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Sex Tourism. In Southeast Asia. The Beginning…. Sex tourism in South East Asia began in the days of the Vietnam War (1959-1975) when American soldiers were given leave for “rest and recuperation” in nearby Thailand. The War Years (1959-1975).

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Sex Tourism

In Southeast Asia

The Beginning…

Sex tourism in South East Asia began in the days of the Vietnam War (1959-1975) when American soldiers were given leave for “rest and recuperation” in nearby Thailand.

The War Years (1959-1975)
  • With the influx of young male American Soldiers, Thailand saw a boom in the growth of strip clubs, bars, and brothels
Is Prostitution Legal in Thailand?

In 1960, the Suppression of Prostitution Act was enacted by the Thai Government,

making Prostitution illegal. However, in 1966, when the Government was seeking to

increase state revenue from the "Rest and Recreation" activities of the US armed forces

stationed in Vietnam, the Entertainment Places Act was also enacted. It paved the way

for sexual services under the guise of special services to be legalized in entertainment

places. According to the Act "Entertainment Places" include massage parlours, bars,

night-clubs, tea-houses, etc.Yet, the Act allows such places to operate only under a

license, which can be obtainedfrom local police stations. The use of licensed

establishments for prostitution is illegal. One may note that the Act sets 18 years as the

minimum age for women to work insuch establishments. It set the penalty for employing

under-age women up to 2,000 Baht. ($66 Canadian)

(Legislative Regimes against the Trafficking of Underage Prostitutes in Thailand, Patcharawalai Wongboonsin, Ph.D.)

Then to Now
  • After the end of the war, Thailand maintained its status as a destination for visitors from Europe, Australia and North America
  • Although Thailand attracts many types tourists for a variety of reasons, sex tourism continues to be a significant component of the tourism industry
The 1996 Act

While replacing the Suppression of Prostitution Act, the 1996 Act prohibits prostitution and solicitation for prostitution, both male and female, in public places while setting the penalty for offering sexual services and for maintaining a prostitution establishment.

Although it continues to make prostitution illegal, the Act reduces the penalty for the prostitute to a fine of 1,000 baht ($33 Canadian)

Given that the Entertainment Places Act is still active, prostitution is ongoing under the guise of “special services”, which are allowable if they are offered at entertainment places, such as bars, go-go dance clubs, massage parlours, etc.

(Legislative Regimes against the Trafficking of Underage Prostitutes in Thailand, Patcharawalai Wongboonsin, Ph.D.)

Sex Trade Workers
  • Initially most of the women (and now men) employed in the sex trade were from urban areas of Thailand, now however the majority come from rural communities and neighburing Burma
Why Burma (Myanmar)?
  • The military led Burmese government (until 2010) was driving out (and killing) people who it identified as “alien”
  • “Burmese authorities have perpetrated numerous documented human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, disappearances, rape, torture, and incommunicado detentions. Internal displacement and refugee outflows of ethnic minorities are prevalent. Over two million Burmese, many of them ethnic minorities, have fled for economic and political reasons to Thailand, Bangladesh, India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and elsewhere.”
  • there are roughly 150,000 Burmese living in nine refugee camps in Thailand along the border with Burma.


  • “In a typical situation, a women or girl is first recruited by an agent who promises a good job in another country or province. In the case of Thailand, the common practice is to lure young Burmese women to Thailand with promises of employment as a waitress or domestic servant -- but instead, the girls are tricked into working as prostitutes. As part of their recruitment or abduction, the women and girls are controlled through debt bondage. The initial debt is usually a payment to the woman's family at the time of recruitment, which she must repay, with interest, by working in a brothel. This debt also includes the brothel owner's normal charge of food, clothes, medicine and other expenses. Escape is virtually impossible without repaying the debt. Leaving the brothel without repayment puts the woman at risk of punishment by the brothel owner, or pimps. Also retribution against the prostitutes' parents and other relatives for defaulting on her debt is not uncommon. To make matters worse, police can and do arrest the trafficked woman on illegal immigrant charges. The distance from home, lack of familiarity with local language or dialect, and inability to find local support networks further reinforce the woman's and girls' dependence on the brothel owners and pimps.”


Trafficking Humans
  • Many thousands of women and children from Myanmar are lured, abducted or sold into brothels in Thailand. They are bartered at prices that vary depending on their age, beauty and virginity.
  • The number of Burmese women and girls recruited to work in Thailand brothels has soared in recent years as an indirect consequence of political repression in Myanmar by the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and because of improved economic relations between Myanmar and Thailand.
  • This opening of trade and border crossings has facilitated the rise in trafficking of men, women and children from Myanmar. The same routes which are used to transport drugs and goods are now also used to transport people. Although trafficking in women and girls has become a lucrative and expanding cross-border trade, which routinely escapes effective national and international sanctions. This is due to corruption among police and immigration officials at borders who aid the illegal passage of traffic in persons.
  • A border boom brought about by the increased trade with Myanmar, coupled with the profitable tourist industry in Thailand, has increased the demand for women in the sex industry, especially for younger girls.


The Prevalance of AIDS?

Between 1989 and 1990, the proportion of direct sex workers in Thailand infected with HIV tripled, from 3.5 percent to 9.3 percent and a year later reached 21.6 percent.

The Effect of Aids on the Sex Trade
  • In an effort to reduce HIV infection, the 1996 Act legislated strict regulations for condom use HIV and STD testing and treatment in registered “Places of Entertainment”
  • Despite these regulations HIV infection is still a common occurance
  • Once sex workers test positive for HIV they can no longer work in registered “Places of Entertainment” (the ones frequented by tourists)
  • Unskilled in other areas, these workers usually end up being forced to work in lower class, unregistered and illegal brothels frequented by Thai users and migrant workers, where they receive considerably less pay, and no health care or testing
Sex Tourism and Children

Large numbers of women and children from neighbouring countries are lured into prostitution and trafficked through the four Thai borders: Chiang Rai, Ranong and Mae Hong Son at the Burmese border, Trat and Sa Kaew at the Cambodia border, Mukdahan and Nong Khai at the Lao border and Yala and Narathiwat at the Malaysian border. (Wanlop Phloytaptim, Sirinya Wattanasukchai, "Flesh trade shrugs off new risks," The Nation, 1 May 1997)

In mid-1997 an increasing number of young girls, more than 60% of which are under 18 years old, were entering Thailand through Mae Sai checkpoint into massage parlors, brothels etc. (World Vision’s Bansit Thathorn, the coordinator of the NGO Burmese women, Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, "Influx of Burmese sex workers via Mae Sai," Bangkok Post, 2 June 1997)

Girls, age 13-15, from Ban Vanaluang (Hill Tribe Community in North of Thailand), were sold to pimps for 500 – 10 000 baht ($16.50-$329 Canadian) by their parents, who may be drug addicted. The girls are deceived about their destination, which is often Chiang Mai. (Anjira Assavanonda, "Drugs and prostitution flourish in quiet village," Bangkok Post, 3 January 1998)