Sex workers: Prostitution not a crime

Speaking up: A file photo showing a student holding up a sign supporting sex workers and another that says ‘Feminism is coming’ at an anti-government rally at Mahidol University in Nakhon Pathom. — AFP

SEX workers in the country have launched a petition calling for prostitution to be decriminalised and urging authorities to remove all penalties for selling sex.

Empower Foundation, a Chiang Mai-based group that supports sex workers, said it hoped to collect 10,000 signatures and present the petition to parliament to help persuade lawmakers to consider changing the country’s prostitution law.

“The law punishes sex workers – 80% of whom are mothers and the main breadwinner for the whole family, ” said Mai Junta, a representative from Empower, on Tuesday.

“It turns us into criminals.”

Over 1,000 people had signed the petition since its Saturday launch.

Thailand is predominantly Buddhist and deeply conservative, but is home to an extensive sex industry, largely catering to Thai men.Hordes of tourists also flock to the bright lights of go-go bars and massage parlours in Bangkok and the country’s main tourist towns.

Women and LGBT+ rights activists say the current law, which made prostitution illegal in 1960, does little to protect sex workers, while repeated arrests and fines for doing sex work has driven them further into poverty.

The women’s affairs department at Thailand’s Ministry of Social Development and Human Security said it was in the process of amending the prostitution law and would launch an online public hearing next year.

“We are aware of complaints regarding rights violations of sex workers due to this law... and we are not neglecting their suggestions (to repeal the law), ” a spokesperson said.

A 2014 report by the United Nations agency fighting AIDS estimated that there were 123,530 sex workers in Thailand, but advocacy groups put the figure at more than twice that number, saying it included tens of thousands of migrants from neighbouring Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Prostitution is currently punishable by a fine of up to 40,000 baht (RM5,260) or two years in prison, or both. People who pay for sex with underage workers can be jailed for up to six years. — Reuters

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