Firstly, it must be noted that in the eyes of many locals and expatriates, in Pattaya, the current media intensity surrounding child prostitution, specifically the case of Mr. Mikhail Pletnev, only helps to bring the issue to a wider audience. Most people agree that criminal acts of this nature have been happening, not only in Pattaya/Thailand but also in a number of neighboring countries, for over 30 years.
Why? At the risk of opening up an investigative “can of worms”, it is a simple culmination of political, legal, economical and social factors coming together to enabling a breading ground or “safe haven” for pedophiles and immoral human beings looking to abuse and defile young children.
Attention & Governance
Relatively lenient punishments imposed on child sex offenders in Thailand, 4-20 years imprisonment and/or Bt8,000-40,000 fine, do not do enough to instill respect for the law. Couple this with the well-documented propensity to talk (read pay) your way out of a charge and quite simply anyone with even the slightest of inclinations and a meager sum of money can flaunt their every desire, be it with man, woman or child.
For years Thailand has unofficially been titled the sex tourism capital of Asia, with Pattaya its shining light, closely followed by the notorious red-light districts of Bangkok and to a lesser extent the bars and clubs of Phuket. Despite the false fronts and “smoke screen” advertising that the Thai administrators frequently role out (see “Amazing Thailand” campaign) the truth of the matter is that almost half of the countries prominent tourism industry is accounted for under the banner of “sex tourism.”
Recent initiatives and proactive measures undertaken by both national and provincial administrations and authorities have somewhat helped to irradiate the blatantly obvious offences, this has caused a new bread of offender to appear and forced the industry further “underground.” It is not uncommon for police to uncover entire networks of child prostitution with nationwide and in some cases international contacts, operating out of legitimate businesses or via unsuspecting intermediaries.
In Pattaya, local authorities have recently begun a campaign aimed at clamping down on acts of child abuse, exploitation and prostitution, already uncovering the roots of a suspected pedophile network and instigating the arrest of internationally renowned Russian musician Mikhail Pletnev to name but one offender.
Unless Thailand genuinely and collectively, all forms of government and authorities, seek to eradicate child prostitution, the situation will continue to worsen.
The massive economical divide of the Thai economy, reaching from the super rich elite to the disadvantaged rice farmers of Thailand’s Isan region, contributes greatly to the increase in child prostitution. The inequality in wealth and the inherent disadvantages that this brings (poor healthcare, education and quality of life) mean many families, especially in Thailand’s rural north and northeastern regions, look to their children to provide a source of income. It is not uncommon to see children as young as 10-years-old pulled out of school to help in the family business.
Due to the aforementioned inequalities, prostitution of both minors and adults has become a popular career choice by the more disadvantaged of the Thai people, due mainly to its comparatively lucrative return as opposed to working on the family farm. Despite prostitution being illegal in Thailand, it is nothing less than rife throughout the Kingdom. Bars, pubs and clubs in every major city cater for both local and foreign clientele. Since the days of the Vietnam War, the prostitution industry has thrived in the nation and has been allowed to do so primarily because of the revenue created by the establishments and from visiting tourists.
The social divide and prominence of prostitution in Thailand has inherently caused an increase in demand for younger and younger service workers. It is not uncommon to hear of a child being rented out or sold by their family for financial gain, sometimes for as little as a Bt2,000-3,000. Some children are forced into the industry having run away from broken homes or are coerced into it by friends or relatives. Many children from the cities turn to prostitution having tried selling drugs, a highly risky and harshly punished crime, or being a street beggar.
The easily corrupted young mind, usually results in most children becoming “career prostitutes.” Reluctant to inform their parents or the authorities about their situation, many children forced into prostitution come to accept their circumstance and continue to offer themselves for sale.
In Pattaya alone there is thought to be approximately 2,000 underage children involved in the prostitution industry, while approximately 900 children are thought to come to the area for prostitution every year.
Common Routes & Scams
The following are the most common ways that Thai children become involved in prostitution:
- Sold or rented out by their parents or guardians, often extremely poor or desperate and using an agent to facilitate the deal.
- Homeless or runaway children turn to prostitution as a means to survive
- Peer pressure. Siblings or friends coerce them into the industry
- Victims of scams or unscrupulous people who take advantage of the situation by forcing them into prostitution.
- Victims of rape, sexual abuse and assault, often scared to confess, will become prostitutes. Most notably children involved in sexual abuse at home turn to selling their bodies.
Almost all of the children become trapped in the industry after only a few customers, their innocent minds are easily distorted and they are afraid to turn to police or their parents. Starting or becoming involved in prostitution at a young age gives them the wrong attitude towards using sex to earn money, trapping them in the industry long-term and giving them very little hope of leading a relative “normal” life.
Agents & Prostitution Scams
Only a very small percentage of child prostitutes act as an individual in the industry, mainly due to the veritable risks and dangers involved with doing so. Most children, once involved in the industry, are controlled or managed by an agent/s. Children are often bought or traded between agents or businesses to keep the clientele sourced with variety. Apart from the local Thai children, many agents in Pattaya have begun purchasing children from neighboring countries, such as Cambodia and Laos. The cost of an 8-year-old child is around Bt8,000 from Cambodia.
Agents are responsible for being the link between customers, or potential customers, and the children themselves. An agent may deliver the child to a client or open an illegal brothel, usually fronted by a legitimate business, were clients can come and be service in a controlled environment. Agents or managers will then pay the child money for their services whilst taking a variable cut for themselves.
It is not uncommon for a child to build up a network of regular customers, as is the case with most prostitutes, and choose to leave the services of an agent or brothel, relying solely on the repeat business of their regular clients.
Prostitution scams are a common way to entice children into performing indecent acts by at first deceiving them before leaving them with little choice but to continue into prostitution. Scam usually involve enticing children to use the services of a legitimate business, accumulating a debt to the owner, before they are then propositioned with the opportunity to “work” the debt off by performing indecent sexual acts.
An example of a child prostitution scam is detailed here: http://www.pattayadailynews.com/en/2010/07/10/paedophilic-internet-cafe-scam-investigated-in-pattaya/
View to the Future
From the inside looking out, it seems almost impossible to believe that Thailand can simply eradicate child prostitution and the sexual abuse of minors. In order to stem the flow, children need to be better educated, at a younger age, as to the dangers and negative issues regarding prostitution.
Community outreach programs and specialist hotlines would also provide involved children with somewhere to turn, helping explain to them that there are other choices and ways to leave the industry.
As with most issues in society, education is the key to change, however proper management of the situation is needed to support a systemic movement preventing the increase of such a heinous industry, while leading to the arrest of the criminals involved.
Author: Steve Kumaran