Behind the beautiful, white sandy beaches and warm, tropical climate of Thailand lies a dark side.
Tourism has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 30 years with the government spending an enormous amount of money to promote “The Land of Smiles” to potential vacationers. The number of tourists over the last 20 years as continued to grow by leaps and bounds, with over 20 million people expected to visit in 2012, and there is no sign of that slowing down in the future.
While this influx of tourism has been great for the Thai economy, there are unfortunate consequences, namely, the boost it has given to the sex industry which was already prevalent. According to a Bangkok Post article, “tourism accounts for 60% of Thailand’s national income, mainly sex tourism.” The Thailand Immigration Bureau estimates that 60% of tourists who visit Thailand are male, and 70% of those males are sex tourists. That means that in 2011, approximately 8,021,295 people visited Thailand for sex! Think about that for a moment…
Sex tourism is seen in many parts of the world, although many of us who come from first world nations and come from respectable backgrounds may be unaware of this practice or how deep it goes. Collins English Dictionary defines sex tourism as “tourism with the intention of exploiting permissive or poorly enforced local laws concerning sex, especially sex with children”.
Travel agents in the United States, Europe and Australia arrange tour packages for clients, complete with brochures and details of how the client will be able to receive “treatment” not available in his/her own country. It is disturbingly easy, with a computer search engine able to set the whole thing up in minutes. Pedophiles and those with an especially twisted perversions are able to come and indulge in their darkest desires with little fear of any legal ramifications. They can then travel back to their home nations and resume what appears to be a normal, respectable life to their neighbors.
Thai culture is complex. Although it is a conservative culture, and prostitution is illegal, it has become quite an acceptable part of the social landscape. While many men and women work as prostitutes by their own choosing, there are many others who are trafficked as sex slaves. Some are sold by their parents willingly. Others are deceived into thinking they are going to work as a waitress or some other job. Still more or simply kidnapped. Those who are at a higher risk of trafficking include:
- Northern hill tribes, many whom do not have official birth documents
- Refugees from neighboring countries
They are sold to pimps or gangs like cattle at the market and end up being traded several times, like baseball cards, throughout their lives. The estimation of how many child sex slaves are in Thailand varies greatly, from 10,000 to 200,000, and include those who are trafficked from other nations as well. One thing is certain… it is a horrific problem that demands attention. For additional reading, see the links below.
Factors in Sex Tourism
In Thai culture, the oldest daughter is expected to provide for her family. The lack of quality employment opportunities compel many girls to enter the sex trade. This is compounded in rural areas where those with little education or job experience feel the pressure to earn money. If a girl has elderly parents, she may be the only source of income for her family. Because of this, you can commonly find 16-17 year old girls working in the bars. Some other women are widowed or have been deserted by their husbands and need a source of income to provide for their children. It can be seen as a source of pride for a woman to enter prostitution to sacrifice herself to provide for her parents or children.
Looking for the Hero
Many prostitutes hope that they will meet a foreigner who will fall in love with, and marry them. They think a foreigner will solve their money problems and take them away to their home country where they can live happily ever after. They repeatedly see their hopes dashed as their clients will tell them whatever they want to hear, and then leave town after their trip and return to their homeland. Still, many still wait for their knights in shining armor on street corners and ago-go bars.
Human trafficking is big business. Prostitution rings can be extremely well organized, bringing in millions of dollars. Even when sting operations shut down certain rings and rescue girls and boys who have been trafficked, the gangs will always return with more.
Supply and Demand
Where there is a demand, you will find someone willing to supply… for a price. Unfortunately, sex sells, and prostitution is the alleged, “oldest profession.” With Thailand’s international reputation of being an ideal place to indulge in your sexual desires, with an estimated 8 million visiting for that purpose annually, demand remains incredibly high. It is not only the foreigners who are the source of the demand though. It is considered an acceptable behavior for men, married and unmarried to go to a prostitute. A Thai survey on sexual behavior found these statistics:
- At least 450,000 Thais visit a prostitute each day
- 81% of those surveyed had visited a prostitute in the previous 6 months
- 97% of military conscripts visit prostitutes regularly
What can be done?
The problem is complex, and there is no simple solution. You can see how much work it takes to rescue someone in sex slavery in this excellent article. It can be overwhelming to look at the scope of the issue and to shake your head in despair, but I encourage you to go beyond that response. To simply turn your head in the face of such atrocities will not suffice. I believe God calls us to more then just sympathy. If we are to be the agents of change on this earth, we must take action. Nothing else will do. Here are some things that you can do.
- Educate: Learn more about the problem, not just in Thailand, but worldwide, and in your own community. Find out what contributes to the problem of human trafficking.
- Pray: If you want to challenge your prayer life, pray for something so big, and so out of your control, only God can step in and meet that need. I can think of nothing else that would rival that description than human trafficking. Allow God to move your heart.
- Partner: There are many organizations, both secular and faith based who work in this arena. Our friends in Thailand, Ezekiel Rain are doing a great work, and though we do not know anyone in the organization, Not for Sale are also making a stand against modern day slavery.
- Take Action: Fact #1: You can make a difference. Fact #2: You must DECIDE to take action, and make a difference. Everyone who is impacting the world in a positive way, has realized both of these facts. Sadly, many more acknowledge they can make a difference, but never move on from there. Decide to make a difference by supporting individuals or organizations who are working on the frontlines or getting involved yourself. Human Trafficking does not only occur in Thailand, it is probably happening in a city near you. Find out what is being done and get involved! Allow yourself to be inconvenienced by the suffering of others and let’s be the hands and feet of Christ.