Thailand sex industry under attack by tourism minister

Published:  18 Jul at 6 PM
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Thailand’s female tourism minister announced recently she’s determined to put a stop to one of the Land of Smiles’s most lucrative and popular attractions – prostitution.

Since the death or glory days of the Vietnam War, one of Thailand’s best known draws is the comparative ease with which lone male tourists and expats can deal with their need for more than just female companionship. Traditional and culturally acceptable amongst Thai men, sex for sale stems from the custom of the ‘mia noi’ or mistress, without whom the successful Thai male wouldn’t consider himself complete.

Prostitution in southeast Asia is too complex an issue for a soundbite or quick reaction as to its necessity, as most working girls are, along with their families, victims of extreme poverty. The Thai tourist minister’s targeting of brothels all over the country may be praiseworthy but it’s also naïve in the extreme. Let’s face it, the country’s illegal but permitted sex industry is upheld mainly by Thai men rather than by unstoppable, randy hordes of male expats and tourists.

During a Reuters’ interview, the minister insisted that tourist and long-stayers come to Thailand for its ‘beautiful culture’ rather than for its sex industry. She’s hoping the closure of the booming brothels will help attract a better class of tourist willing to spend more on a trip than the average sexpat.

Expats working with NGOs in promoting the welfare of women working as prostitutes have stated the minister’s goal is totally unrealistic due to the social connotations and links to corruption amongst officials and the police. More importantly, the women themselves are realistic, saying that working as a prostitute is the only way to escape the grinding poverty found in the country’s far north and north-eastern provinces.

The financial effect on tourism of a total crackdown on brothels, their workers and their non-Thai clients is difficult to project, although one thing is certain - Thai men requiring the service will always be able to find it. Simply ensuring that expats and tourists are denied the experience is a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater - a common Thai reaction to controversial subjects.
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