ANCIENT ruins and Buddhist temples, pristine beaches and water sports, cultural events and musical performances ? and sex.
Take your pick. Thai tourism, despite the post-Boxing Day tsunami doldrums, still manages to lure them. Certainly, the country has a vast array of attractions for the most varied of tastes.
But let’s face it, too many tourists flock to Thailand for its sex trade. Some observers estimate that more than half of the nearly 800,000 tourists who visit Thailand each year are not here to snap holiday pictures ? not unless they’re X-rated, that is.
According to the Public Health Department, there are approximately 75,000 prostitutes in Thailand. However, some non-governmental organisations estimate that the number of prostitutes at any given time is close to two million, representing 9% of the female adult population.
However, it’s not the adult population that is of greatest concern, but the increasing number of child prostitutes.
Thailand is a significant source, destination and transit country in the trafficking of children for sexual purposes. Children trafficked into or through Thailand are usually from but not limited to Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and China, international children’s rights group Ecpat International says in one report.
The number of child victims of prostitution living in Thailand ranges from 12,000 to hundreds of thousands, according to the US-based research institute the Protection Project.
The numbers belie efforts by the government and various agencies intent on stamping out the trade. Thailand developed a national plan to combat the child sexual exploitation trade in 1996. Many of the sex tourism spots like Pattaya are trying to re-tool themselves to woo families with more wholehearted activities, such as water sports.
But now there is an added complication: The Internet and other types of information and communication technologies (ICTs) that make it easy to produce and disseminate child sexual abuse images.
Child pornography is known to be produced in Thailand by foreigners who then export it back to their home countries or post it on the Internet, Ecpat International says.
“Cyberspace gives children easy access to danger,” says Sanphasit Koompraphant, director of the Centre for the Protection of Children’s Rights in Bangkok.
It’s not just their exposure to objectional material online, but their vulnerability to sexual predators who prowl cyberspace looking for victims, he says on Friday at a media conference to launch Ecpat International’s report on Violence Against Children in Cyberspace (see In.Tech next Tuesday, Nov 15).
“Adults who use the Internet for sexual exploitation are also using it to supplement their child-trafficking networks,” says Sanphasit.
Thailand has no specific laws regarding child pornography. While a statute in the criminal code prohibits the distribution, exhibition and possession of obscene material in general, Sanphasit believes the government has to go one step further and implement an absolute ban on child pornography.
But the wild-west nature of the Internet will require a multi-pronged approach. The Thai government has developed software filters that allow users to shield Internet users from objectionable material.
“The government is now trying to promote the use of such technologies in homes and in cybercafes,” says Sanphasit.
Finally, there is education – of not only the people, but also of the industry, which Sanphasit says should take greater responsibility for what is transmitted and stored on its networks.
“That,” he admits, “is going to take a lot of discussion.”