Thailand has banned prostitution since 1960. Soliciting, pimping, or even disturbing public order are punishable by law. In reality, prostitution is tolerated, and even controlled by the state. In 2015, the sex market generated an estimated revenue of US$6.4 billion. Thailand has been a popular destination for paid sex for at least six centuries. The development of this market grew especially with the Second World War and the presence of the Japanese army, then the Vietnam War with the American army. Prostitutes are accessible in the many massage parlors and bars.
Prostitution in Thai history:
It was the Chinese navigator Ma Huan who made Thailand's prostitution known in an account published in 1451. The Dutch naval officer Jacob van Neck also spoke of it in 1604. Historians believe that prostitution appeared following the Chinese immigration during the Ayutthaya Kingdom. At the time, prostitutes were mostly Chinese. This market was then legal and taxed. The state managed the brothels.
It was the UN that forced Thailand to enact a law prohibiting prostitution in 1960. The repression was lightly applied. It is often the prostitutes who are affected by the law and not those who manage the brothels. To prevent the mistreatment of prostitutes, the state created a surveillance system. This also helps limit the spread of venereal diseases, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, chancroid, genital herpes, syphilis. In 1996, an even stricter law appeared, that of the prevention and suppression of prostitution.
Laws against prostitution in Thailand:
The 1996 law, known as the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act, was promulgated to define prostitution. This act is described as sexual intercourse intended to satisfy sexual desires in an immoral manner, in exchange for money. In this law, the customer can be fined 1000 baht (30 US dollars). The prostitute faces a prison sentence of one month. When the prostitute is under 15 years old, the penalties and fines for the protagonists are more severe. The prison sentence can then be 6 years in prison and the fine can reach the sum of 120,000 bahts (or 3,300 US dollars). Owners of prostitution establishments can face imprisonment of up to 15 years, and more if children are involved. The law was first written to protect children.
In 2003, the penalties for a person who engages in prostitution increased. Thus, the person who engages in prostitution can be imprisoned for 7 to 20 years, with a fine of 40,000 baht (or 1,100 US dollars). In some cases, people can be imprisoned for life. The law also punishes people who indirectly benefit from the profits obtained from prostitution, such as the roommates of the prostituted person for example. Those involved with a child allegedly involved in prostitution face 10 years in prison and a fine of 20,000 baht (US$550).
Before this change in the law, a public debate was held. It was proposed to legalize prostitution as in Switzerland, with taxation, as well as health insurance. According to some politicians, this could have increased state revenue, improved the situation of sex workers, and drastically reduced corruption. The project was abandoned. In 2016, the Minister of Tourism announced that he wanted to replace sex tourism with quality cultural tourism. But he lost his position at the end of 2017.
The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic forced sex workers to retrain. The state then declared that it would provide training and assistance through the family affairs department.
The figures for prostitution in Thailand:
Revenues generated by prostitution were estimated at 4.3 billion US dollars in 2003. This amount was reassessed to 6.4 billion US dollars in 2015.
According to the government, there are a total of 77,000 registered prostitutes. Non-governmental organizations estimate that the number is much higher, and that there are in reality between 150,000 and 200,000 sex workers. Sex tourism is said to mainly take place in Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya and Hat Yai. On the island of Ko Samui alone, there are 10,000 prostitutes. The sex market represents 10% of Thailand's overall tourism revenue.
The Thai Health System Research Institute estimates that minors represent 40% of prostitutes in Thailand, or between 60,000 and 80,000 people.
In 1996, it was estimated that there were at least 5,000 Russian prostitutes believed to have been brought in by the Russian mafia.
In 2008, the number of Thais carrying the AIDS virus was estimated at 530,000. The politician and activist Mechai Viravaidya, who was minister of tourism, carried out a huge media campaign to inform the population of the risk of sexual behavior, encouraging people to wear condoms. He created a chain of restaurants that gives free condoms to customers.
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