History of Response to Sex Trafficking
This addresses Thailand's response to sex trafficking. You can read part I of this series here.
As the international community continued to pressure Thailand for new laws, there was a growing need for an anti-trafficking response. As Thailand is a “source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking,” the need for improved legislation, and a collaborative anti-trafficking response was dire.
Over two decades ago, prostitution was criminalized under the 1996 Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act. The law said that anyone who sells themselves could expect fines as high as 1,000 baht (US $27). It also mentioned pimps too. It said that they could also face a 20,200 baht (US $555) and possibly ten years behind bars for prostituting women. More importantly as well, the act highlighted serious offenses for child trafficking. It underlined that those found to have had sex with underage children could expect even greater fines and lengthy prison sentences, some as high as six years. The new law enabled rights groups and NGOs to more effectively assist the Thai government in identifying sex trafficking within the country. The legal framework and conditions still needed strengthening and improvement.
"The anti-trafficking movement has evolved since the early days,” says Carter Quinley, the Strategic Partnerships Manager for LIFT International. Carter’s been living in Thailand for almost two decades. She’s long had an interest in human rights, though she’s specifically driven to combat sex-trafficking in sustainable and ethical ways.
“The sector has needed to grow and mature as policies and laws have been written and strengthened. From the early days of the TVPA through to the development of the 3 P’s — Prevention, Protection, Prosecution — the sector has learned what works best to support survivors and hold offenders accountable.”
In 2008, Thailand shifted gears in combating sex trafficking. The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act extended the definition of trafficking in persons to include trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation and the trafficking of male victims. This was a huge win for rights groups and the anti-trafficking sector—as rights groups for years looked to include men in the definition of trafficking to increase awareness and protection from exploitation.
Today, despite or perhaps because of Thailand’s growing economic prosperity with its per capita GDP significantly higher than its neighboring countries like Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, the country still has the highest levels of sex tourism in the region.
The Thai Ministry of Public Health reports that there is currently around 120,000 people in Thailand’s sex industry. Although it’s impossible to know the exact figures, the numbers are likely higher when taking into consideration those who are trafficked internationally into other countries around the globe.
The country’s leaders have committed to stepping up the fight against human trafficking, with Thailand’s Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, stating that he intends to raise the bar. It’s also important to recognize the value of collaboration between Thai authorities and committed international NGOs. It’s clear that working together is the only way to effectively combat sex-trafficking in the region.
Identifying, prosecuting and protecting people from sex-trafficking is complex and incredibly challenging. But, according to Carter Quinley, the sector has made progressive steps towards changing Thailand’s landscape of sex trafficking in truly positive ways.
“Perhaps one of the most important learnings was the addition of a 4th P, for ‘Partnership,’ to the anti-trafficking framework,” she said. “This was in recognition that no one organization, government, or individual can combat this injustice alone,” she concluded.
“It takes a network to combat a network."