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Sex Laws in Thailand Part 2: Laws Regulating Commercial Sex and Entertainment Places
by Jon Fox

30 November 2009

The second law regulating prostitution in Thailand is the Act on Entertainment Places, B.E. 2509 (1966) (the “Entertainment Act”). Massage parlors (excluding parlors providing legitimate massage services), go-go bars, karaoke bars and similar establishments are regulated and required to be licensed by the Entertainment Act.  The Act regulates these businesses due to their influence on public morals and in order to ensure that minors are not allowed access to such businesses. While the Entertainment Act does not expressly permit prostitution, it does allow “service partners” and “bath service providers” and the like. The Entertainment Act distinguishes between those types of employees, who are required to wear red circular disks with their numbers, and non-sexual service staff, who are required to wear blue circular disks with their numbers. Employees of establishments regulated by the Entertainment Act are required to be at least 18 years old, and customers are required to be at least 20 years old. Given the close relationship of many of these businesses to the sex industry, the differences between massage parlors and go-go bars and prostitution establishments are not necessarily clear.

Thai law becomes harsh when the prostitute is under the age of 18. Any person who engages in an act gratifying their sexual desire, or that of another person, in a prostitution establishment with an underage minor above 15 years old is subject to imprisonment up to three years and a fine of 20,000 to 60,000 baht. If the minor is younger then 15 years old, the penalty is doubled to two to six years imprisonment and a fine of 40,000 to 120,000 baht.  For purposes of this law, consent is not a defense and while the sexual acts do not have to be done in a “promiscuous” manner, they do have to take place in a prostitution establishment.

Yet even in these egregious circumstances, there appear to be gaps in Thai law because so much is predicated on the vague definition of prostitution. For example, it is not clear what the penalty is if the sexual act occurs in the client’s hotel room rather than a prostitution establishment. In such a case, if the Prostitution Law cannot be applied, then in the case of a minor under 15, the statutory rape laws would apply. But does that mean paying a prostitute for sexual services, in a discreet and non-promiscuous manner, in a hotel room is permitted? That point remains unclear under current Thai law.

The penalties under the Prostitution Law become more significant for people who trade in prostitutes and the pimps who mange them. Any person who owns or manages a prostitution establishment or controls a prostitute is subject to imprisonment of three to 15 years and a fine of 60,000 to 300,000 baht.  If the prostitution establishment employs underage minors 15 years old or older, the penalty increases to five to 15 years imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 to 300,000 baht. If the prostitution establishment employs underage minors below 15, the penalty increases to 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine of 200,000 to 400,000 baht.

A person advertising the availability of prostitution services is subject to a prison term of six months to two years, a fine of 10,000 to 40,000 baht, or both. Any person who procures another person for purposes of prostitution is subject to a prison term up to 10 years and a fine up to 200,000 baht, regardless of whether such other person consents or whether the acts relating to such procurement occurred within the borders of the Kingdom of Thailand.

If the victim of forced prostitution is a minor above 15 years old, the penalty increases to five to 15 years in prison and 100,000 to 300,000 baht and to 10 to 20 years and 200,000 to 400,000 baht if the victim is a minor under 15. The use of fraud, violence, or coercion increases the penalties of forced prostitution by a third. Thai law holds any person aiding a sex trafficker accountable in the same manner as the trafficker procuring persons for the sex trade. In addition, parents involved in the sale of their children into prostitution face a penalty of imprisonment of four to 20 years and a fine of 80,000 to 400,000 baht.

If detention, illegal confinement, violence or the threat of violence were used to force a person to engage in prostitution, the Prostitution Law calls for 10 to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 to 400,000 baht. Furthermore, if the acts used to force a person to engage in prostitution led to serious bodily harm, then the penalty is increased to life imprisonment, and if such acts led to death, then the penalty can include a death sentence.

Big Business

Prostitution is found in every country and every society, to varying degrees of cultural acceptance. Thailand maintains a combination of a highly organized flesh industry, a cultural ambiguity towards the frequenting of prostitutes, and limited economic options for rural populations. In 2004 Dr. Nitet Tinnakul from Chulalongkorn University estimated that 2.8 million sex workers were active in Thailand, comprising roughly of two million women, 20,000 adult males and 800,000 minors under the age of 18.3Another estimate published in 2003 valued the flesh trade at US$ 4.3 billion per year, or about three percent of the total Thai economy.4

The Thai sex industry exists in the grey corners of the law. While clarification of the law is necessary, international experience has shown that targeting consumers of the sex-industry has a somewhat limited effect. Recently Udon Thani Industrial Council chairman Prayoon Homewong called for the legalization of prostitution. "We can never get rid of it. So, I think we should pass laws to regulate it," Prayoon said, adding that "If there were laws to regulate prostitution, sex workers would be eligible for legal protection and benefits, while the government would earn income from the tax." Legalization questions aside, what is required in Thailand is more active protection of the rights of the individuals that enter into the industry.

Sex Laws in Thailand Part3: Civil Society and Law Enforcement

Return Index Page

[1] [2]

3. TheNation, Prostitution: More Thais selling sex, study finds, 3 Jan 2004.

4. The Age, Thailand mulls legal prostitution, 26 Nov 2003.

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