Combating sexual exploitation
Thailand –as one of the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), can be seen as a hub for business and trade due to its rapid development, engagement with the international community and geographically advantageous location between Cambodia, Myanmar, China and India. Due to its beautiful scenic beaches and rich culture, it has also become one of the major tourist destinations in South East Asia. Unfortunately, it has also become famous for its popularity with sex tourists.
There are vast amounts of research and reports on the issues of sexual exploitation as well as human trafficking in Thailand. For this specific review, we will focus on some of the most recently published reports and publications. In July 2017 the Criminal Court in Bangkok concluded the largest human trafficking trial in Thailand. As reported by Reuters, the court sentenced 62 defendants after a two-year trial.
As in many other Asian countries, prostitution is officially illegal in Thailand under the 1996 Prevention And Suppression Of Prostitution Act. Yet, the sex industry is booming in Thailand due to a lack of law enforcement. With a rise in the awareness of the prevalence of trafficking, multiple laws have been enacted to protect children, as well as other victims of trafficking and exploitation. The Thai government has committed to a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards combating human trafficking, acting on the five aspects of ‘policy, prosecution, protection, prevention and partnership’.
Even so, the US Department of State has categorised Thailand into their Tier 2 Watch List in their 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report. Although the efforts by the government of Thailand are commendable, it still does not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The US Report criticised the lack of action in prosecuting and convicting people complicit in trafficking networks as well as a relatively low number of investigations into forced labour.
This aligns with the recent UNODC report from August 2017 ‘Trafficking in persons from Cambodia, Lao (PDR) and Myanmar to Thailand’. The report points out that irregular migrants from Cambodia, Lao (PDR) and Myanmar are vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. The authors differentiate that women and girls are most often trafficked into domestic service arrangements and hospitality work, while sexual exploitation is most prevalent in tourist areas and for girls, women and young boys. In general, trafficked boys and men are more often found in fishing or construction work.
We would urge the government and law enforcement agencies in Thailand to continue in their ‘zero tolerance’ policy and to cooperate even more closely with neighbouring countries in order to prevent human trafficking in the border regions, as well as further investigate and prosecute in cases of forced labour. Most urgently, in the cases concerning the exploitation of children.
As pointed out in the 2017 ESCAP Report ‘Through the Eyes Of The Child: Barriers To Access To Justice And Remedies for Child Victims Of Sexual Exploitation’ a significant barrier, which prevents victims from reporting, is a lack of awareness and knowledge of their rights. They fear criminalisation and often see themselves as workers and not the victims of exploitation. Building an environment within which there is trust and confidence in the relevant authorities is vital, so victims can come forward without fear and justice can be served.
Protection of children against sexual exploitation in tourism: Capacity building and awareness raising activities in Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines, Gambia and Dominican Republic. (2013). Defence for Children.