It's unclear precisely how many child prostitutes
Thailand has produced.
The U.N.'s International Labor Organization estimates
that 100,000 to 200,000 Thai women and girls work in a
variety of overseas venues where sex is sold. The
Protection Project, a human rights research institute in
Washington, D.C., places the number of Thai females
participating in Japan's commercial sex market alone at
between 50,000 and 70,000.U.N. and human rights groups
alike have assumed that prostitution and other forms of
child exploitation stem from a toxic social brew of
poverty mixed with a lack of education and job training.
Anti-prostitution programs in northern Thailand--a
limning region without a major city--now focus on
promoting better schooling for gifts and teaching
vocational skills to villagers.
This is a remark from the publisher of this
website on the text of this page and the
position of any UN and other organization
relative to it.
Some of what UN and other organizations are
telling is true some is not true. Looking at
this subject with the "moralistic western
goggle" is simply wrong because different people
have different views and opinions.
From time to time there are surveys in Thailand
asking young girls when was the first time
having sex, the result in the latest survey 2
years ago was the majority answered .. at around
12 year old. That indicates having sex quite
early is not a uncommon thing leading naturally
to the conclusion that some on this age are also
making some kind of income with it, so its
simply normal and we should not blame others for
it when they do something which is somehow
normal to them.
It is also necessary to point to some totally
wrong statement of this western parties like the
above -northern Thailand--a limning region
without a major city- ...the second biggest City
in Thailand is Chiang Mai and Chiang Mai is in
the very north of Thailand, so is Chiang Rai,
Udon Thani, Phitsunalok etc. and so on. The
conclusion is never take things as given what
"western people" tell about Thailand, especially
when some politic issue, NGO, UN etc. are
involved, all of them look at the subject with a
political twist, not the way as it is.
Enter Lisa Rende Taylor. An anthropologist at the
Asia Foundation, a nonprofit policy-and-research
organization headquartered in San Francisco, Rende
Taylor directed a 14-month study of child labor,
prostitution, and sex trafficking in two northern Thai
villages. Her results, published in the June Current
Anthropology, challenge conventional wisdom about why so
many of the region's girls end up selling their bodies
in brothels, massage parlors, teahouses, and snack bars
"Neither poverty nor lack of education are the driving
forces behind trafficking of northern Thai children,"
Rende Taylor says. Daughters from both poor and
relatively well-off families become prostitutes in
roughly equal proportions, she finds. Moreover, some
girls who complete primary or even secondary levels of
education also enter the sex trade.
Many northern Thai girls regard prostitution as a
"bearable choice," according to Rende Taylor, because
they feel obligated to repay their parents for past
sacrifices and to improve the family's financial
standing. That obligation stands even if the parents own
farmland and make a decent living. In a setting devoid
of any other well-paying job opportunities, the oldest
profession represents the only way for a girl to make
enough money to maintain or enhance her family's
property and status in the village. In landowning
families, middle-born daughters are the most likely to
First-born girls typically stay at home to assist their
parents in daily tasks and thus rarely enter the sex
trade. Middle-born girls are traditionally regarded as
the family's financial helpers. Thanks to the labor of
their older sisters, last-born girls typically receive
more schooling than their sisters. Still, it's not
uncommon for them, too, to spend time as prostitutes
after completing the equivalent of elementary or high
school. They work to recoup education costs and
strengthen family finances, Rende Taylor says.
"It's common for one female sibling to be working in the
fields alongside the parents, another to be working in a
bar in Bangkok, and perhaps another getting a secondary
education," remarks Rende Taylor.
contrast, parents don't expect much payback from sons,
who move into the homes of their wives' families after
Female prostitution in northern Thailand is often a
family choice, Rende Taylor says. Therefore,
interventions to stop sex trafficking must address such
factors as a girl's need to earn money for family
status. Such an approach would differ from methods used
elsewhere around the world, where human rights workers
have good reason to suspect that many youngsters sell
sex because they've been coerced, abandoned, kidnapped,
or sold into virtual slavery to pay off parental debts.
FAMILY TIES It's daunting to ask women in a foreign
country to talk about how many of their daughters work
as prostitutes and why they permit them to do so. And
it's especially difficult to get honest answers.
In her fieldwork, Rende Taylor had two advantages in
gaining the trust of residents in a pair of northern
Thai farming villages, each consisting of about 150
families. First, being half Thai herself and having
relatives in a neighboring province of Thailand, she
spoke the native language and looked much like the women
whom she was studying. Second, her research team
consisted of six women from nearby villages who were
aware of how area girls were recruited to work in sex
emporiums throughout Asia.
Moreover, village headmen had approved of the study and
were consulted during the project.
During parts of 1999, 2001, and 2002, Rende Taylor's
team interviewed all currently or formerly married women
in the two villages, a total of 299 individuals. Their
ages ranged from 18 to 109. With assistance from some of
the women's adult children, the researchers chronicled
the personal histories of the women and their 677
children. The team noted amounts of education, jobs
held, number of marriages, and long-distance moves. Of
244 daughters performing full-time labor of some kind,
62 had been involved in commercial sex work. Many had
recruited village girls for sex traffickers or served as
prostitutes in Bangkok, Malaysia, Singapore, or Japan.
The other daughters worked primarily in sweatshops or as
Daughters of landowning and landless parents entered the
sex trade with comparable frequency and almost always
with their parents' knowledge. Land is the major
currency of wealth in northern Thailand, as most farming
families don't save any cash.
Middle-born daughters from landowning families were
about twice as likely to do stints as prostitutes as
their sisters were. Birth order made little difference
in landless families, where prostitution surged among
girls whose mothers had remarried.
Stepfathers and step siblings may have put extra
pressure on girls to earn family money in the high-wage
sex industry, Rende Taylor suggests.
In all families, daughters involved in prostitution
remitted large amounts of money to their parents.
Several families used the income to build huge, fancy
houses next to the older, wooden-stilt houses of
In an economy that offers girls no viable alternatives
for earning enough money to meet family obligations,
prostitution is viewed as an acceptable, if still
socially frowned-upon, choice, Rende Taylor asserts.
At the same time, Buddhist beliefs in northern Thailand
contribute to community acceptance of former
prostitutes, who often marry local men, says Rende
Taylor. Thai Buddhists hold that each person's soul
inhabits many physical bodies over time, with the
quality of each life influenced by the soul's store of
merit. Prostitution performed out of the need to aid
one's family builds up merit, despite the nature of the
Most former prostitutes that Rende Taylor's team spoke
to said that they had worked short hours and had had the
freedom to choose or reject clients. The women generally
didn't regret what they had done.
"The trauma inflicted on a Thai woman's psyche by
commercial sex work may be different from and, barring
coercion or violence, less than that sustained by a
Western woman," Rende Taylor suggests.
CHILD SUPPORT In 1993 and 1994, anthropologist Heather
Montgomery of the Open University in Milton Keynes,
England, interviewed 50 Thai girls who worked as
prostitutes in a slum adjacent to a tourist resort.
These girls' reported feelings of indebtedness to their
parents and desire to repay them financially were echoed
in Rende Taylor's more-recent findings, Montgomery says.
A 12-year-old girl, who had earned enough money from one
sex client to rebuild her parents' house, excitedly told
Montgomery, "I will make merit for looking after my
parents." The young Buddhist believed that such merit
would bless her in her next life and negate the effects
of having been a prostitute.
Montgomery wrote about her experiences with such
children in a 2001 book Modern Babylon? Prostituting
Children in Thailand (Berghahn Books, Oxford).
Observations such as Montgomery's, as well as Rende
Taylor's report, illuminate the reasoning of some child
prostitutes. "If policy makers are serious about ending
the problem ... it is important to get away from
unhelpful stereotypes of passive trafficked victims,"
Rende Taylor says.
In her opinion, intervention projects should open to
local Thai girls key positions that are held in high
esteem by villagers and typically filled by outsiders
with more education than the locals have. These jobs
include bookkeeping, government administration, and
research for international companies targeting goods to
the Thai market. Young women holding these jobs could
stay in their home villages while bringing status and
income to their families.
The new data raise the prospect that Thai families hedge
their bets by sending only some of their daughters into
prostitution. Psychologist Christine Liddell of the
University of Ulster in Londonderry, Northern Ireland,
says that the parents studied by Rende Taylor often
selected middle-born girls for prostitution to limit any
damage to household functioning should the risky venture
fail to yield much revenue or result in harm to a child.
For farming families facing uncertain prospects,
first-born "home helpers" and well-schooled last borns
may be less expendable than middle borns are, Liddell
She argues that increasing demands for children in the
global sex trade and the continuing decline in numbers
of family farms in Thailand promote child prostitution
far more than any calculated decisions by northern Thai
Given the limited size of Rende Taylor's study, it's not
clear that parents have much say in whether their
daughters become prostitutes, remarks anthropologist
Bernard Formoso of the University of Paris. Parents
probably permitted girls and boys alike to seek their
destinies--an important concept in Buddhism--by
temporarily migrating to cities such as Bangkok, where
some girls entered the sex trade, he says.
Rende Taylor disagrees. Parents are indeed urging their
children into prostitution, she reports. Her findings
reflect a "dangerous tradeoff" that northern Thai
families make. In her view, parents permit certain
daughters to face prostitutions hazards in order for the
family to reap its unparalleled financial returns.
A frightening specter looms over the entire business of
selling sex--the possibility of contracting and
spreading AIDS and other sexually transmissible
Rende Taylor has yet to explore whether or how concerns
about AIDS influence the decisions of northern Thai
families to permit their daughters to become
prostitutes. The disease has certainly made its presence
known in the two villages where she worked. In 2002, 13
percent of families in one village and 3 percent of
those in the other reported one or more members infected
with HIV or diagnosed with AIDS.
A decade ago, Thai prostitutes who spoke to Montgomery
repeatedly told her that they would get pregnant or
contract diseases only if it was their fate. Thus, they
almost never used contraceptives or received medical
In northern Thailand, increasing rates of HIV infection
among former prostitutes may soon cause at least some
parents to keep their daughters out of the sex trade,
predicts anthropologist Monique Borgerhoff Mulder of the
University of California, Davis.
Author Rende Taylor regards only one thing as certain:
The phenomenon of child prostitution can look
dramatically different through the eyes of those whom it