Stickman's guide to Bangkok
Thailand - Population, Poverty and Prostitution
This synopsis is intended to provide interested persons with a better insight of Thailand's prostitution industry and put into perspective the participation of "sex tourists".
The population of Thailand is estimated to be 63,430,000.
The adult age group of 18 to 49 accounts for 69% of the total population, amounting to 43,766,700.
At birth the gender ratio is 50.49% males and 49.51% females but in the adult age group the gender ratio is 49.2% males and 50.8% females. This is no doubt due largely to the road toll.
Based on these figures there are potentially 680,267 Thai women who will not be able to marry/partner with Thai men.
69% of the population are rural dwellers. 15% are Bangkok residents and the remaining 16% live in Thailand's other big cities.
The original United Nations poverty yardstick classifies poor people - people living on or below the "poverty line" as persons whose income is US$1.00 per day or less (42 - 44 baht per day / 1,338 baht per month).
Ultra poor people are persons earning less than 80% of the poverty line income level (for Thailand this is 35 baht per day / 1,070 baht per month).
Almost poor are persons earning between 100% and 120% of the poverty line income level (for Thailand this is 53 baht per day / 1,606 baht per month).
According to a United Nations report issued in 2000, Thailand has 9.8 million poor people, 5.8 million ultra poor people and 3.4 million almost poor people. The total figure is 19 million, or 29.9% of the population, and is concentrated in provinces along the borders in the West, North, and Northeast regions.
However, The United Nations Development Programme measures poverty in terms of access to basic social services such as health, education, employment, income, housing and environment, transport and communications. The status of women is also taken into measurement in any given region.
By this yardstick, Thailand fairs much better with an "official" poverty figure of less than 5 %.
Until 1800 when slavery was abolished by King Rama V, the Law of the Three Seals allowed men to buy females (from parents and husbands) to become wives of the third (lowest) category.
The first category was legally wed wives and the second category was women not wed to the men, who beared their children (minor wives). The third category was basically sex slaves.
King Rama IV enacted the Sale of Wives by Husbands Act in 1868, forbidding husbands to sell wives without their consent.
With these new laws, the slave wives disappeared. However this new "freedom" caused many women to voluntarily enter prostitution to earn a living.
Brothels were perfectly legal under the law at that time. Prostitution has been illegal in Thailand only for the past 30 years.
Presently, according to the Thailand Government Public Health Department, there are approximately 75,000 prostitutes in Thailand. However several well-informed non governmental organization (NGO) groups estimate that the number of prostitutes at any given time is close to 2 million. This figure represents 9% of female adult population and 3.15% of total population
Commentators on the "farang" prostitution scene estimate that there are some 50,000 to 75,000 women working in the bars of Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Pattaya & Phuket.
According to reliable surveys of sexual behaviour, every day at least 450,000 Thai men visit prostitutes.
Other incidental figures produced by the survey indicate that 81% of respondents had visited a prostitute within 6 months prior to the survey, 97% of military conscripts (2 year compulsory service) regularly visit prostitutes and 73% of the conscripts lost their virginity to a prostitute.
The "farang" sex scene basically began in 1964 when the United States established seven military bases in Thailand. This was followed in 1967, with Thailand's agreement to provide "rest and recreation" services to American servicemen during the Vietnam War, which the soldiers themselves called, "I & I (intercourse and intoxication)".
Idiosyncratic of Americans, the servicemen were uninhibited, unashamed, bold & brassy when pursuing their R & R activities. Responding to the requirements of their customers, some Thai entrepreneurs began to transform their unimposing coffee shops and bars into "anything goes" establishments. Go-go bars soon began to open.
Knowledge of American servicemen's R & R jaunts to Thailand gradually spread throughout the world. After the Vietnam war ended the "slack" was quickly taken up by sex-tourists.
According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, 2,650,992 tourists arrived from Europe in 2002. There were 730,402 from the Americas (USA, Canada & Mexico), 427,109 from Australia & New Zealand and 245,822 from the Middle East.
Presupposing that the vast majority of sex tourists (90%+) are men, the above-mentioned figures are reduced to Europe = 1,473,829 men, Americas = 404,680, A&NZ = 240,958 and M.E. = 191,036.
TAT's figures also show that 8.72% of Europe's visitors, 8.43% of Americas' visitors, 1.2% of A & NZ's visitors and 4.32% of M.E.'s visitors were under the age of 15 and therefore are unlikely to have been sex tourists.
The final, aggregate figure amounts to 2,140,729 "farang" males.
The average length of stay was 8.4 days.
Although unrealistic by any stretch of the imagination, for the purpose of this report the writer will assume that every "farang" man engaged the services of a prostitute on every day of their visit.
This would equate to 49,266 visits to a prostitute per day.
Compared to the survey which indicates that every day at least 450,000 Thai men visit prostitutes, the "farang" component represents only 10% of the total daily visits to prostitutes in Thailand.
THAI PROSTITUTION SCENE v FARANG SCENE
The writer resided for some time in Samrong, ostensibly an outer suburb of Bangkok but actually a town within Samut Prakan province. I guesstimate that during my term of residency I saw no more than a dozen other farang men in the district.
On one occasion, a group of Thai male English language students, aged 20 - 30, took the writer on a "sight-seeing" tour of Samrong whereby they pointed out to me many of the barber shops, coffee shops, massage "shops", karaoke bars, "sing-a-song girl" bars and gentlemen's clubs and "short-time" motels where sexual services were available at a cost ranging from 250 baht to 1,500 baht.
The students pointed out 17 such premises and told me that there were more. I would never have picked many of the "shops" to be brothels.
The students indicated to me that it is quite acceptable for Thai men, married and unmarried, to visit prostitutes. They told me that Thai women are aware their husbands and boyfriends visit prostitutes.
The students advised me that the ground-rules for visiting prostitutes are;
1 Never patronise a brothel in one's own neighbourhood
2 Never be seen in public with a prostitute
3 Never talk about it
4 Never fall in love with a prostitute
The students told me that Thai people do not understand why "farang" demean themselves by being seen in public with prostitutes.
Some 69% of Thailand's population are rural dwellers.
Around 29.9% of the population are, by western standards, desperately poor earning 1,606 baht, or less, per month.
Generally speaking, poor rural dwellers in developing, and under-developed, countries tend to be poorly educated, unsophisticated, short-sighted, opportunistic and unethical (rain forests destroyed for farming, widespread cultivation of poppies, use of dangerous chemicals in animal & agricultural farming, depletion of fish-stocks due to over fishing,
endangered species hunted to the brink of extinction, etc).
Prostitution is, realistically albeit not theoretically, the only practical option for many Thai rural dwellers to break-out of their poverty.
Furthermore, there is a significant gender imbalance within the adult population with some 680,267 Thai women who will not be able to marry/partner with Thai men. This statistic is possibly another reason (apart from poverty) for some women to enter the "farang" prostitution scene.
Prostitution was not introduced into Thailand by foreigners. Prostitution, preceded by outright sex slavery, has existed in Thai society for hundreds of years, if not longer.
The "domestic" prostitution industry however, is not publicly flaunted.
Undeniably (but that's not to say deservedly), Thailand now has an international reputation as a sex tourist destination.
However, the "sex tourist" prostitution industry represents but a fraction of the overall prostitution industry in the context of participation, not in monetary terms.
If the "farang" sex industry were to be shut-down immediately a small percentage of prostitutes would be unemployed and, in all likelihood, the majority would find employment in the "domestic" industry.
Thai society (or at least the political masters governing Thai society) loathes the overt, indiscrete nature of the "farang" prostitution industry. However, it is tolerated because of the foreign exchange generated in terms of both tourism (expenditure at hotels, restaurants, bars, etc) and incidental receipts (farangs buying Thais land, houses and other gifts, and providing monthly stipends).
The writer sees similarities between Thailand's tobacco industry and sex tourist industry. Both are high income earners for the country. Both are considered by society in general to be distasteful and unwanted.
Gradually, but increasingly, the government of Thailand is receiving pressure from the international community to control both industries with a long-term view to eliminating them altogether.
Eventually, perhaps in 25 years time or less, both industries will be defunct.
However, the domestic prostitute industry is likely to continue ad infinitum.
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