to consider legalising its famous sex industry, by
Michael Mathes -
3rd November 2003
The Sydney Morning Herald)
Thailand is considering legalising its famous sex
industry, but human rights advocates, go-go bar owners
and many of the prostitutes themselves believe the
move will do nothing but line the government's pockets.
justice ministry has announced plans to hold a "public
hearing" later this month on whether or not the
government should amend or repeal legislation which
outlaws one of the world's biggest flesh trades.
there are questions over whether the reforms are aimed
at improving the lot of exploited sex workers, raking
in a mountain of tax revenue from the multi-billion-dollar
industry, or protecting the overlords - many alleged
to have government ties - who control the trade.
nothing new to us," said Chantawipa Apisuk, director
of Empower Foundation which champions the rights of
Thailand's estimated 200,000 sex workers.
slaves, the victims, are the women, and the government
thinks problems will be solved if they are legalised.
But there are superpowered people making decisions
above the law. Why don't we look at them?" she
of the major concerns is a proposal to register sex
workers, a move the women fear will stigmatise them
forever and prevent them from seeking work elsewhere.
we register, it cannot tackle bribery, cannot control
owners, and profit-sharing will remain unequal. Perhaps
it is just another repressive regulation against the
women, because society does not accept the people
in these jobs," Chantawipa said.
University professor Narong Phetprasert, a researcher
for the ruling Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party of Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has proposed slashing
four key articles from the existing law.
articles are exploitative, providing opportunities
for police to take advantage of the girls," he
said, explaining that one of them makes it illegal
for a woman to "behave" like a prostitute.
we abolish those articles, they can do their profession
legally... and with fewer opportunities for police
and authorities to exploit them."
said Thaksin backs his plan, but that the government
wants to close down brothels engaging in bonded prostitution,
where women are enslaved and sometimes literally chained
up or caged between customers.
want to eliminate the gangster-driven illegal places,
and brothels and other locations will be our target
if they exploit girls illegally or make them work
against their will," he said.
freewheeling sex trade pervades the kingdom, from
Bangkok's famed but graceless neon-lit alleyways of
Patpong to exclusive hostess bars, a vast network
of massage parlours and decrepit brothels in every
town and village.
origins of the thriving industry are hotly debated,
but many believe it was born at the turn of the century
with the influx of mainly single male Chinese immigrants.
then mushroomed during the Vietnam War when US servicemen
on R and R flocked to Patpong and other red-light
districts in Thailand which now attract male tourists
from all over the globe.
studies have valued the trade as being worth more
than 100 billion baht ($A3.56 billion) a year, one
third the size of the construction or agricultural
National Economic and Social Advisory Council said
in a recent study that massage parlour owners in Thailand
pay a staggering 3.2 billion baht ($A113.94 million)
a year in police bribes.
issue hit the headlines earlier this year when tycoon
Chuwit Kamolvisit, who owns six luxurious massage
parlours, caused a sensation by claiming he paid police
$US288,000 ($A410,168) a month to keep them away from
last major piece of legislation governing the industry,
the Protection and Suppression of Prostitution Bill,
was passed in 1996. It substantially increased penalties
for selling children into the trade while reducing
punishment for sex workers.
go-go bar managers say the business operates with
impunity under a network of police, military and government
overseers who rake in astronomical profits from well-entrenched
systems of bribes and other payouts.
would they want to change this system?" said
the manager of a bar on Soi Cowboy, a notorious Bangkok
nightstrip which employs about 1,000 dancers and bar
said she is fighting for better conditions for sex
workers, including access to healthcare, standard
employee rights and an end to the abuse and harassment
that faces prostitutes.
Eo, a bar girl working in Soi Cowboy, says she and
her fellow workers hold little hope that the debate
and new legislation would bring them any benefits.
of these girls are just happy to have this job,"
she said in the shadows of the Cowboy 2 bar, where
topless dancers quickly donned bikinis when warned
of an advancing police patrol.
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