Thailand has much to offer from beautiful white sand beaches in the South to trekking among the hill tribes in the North. The increasing ease and inexpensive price of traveling to and within Thailand, has led to a major increase in the number of tourists flocking to this Southeast Asian nation annually. Tourism has become Thailand’s leading source of foreign exchange, and thus plays an unquestionably important role in the Thai economy.
Unfortunately, mass tourism is having severe adverse impact on Thailand thereby drawing problems by horde. The negative environmental, cultural, and biological impact of tourism is increasing, as the government has been fairly lax in dealing with the numerous problems. Thailand is suffering from many of the negative aspects of tourism: the destruction of coral and marine life due to water activities such as boating and scuba diving; waste dumping by hotels and restaurants; uncontrolled construction of tourist facilities on islands such as Koh Samui, Koh Phang nan and Phuket; and the deterioration of local culture in the hill tribes of the North.
Some other problems that have emerged as consequence of mass tourism include inadequate public utilities; traffic congestion in urban areas; over development; beach encroachment; wastewater issues; tourist security issues; inadequate guides and difficulties in uniting concerned parties. Cases of vendors harassing and taking advantage of tourists too have come to light on many occasions. Excessive numbers of beach chairs and umbrellas are also having a negative impact on tourists’ experiences.
But the worst of all is the rampant growth of sex tourism resulting in the slavery of young children and women in the prostitution industry and eventual rampant spread of AIDS.
Prostitution is not strictly illegal in Thailand, though solicitation and public nuisance laws are in effect. In practice it is tolerated and partly regulated. Prostitution operates clandestinely in many parts of the country. Local officials with commercial interests in prostitution often protect the practice. The precise number of prostitutes is difficult to assess; estimates vary widely and are subject to national and international controversy. Since the Vietnam War, Thailand has gained international notoriety among travelers from many countries as a sex tourism destination.
Estimates of the number of prostitutes vary widely and are subject to controversy. A 2004 estimate by Dr. Nitet Tinnakul from Chulalongkorn University gives a total of 2.8 million sex workers, including 2 million women, 20,000 adult males and 800,000 minors under the age of 18, but the figures for women and minors were considered to be grossly inflated by most observers, and to have resulted from poor research methods. One estimate published in 2003 placed the trade at US$ 4.3 billion per year, or about three percent of the Thai economy.
It has been suggested for example that there may be as many as 10,000 prostitutes on Koh Samui alone, an island resort destination not usually associated with prostitution, and that at least 10% of tourist dollars may be spent on the sex trade. According to a 2001 report by the World Health Organisation: “The most reliable suggestion is that there are between 150,000 and 200,000 sex workers.” A recent government survey found that there were 76,000 to 77,000 adult prostitutes in registered entertainment establishments; however, NGOs believed there were between 200,000 and 300,000 prostitutes.
Although centres such as Bangkok (Patpong, Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy), Pattaya, and Phuket (Patong) are often identified as primary tourist “prostitution” areas, with Hat Yai and other Malaysian border cities catering to Malaysians, prostitution takes place in nearly every major city and province in the country.
Chiang Mai and Koh Samui (Chaweng and Lamai) are also major centers. In Bangkok, the so-called Ratchadaphisek entertainment district, running along Ratchadaphisek Road near the Huwai Khwang intersection, features several large entertainment venues which include sexual massage. Even karaoke style bars in small provincial towns have their own versions, with women, in addition to singing traditional Thai music, sometimes engaging in prostitution.
Trafficking in Thailand is not limited to Thai citizens; many women and children from other countries are trafficked into Thailand to work in Thailand’s own sex industry. In recent years there have been numerous cases of Burmese, Cambodian, and Lao women and children trafficked into Thai brothels in northern provinces such as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai; central and eastern provinces such as Trat, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, Chonburi, and Chumphon; and, Songkhla, Narathiwat, and Pattani near the southern Malaysian border. More than 80,000 women and children have been sold into the Thai sex industry since 1990. The majority of the sex workers in Thailand are foreigners and more than 60% of females entering the country to work in the sex industry are under the age of 18. There are 75,000 prostituted children in Thailand; this includes both children trafficked into Thailand and local children within the country.
Problem is getting from bad to worse with time; very little headway has been made due to extensive corruption. Many locals and job-seekers from neighbouring countries continue to be ensnared in the sex industry or trapped in slave labour despite the enactment of the Anti-Human-Trafficking Act in 2008. Thai authorities acknowledge there is a problem. “Human trafficking is one of the worst forms of human indignity and Thailand is committed to eliminating this inhumane exploitation,” the Thai Ambassador to the United States, Vijavat Isarabhakdi, said in a press conference recently. Yanee Lertkrai, inspector-general of the Social Development and Human Security Ministry too agrees that “Thailand is still a source, transit and destination in human trade.”
As per United State’s 2012 and 2013 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, Thailand faced relegation to the worst category, but received waivers based on a plan to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards for eliminating trafficking. However, the 2014 report has been no better. In fact, it has downgraded Thailand to the lowest possible ranking, after the country reached its limit of waivers and failed to show significant improvement.
According to the US State Department, Thailand’s efforts to address trafficking are being hampered by “corruption at all levels.” Some corrupt officials have even protected brothels and food processing facilities from raids and inspections, the TIP report said. Police officers at the local and national level, who had been assigned to regions notorious for trafficking, formed protective relationships with traffickers. Immigration officials and police have allegedly sold migrants who were unable to pay labor brokers and sex traffickers, according to the report.