Sexwork Cyber Center                                             
By Dave in Phoenix
PO Box 55045, Phoenix AZ 85078-5045

Promoting Intimacy and Other-Centered Sexuality

Thailand Intimacy & Healthy (ADULT) Sexuality Research Report

COPYRIGHTED 1999 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED - MAY BE REPRINTED OR QUOTED FROM ONLY IF CREDIT IS GIVEN, and/or show link to page where material was quoted if you are getting it from our website. I request a note where it was quoted or republished or if reprinted a copy of the publication. I hope the information is helpful to many, but want to be sure it is properly credited as I try and do for all material I use.

The Child Prostitution Problem in Thailand

Note: I got flamed badly in soc.culture.thai when my title was about the child prostitution PROBLEM in Thailand.  It was pointed out that it is only our Western morality that considers it a "problem." Since it's a long tradition of youth helping out their parents financially, which is encouraged by Buddhism, even if it's from sexwork, its only our Western values that consider it a "problem" and what right to we have to impose our moral judgments on a different culture?

Who is a Child?
While I am against child prostitution as such and have absolutely no interest in anyone under age 18 (in fact I prefer more mature mid 20's)  the question is "Who is a child?" In biblical (Hebrew) times "adulthood" at least for marriage (and sexual) purposes was 12 for girls and 13 for boys. This seems a more  natural time since related to puberty.

So why was a child an "adult" for sex at 12/13 2000 years ago but not until 15 in Thailand and other countries or 18 in the U.S. today? And in biblical times they had no effective birth control!

There are "practical" reasons for the change, such as more education is needed in today's modern world, you died typically at 30 or 35 in biblical times, the world is more complex today, etc. But these seem more practical arguments not something that should dictate "morality". Why did the Hebrews, following God,  feel that at ages 12/13 sex was no moral issue (could marry at that age) but now today it is immoral and "child abuse"? 

Also what right do we have to impose our morality on Asian culture especially since it can be argued that in Buddhism it is an honor for the child to support her family by sexwork, which I discuss in detail in Buddhism discussion related to Thailand.

It is apparent in the many studies and reports I have read that child prostitution is almost unheard of in the tourist areas of Bangkok, Pattaya and other large cities. Most bars and massage parlors insist on ID cards showing a girl is at least 18 years old and most require STD and HIV testing for employment.

In response to this, "Rumpel" from Thailand on soc.culture.thai said:

I also "studied" the situation all over Thailand myself and must agree, almost all bar girls that work the tourists are 18 and older, with a few freelancing 16 or 17 yr. olds.

However in the local brothels for Thai men, where prostitution has flourished for centuries as part of local tradition so does child prostitution.

On the other hand, in response to this "Rumpel" from Thailand on soc.culture.thai said:

I often been invited by Thai men in smaller towns to come with them, so I've seen a lot of "local brothels for Thai men", in some of this establishments a quarter or so of the girls could've been 17 but on the average it's the same as with the bars in Pattaya -no children there as much I could see.

While this has long been a tradition, in Thailand in recent years the problem seems to have grown worse with more families seeking more modern material possessions and without the moral attitudes of the West that abhors such ideas. Thailand recently has cracked down hard on child prostitution, which I support, but in the local rural brothels it still seems to be a major problem.

In response to this "Rumpel" from Thailand on soc.culture.thai said:

Thailand has bowed (with my strong disagreement) to US pressure, a intolerable transgression into the national sovereignty and culture of a foreign nation. How would you feel if India would be the # 1 world power and tell the US to declare all cows sacred, let them run free and ban all steaks?

Highlights from Bangkok Post March 20, 1994 (Page 17)
This excerpt, with full credit, is being shared under the Fair Use provision of US Copyright laws and International treaties for educational purposes and with no financial gain.

While this article is from 1994, it tells the story of the long-history of "child" prostitution in the Thai culture:

Tok khiew’ or "green harvest" originally meant ‘pledging green paddy" for loans. The term had been used extensively for decades as a symbol of the farmers’ hardship where they didn’t have funds to sustain themselves while waiting for their green paddy to be ready for harvest. So they pledged their green paddy to usually rice millers as a mortgage for loans.

Recently the term ‘tok khiew’ has meant farmers pledging their young daughters to the procurers in exchange for money to buy such things as houses or pick-up trucks. The young girls may be pledged as young as Prathom 5 (grade 5) and when they finish the compulsory Prathom 6 they are sent into the brothels for a number of years to pay off their (parents) debts.

In response to this "Rumpel" from Thailand on soc.culture.thai said:

I have met girls that had been given to a brothel to work off a debt, many of them had stayed on after the first year or two (depending on the initial contract). None of the girls I ever talked to was angry with her parents, most send money home even if they're not required to do so by any contract, these prostitutes are just farm girls that make money selling sex - a job as any other. When I encountered this first (somewhen in the 60's, I was as shocked as you - how could parents do such a thing? Well, it's a different culture and unless you make it a problem such as labeling this job immoral or bad it's not a problem at all)

Recognizing that Thailand will never be able to rid itself of prostitution, Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai set out to do whatever he could to reduce the child prostitution problem.

In response to this "Rumpel" from Thailand on soc.culture.thai got upset, thinking this was my view, not realizing I was quoting the Bangkok Post said: 

Why would someone want to eradicate prostitution? I suggest you and your christian friends accomplish that in your own country first, then come back and report to us, if you succeed and afterwards still think that's a good idea we Thais, Filipinos, Mexican's, Dutch, Canadians and the other 150 nations might follow then.

One method that is used is making sure that all prostitutes have an ID, since every Thai citizen has to register for a National Identity Card when they turn 15. So if a prostitute does not have an ID, she is assumed to be a child or an alien. Either way, she can no longer work as a prostitute.

Legally, 15 is the age of sexual consent. 18 is the minimum age  to work as a prostitute.  Since 15 is the most convenient age for checking the age of child prostitutes, police often raid entertainment places and check the ID cards of working girls. (NOTE this changed in 1996 so 18 is the legal age for prostitutes. There now  are severe penalties for being a customer of procurer of prostitution if the provider is under age 18) See legal discussion section for more details.

The problem of ‘tok khiew’ is very widespread in the North. When a girl was born into a family, there would be a celebration because the girl, especially if she is good-looking, will bring wealth and prosperity to the family. This has been going on for a long time. The police can not do anything as the loan contracts for the girls sexual services are legal.

Instead of thinking that it is morally wrong, they young girls think only of gaining material comforts that their bodies can bring for them and their family. Girls are taught they would be considered a good child if she can repay her upbringing. Young girls see successful prostitutes coming home with riches.

In response to this "Rumpel" from Thailand on soc.culture.thai said again misunderstanding that I am not the one against prostitution (although I am against child prostitution), but his points are valid:

Dave - how arrogant is it to go to another culture and tell them what's "morally wrong"? In Phoenix AZ you have poor crack addicted girls trying to make the cash for the next hit, there are no funds to pay for detox hospitals, psychological counseling, longterm treatment and job training I believe your government has just given up on this people and let them rot! The same government mind you that approached the Thai government and forced them to "eradicate prostitution" and threatened to freeze large portions of world bank credits if they wouldn't comply.

In Thailand on the other hand prostitution has a much friendlier face, because sex for some form of payment is accepted as part of life the atmosphere is much more relaxed, aside from the show the police put on from time to time raiding some houses they do not harass the girls and bar owners, maybe take some tea money. Live and learn Dave, you should visit Thailand, go into a bar, talk to the girls become their friend see for yourself after that you will laugh about all the hype in the newspaper and the phony studies about "prostitution".

A number of alternative solutions were proposed including job training for the girls and cracking down on the procurers and agents.

However, the problem of ‘tok khiew’ is not easy to solve as long as the tradition of selling daughters continues.

In July 1994 the government strengthened child prostitution laws by making clients of under-age sex workers subject to fines and jail terms. Under pressure from the United Nations and Child Activist groups  A Prostitution Prevention and Suppression Bill introduced in 1996 expands the punishment arena to include procurers and brothel operators; under the latest law, a jail term of two to 20 years and/or a fine of 200,000 to 400,000 baht can be imposed on anyone caught having sex with prostitutes under 15 years of age (the age of consent in Thailand). If the child is under 13, the sentence could be life imprisonment. Parents or patrons who conspire with others to supply underage prostitutes face similar punishment. Many western countries have also instituted extra-territorial legislation whereby citizens can be charged for child prostitution offences committed abroad.

Example of Trying to Impose Western Values on Thailand

This site, while it has a Thailand base shows most of its supports are based on the U.S. and is a great example of typical "save the children" attitudes of imposing our moral values on a different culture.  Their goal is to get Americans to stop buying Thai products to "save the children"!

Such An Emotional Issue Often it Can't Even be Discussed in the U.S.
People are so emotional over this issue it is hard to have any  kind of intelligent discussion about it in the U.S. without being called a child molester.  Just because we feel it is an issue that should be discussed without just an emotional upheavel, does't mean one has any personal interest in underaged children.

A few years ago, Bill, co-founder of Liberated Christians did an excellent article in our newsletter sent to about 5000 subscribers (before our web site) on the Christian issues regarding children's sexuality. We have now included the articles at  "The Cult Of Childhood And The Repression Of  Childhood Sexuality," which created such a stir, and Bill's follow-up report, " Childhood Sexuality: Further Thoughts," was written, answering the many questions that were raised in response to the first article.  While not related to prostitution, the reports may be of interest about how we define children and how children are sexual, should have meaningful sex education and related issues.

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