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The Oldest Profession, Alive and Not So Well in Modern Thailand
June 21, 2000

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Khao San Road is full of massage parlors
Bangkok is a thrilling city! Usually, big metropolitan cities are described as bustling, polluted, crowded, or traffic congested. Bangkok is not the exception, but there is a heady charm about the city that gives it the buzz and intensity of Las Vegas, just without the bright lights and showgirls. Maybe it's the ultra-indulgent temptation that is ever present and at your fingertips. Bangkok is the land of desire. You can have anything your heart desires, cheap, and that can become a drug....If you think about why drugs are so terrible you can imagine that it's not the high that's so bad. It's the addiction that sucks you in, and is never satisfied leaving you wanting more and more, lost in a never-ending cycle of pain and destruction. There are almost always other social ills linked with drugs, like alcohol and prostitution. So, when I say you can have anything your heart desires in Thailand, that can be positive, from shopping to island getaways, but it can easily be a negative as well, especially when it comes to the sex industry.

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for larger view
When the police are corrupt, where do you turn for help?
Prostitution in Asia dates back to pre-Communist China when 'comfort wagons' were an accepted part of social life. Europeans would charter these train rides out of Shanghai for a fare that included the prostitute of choice. But it was to be the Japanese who set up the most comprehensive network of "comfort wagons" staffed by forced prostitutes, or "comfort women." Many women lived as captives of the military beginning in 1932, when Japan invaded China, to the end of the war in 1945. They were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers, the women were drawn from the Asian countries conquered by Japan, and included Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, as well as Dutch women captured in Indonesia, then a Dutch colony.

This whole process was actually overseen by the governments of both countries. Thailand didn't have the opportunity to cash in on the wealth until 1967, when they agreed to provide "rest and recreation" services to American servicemen during the Vietnam War. These Asian countries became little more than American brothels, exploiting its women in the most inhumane ways. One South Vietnamese government official responded, "The Americans need girls; we need dollars. Why should we refrain from the exchange?" It is estimated that the Vietnam War was responsible for earning some $16 million for the Thai economy annually, money that tourism would have to replace after the war was over.

Relevant Links:

The Tourism Authority of Thailand's Website that gives more information about child prostitution issues in Thailand.
The Coalition against Child Abuse, Prostitution and Trafficking Website.

In light of the view that prostitutes were a national resource it remains today one of the most lucrative Thai tourist industries. It has been said that "young Thai country women are just another kind of crop." That statement arose from a study that shows just how impoverished those living in rural areas are and how the lure of wealth in the big city is almost impossible to resist! One study of 1000 Bangkok massage girls found that seventy percent came from farming families. Unfortunately, the bad news is just beginning. The new generation of young people born into these circumstances suffer an even worse fate. They are inducted into the sex industry without ever affording the opportunity to be educated, cared for or loved. The majority of the children are aged in the 10-15 year old age bracket. However, it is not uncommon to see a 7-year-old with their 3-year-old sibling on their hip. Their income, until they are recruited, is derived from a number of activities, including begging on street corners, selling newspapers, cleaning shoes, pick-pocketing in the markets, and scavenging. They easily find that prostitution is a more lucrative way of life and with no other options they are sucked into the vicious cycle.

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Fortunately, there are projects like Empower and Naam Chewit helping Thailand's youth
Collaborating with women's' organizations, child rights activists, urban community development networks, legal support groups, HIV/AIDS networks, and others, at local, regional, and international levels, name a portion of the important of Empower's activities. Empower has been a part of the International Sex Workers Network for over ten years, and is recognized by the Asia & Pacific region as a leading organization representing sex-workers in Thailand. The battle they face however is one that is escalated beyond just prostitution. The rapid increase in sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis and AIDS is taking its toll. One in four young people have an STD by the age of 14 as a result. So, in addition to the classes and education groups Empower has established, they also heavily promote AIDS awareness. We know there is no cure but the main focus is to dispel myths and stereotypes about people suffering from the disease.
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Thailand needs to make education available to all children, not just the privileged few.
The battle against AIDS, prostitution and drugs is not limited to Thailand. It spans nations and borders and has probably affected your community too. We can overcome these odds! Start with yourself! Protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases by just saying NO! Condoms don't always protect, but if you are sexually active, always use one. Tell a friend, and make a difference -- you may be saving your friend's life.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

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