The Dark Side of Thailand: Sex Tourism


Thailand, officially the Kingdom of Thailand, stretches down the Indochinese Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Due to its great beauty, the country has achieved to develop a strong tourist economy over the last 50 years: from approximately 500.000 visitors in 1967 to 39 million in 2019. Not only does the country strike visitors with breath-taking landscapes and crystal-clear waters, but it is also greatly known for its vibrant cities, fascinating history, rich culture and friendly people.

Yet, not all foreign visitors come to the Land of Smiles to enjoy the cultural, historical and natural beauties that this wonderful country offers. Indeed, numerous people visit Thailand because the country is sadly famous for being one of the most popular destination worldwide for sex tourism. The prostitution sector, which lies on a highly ambiguous grey zone, is technicallyillegal in the country – Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act of 1996,Penal Code Amendment Act of 1997, and Entertainment Places Act of 1966- yet, local authorities have always turned a blind eye to this practice over the years.

Actually, the Thai government and other tourism-related organizations, seeing the huge potential that prostitution could have in the country’s economy – it generates approximately US$6.4 billion every year,contributing tremendously to the national GDP – have always non-officially supported its development. Indeed, by promoting worldwide the great beauty of young Thai girls in tourism ads (e.g. “the one fruit of Thailand more delicious than durian is its young women”), the government has contributed to the spike of international arrivals on the one hand, as well as to the to the skyrocketing of the prostitution sector on the other.

The precise number of prostitutes within the country is difficult to assess, since Thai authorities have never conducted official research. Yet, according to a recent study conducted by the Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok, Thailand), there are currently 2.8 million prostitutes, including 2 million women, 20.000 adult males and 800.000 minors under the age of 18 in the country. Most striking (and most frightening), studies also highlight that approximately every minute a girl or a child is brought into the sex market in Thailand!

The majority of these women generally come from the most rural (and most economically underdeveloped)parts of the country: the North and the Northeast. Prostitutes are not forced to enter the prostitution market by force, as some people may think, however, their social conditions and the extremely high pressure to provide money for their familiesremove this personal choice. Indeed, in the Thai culture, women are expected to contribute financially to the household and many prostitutes consider it almost a duty to send money back home.

Some recent studies also discovered that many communities in the northern regions of Thailand have special feasts, which celebrate the birth of a baby girl. People in Thailand know in fact that these girls, when old enough, can move to the “big cities” – Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket – and work as “hostess” or “bar girl”, thus earning twenty or thirty times more than they could make in their villages.

FYU – For Your Information

Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act of 1996

The Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act places all the responsibility on the client. Although it is usually not enforced, people found to be “guilty” of this crime will have to pay heavy fines or even face jailtime. Punishments depend on the age of the person – especially if the prostitute is underage.

Penal Code Amendment Act of 1997

The Penal Code Amendment Act punishes sex workers themselves, arguing that those working as such will be fine and put in jail. The act is extended also to people who live with prostitutes and receive mo\ney from them – i.e. pimps.

Entertainment Places Act of 1966

The Entertainment Places Act states that all those places that are profiting from prostitution are illegal and will be fined. Yet, this law as well is greatly tolerated by local authorities.

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