “shifts” method: two weeks on the front, two in the rear.

And the rear was in Thailand and the Philippines. In the mid 60-ies a small fishing village Pattaya has become a holiday resort of American troops. Bars have been opened in the north and north-east of Thailand, young adventurers came to the poorest areas of the country. The first hotels were built, the first tour companies appeared. Standard sightseeing tours were created, Americans gradually began to get acquainted with the culture and everyday life of the country. Former recreation center of American soldiers was almost ready for sea resort three hours drive from Bangkok.

The main nightlife centers of Thailand are Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Samui. When the sun sets, life here is just beginning – go-go-bars, massage parlors, strip bars and sex clubs are open all night long. The prices for such services are not high for Americans and Europeans. Besides the man can take a prostitute for the hole stay (for example for a week it will cost about $100) and she will clean his clothes, cook him, be his interpreter and help him anyway she can (Brooks-Gordon) (Lyttleton).

Certainly, some attempts to change the situation with sex  industry in Thailand are made by individuals and community organizations, including international ones. But while there is a demand, there will be a proposal.

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