Sex Laws in Thailand Part 3: Civil Society and Law Enforcement
by Jon Fox
25 January 2010
This article is the final installment in the Thailand Law Forum’s series on Sex Laws in Thailand. It looks at challenges to protecting children and the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international law enforcement in the fight against sexual crimes in Thailand. The first article explained the long reach of U.S. law, encompassing both U.S. citizens, and in certain circumstances, non-U.S. citizens. The second installment drew out the “consumption” habits and patterns of Thailand’s sex industry and the legal and cultural milieu in which prostitution takes place in Thailand.
Sex Laws in Thailand Part 1: US Laws Abroad: The Long Arm of Uncle Sam
Sex Laws in Thailand Part 2: Laws Regulating Commercial Sex and Entertainment Places
Thailand stands on the front lines of the battle against sexual exploitation in Southeast Asia. Thai authorities have successfully adopted a two pronged approach to sexual crimes: establishing a strict legal framework tackling various elements of sex crimes (trafficking, prostitution, sex with minors to name but a few); and cooperating with local communities and civil society groups to identify and protect victims. However, despite the progress made by the Thai authorities, there is much room for improvement, particularly in terms of enforcement and prosecution.
Child sexual exploitation provides a particularly clear view into wider trends of sex crimes taking place in Thailand today. From many Southeast Asian countries and Thailand’s rural areas, young boys and girls are taken to large Thai cities to be sexually exploited. According to an ECPAT report—a leading NGO working to stop the sexual exploitation of children—government policies discriminating against hill tribe children from Thailand’s northern provinces make them particularly vulnerable to internal trafficking.1 With less access to education and citizenship rights, poverty levels are high and employment opportunities are few. That said, the majority of trafficked children in Thailand come from Burma, Laos, China and Cambodia. Data collected by the Thai National Commission on Women's Affairs in 2000 indicated that there are up to 40,000 underage girls alone engaged in commercial sex work in Thailand. Ten years later, the number of sexually exploited children in Thailand remains precariously high.
Since 1994, Thailand’s Ministry of Social Development and Human Security has successfully led a National Plan of Action (NPA) to combat the trafficking of children and women. Working closely with government ministers, NGOs, local law enforcement, and even neighboring countries, the NPA has been highly successful in reducing the number of human trafficking victims in Thailand.
In 2006, Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism began developing an NPA to fight the sexual exploitation of children, modeled on the success of the human trafficking NPA. The proposed NPA intended to coordinate the efforts of various Thai ministries, NGOs, and law enforcement agencies while creating unified protocols for the protection and care of children. This process came to an abrupt end following the 2006 military coup against then Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra.
Efforts by NGOs to restart these efforts with Thai government officials have been largely unsuccessful. An international NGO working in Thailand commented that “right now the RTG’s [Royal Thai Governments] main focus is to promote the economy and tourism during the global downturn.” While there has been a number of recent high profile arrests of foreign pedophiles in Thailand and Southeast Asia, including performer “Gary Glitter’s 2005 arrest in Vietnam, some NGO workers take a decidedly grim view of the commitment of government efforts.
A global effort
Southeast Asia has an unfortunate reputation as a land of sexual fantasy attracting pedophiles and sexual predators from around the world to pray on this region’s must vulnerable. To combat tourism based on sexual exploitation, many nations have passed laws imposing extra-territorial jurisdiction on crimes committed against children, allowing them to pursue and punish their citizens regardless of where they committed their crimes.2 In addition many countries have representatives of law enforcement in Thailand to liaise with Thai law enforcement agencies and local NGOs to help coordinate efforts.
One of the larger delegations is the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or “ICE”, office in Bangkok. Due to their successful history of cooperation with Royal Thai Police (RTP) and experience in combating child abuse, ICE agents lead U.S. efforts combating sexual exploitation of children in the country. Local ICE agents prioritize combating child pornography and child sex tourism by U.S. Citizens in Thailand. Working with other national law enforcement representatives, Interpol, and the RTP, ICE agents coordinate efforts to fight crimes that cross borders and destroy lives of an estimated two million innocent children worldwide.
U.S. Federal law prohibits American citizens or legal residents from engaging in pornographic or sexual activities anywhere in the world with a child under 18 years of age. Several laws ensure that such offenders will face severe consequences. These include the Mann Act, the 1994 Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Act, the 2003 Protect Act and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.
In 2003 ICE launched “Operation Predator”, which uses an array of resources to target child sex abusers and bring them to justice. To date, Operation Predator has led to the arrest of over 11,000 child sexual abusers, including more than 1,100 outside the United States. While ICE agents refuse to comment on their means and methods of operation, media reports have suggested the use of undercover agents, internet sting operations, and sophisticated technologies. ICE agents in Bangkok did say however that they often receive information from local NGOs about foreigners in Thailand whom they suspect of engaging in child sexual abuse. Sometimes U.S. based law enforcement, such as local Sheriff Departments and Parole Officers, inform them of known sex offenders who are traveling to the region. In both cases, local ICE agents work with their RTP counterparts to monitor the suspects’ movements while in Thailand.
  
1. ECPAT, Child Sex Tourism in Thailand, Bangkok, 2008.
2. See <a href="http://www.thailawforum.com/sex-crimes-in-thailand.html">Sex Crimes in Thailand</a>
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