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A land that has long been notoriously infamous for as a destination for carnal gratification, many tourists from all around the world visit Thailand not only for its beaches, but also for something more sinister: the tropical country has to offer. But it is not only tourists who do so. Many locals take advantage of the legal loopholes to engage in hiring sex workers as well. However, those who are involved in this illicit business are not limited to adults of the legal age of consent, which, according to the Thai law, is 16 years old.

In addition, other legislation taken into consideration, the legal age to engage in sexual intercourse of the nature of prostitution makes 18 years old the actual legal age of the solicitor. However, the legal prohibition is merely ostensive; punishment against what is essentially a commercialized statutory rape is rarely meted out. Under the ever leniently enforced, often malleable and inconstant law, child prostitution is allowed to thrive.

It is estimated that perhaps as many as 800,000 children under the legal age of consent for sexual intercourse (16 years old) are victims of enslavement for the purpose of coerced prostitution. Often procured to much older men against their will, these victims of pedophilia often consist of young girls trafficked from the uplands of Thailand as well as from neighboring and countries. Forced to work in the touristic cities of the coasts, the most infamous among them being Pattaya, a large number of them have been lured by the promise of other occupations involving tasks of non-venereal descriptions.

The gargantuan pedophiliac sex industry also includes many young boys between the age of 10 to 13-years old. Like their female counterparts, they are forced to engage in coital relations with mainly Western men. UNICEF puts the number of children affected by HIV/AIDS, both having been born with and contracted in Thailand at 300,000.

Not only are children who are forced into prostitution exposed to diseases and violence of unspeakable luridness, they are also deprived of their opportunity to be children and to go to school. The result of this lack of opportunity and qualification is a vicious cycle from which victims of child prostitution find difficult to disentangle themselves. Some become procurers and some continue working in the industry.

One discernible reason for the persistence of child prostitution, at least among those victims who have been obtained domestically, may be the value of filial duty embedded within the culture. This may have made some rural parents to, by indiscretion, believe children should be able to “put bread on the table.” Thus, the parents’ approval to have their children leaving home to work allows traffickers to take advantage and lure these unwitting children with to the cities. Once there, they are not given the works they were promised with.

Lastly, without rendering these victims as mere objects, it is after all the demand that calls for the supply. It is the responsibility, first and foremost of the country’s own government, and secondly, though not any less crucial, the international community’s task to eradicate both the demanders and the suppliers. Upon visiting any city known for its nocturnal entertainment, one cannot help but notice the conspicuousness in which such establishments operate. Thus, might the local authorities then be complicit? Children, regardless of whether or not they were born into penury or luxury, are inalienably entitled to basic rights.

Free public education is provided; it is theirs to make use of it. Finally, the cultural factors promote filial responsibility does not imply that these unknowing parents have consented to their children’s being prostituted. Over the past few decades, prostitution, pedophilia and tourism in Thailand have become words that evoke one another and more serious measures must be taken both by the Thai government itself and the international community.

Peewara Sapsuwan

Sources: CNN, BBC News, UNICEF, Farnoosh Rezaee Ahan
Photo: Child Labor Photographs