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It is an open secret that, despite being illegal, prostitution is widely practised in Thailand. That striking gulf between the law and reality illustrates the need to amend the laws and decriminalise the sex trade, panellists at a recent seminar said. Scrapping the current prostitution laws in favour of legalisation may be one answer, she told the panel. Yet the numbers show the approach has not worked.
Estimates put the number of Thai prostitutes at anywhere between , to 2 million-plus, with many aged under Moreover, prostitution establishments are flourishing in the guise of massage parlours, bath houses, beer joints, karaoke bars and nightclubs — and are sustained by corrupt law enforcement officials.
According to Jomdet Trimek, a leading criminology professor at Rangsit University, venues can easily rake in up to Bt10 million per month, a fraction of which is used to bribe law enforcers against closure. The bribes start from Bt, a month and can reach a startling Bt, Bt10, for each agency for venues with illegal sex workers from neighbouring countries, said Jomdet, who has interviewed dozens of sex workers while researching the trade.
She could make an average of Bt, monthly. The Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act punishes the sex worker for selling sex with a maximum fine of Bt1, but not the customer for purchasing sex. In the Nordic or French model, selling sex is legal but buying it or running a brothel is prohibited.
The sex worker is seen as a victim who should not be further victimised by the law. The idea in this approach is to decriminalise the sex workers, while making it harder for customers to buy their services. That should reduce prostitution over the long run, Mataluk said, without further victimising the prostitute.