Sex Laws in Thailand Part 3: Civil Society and Law Enforcement
by Jon Fox
25 January 2010
The private sector does its part
Tourism isn’t the only sector to initiate children protection programs. Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop led global campaign to “Stop Sex Trafficking of Children and Young People” in partnership with ECPAT, launched in August 2009.
In a press conference in Bangkok, Christopher Davis, International Campaigns Director from The Body Shop elaborated on the new venture. “We partnered with ECPAT International to reveal the true picture on the real extent of sex trafficking of children and young people[. . .].This campaign with ECPAT enables each of us to inspire real change on an issue which, until now, has been largely hidden from the world.”9 To this end, the Body Shop developed a “Soft Hands Kind Heart” hand cream whose proceeds support ECPAT in their efforts to stop the trafficking and exploitation of children and young people.
The large stick
The legal basis for the responsibility to protect children flows from Thailand’s ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in May 1992. While significant steps have been taken to bring Thailand’s national laws into conformity with the CRC, there is still much to be done. For example, the CRC defines a “child” as an individual less than 18 years of age. Thai law however differentiates between crimes committed against children who are 15 years old and younger, and children between the ages of 15 and 18. While good intentions may lie behind the increased penalties imposed on offenses against younger children, for many NGOs this is not enough. They demand that the Thai government provide the same penalties for all cases of exploitation of children under 18 years of age. NGOs argue that such laws will help eliminate prevailing attitudes sanctioning the exploitation of teen-age children.
No less important is the need for effective implementation of Thailand’s rigorous child protection laws. While the Royal Thai Police have been trained in new polices and laws pertaining to the protection of children, many NGOs working in the field complain that it is not enough. They point out that the lack of police resources and training undermine the government’s efforts to protect children. According to one long time case-worker in Thailand, despite the trainings, many policemen still consider sex with teen-age children “to be OK”. Only a handful of police officers across the Kingdom are trained on the proper treatment of children in police custody. Only six government-run youth protection shelters serve over 16 million children in all of Thailand.10 While these centers provide crucial medical treatment, counseling, housing, re-integration and recovery programs, they fail to meet the growing demand.
Surprisingly, Thailand lacks a nation-wide monitoring mechanism and computerized police records pertaining to exploitation of children in Thailand. In the absence of segregated data by age and violation type, it is impossible to asses the effectiveness or impact of current polices or to develop new strategies to combat child sexual exploitation based on methods proven on the ground. NGOs and law enforcement personnel openly acknowledge that the absence of reliable data is a central hindrance to the efforts fighting sexual exploitation in Thailand. NGOs also point out great variance in the levels of cooperation and assistance provided to them by police officers, noting that such differences would be eliminated by a unified NPA for the protection of children.
While NGOs successfully cooperate and support government efforts to protect children from abuse and exploitation case by case, they continue to push for more. ECPAT and local partners work to mobilize concrete action against trafficking of children for sexual exploitation among local communities in Thailand. NGOs also fund prevention and awareness programs for children at risk, and help abused children recover their lives. NGOs engage with Thai authorities to implement community based prevention programs to protect at-risk child populations, and to establish specialized government services for child victims.
The effective collaboration between government agencies and civil society, combined with a unified national policy, proved successful in combating human trafficking. Similar efforts must be made to protect children in Thailand as well. In face of ever increasing economic threats and a growing child population, the time for action is now.
* If you suspect or know of child sexual exploitation taking place, please do not hesitate to contact any of the organizations below:
- ICE : U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand Hotline +66 (0)2 205 4000
- Royal Thai Police : Tel: +66 (0) 2 255 4934 Fax: +66 (0)2 250 1533
- FACE (Fight Against Child Exploitation): Tel: +66 (0)2 509 5792 Fax: +66 (0)2 519 2794
- ECPAT Thailand Foundation : Tel: +66 (0)2 215 3388 Fax : +66 (0)2 215 8272
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9. Press release: ECPAT & the Body Shop Demand End to Sex Trafficking of Children &Young People, 13 August, 2009.
10. UNICEF; ECPAT, Report on the Status of Action against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: Thailand, 2007, p.30.
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