It's far from the mountains, the bush, or the extreme hardness of a refugee camp. This is a beach, Starbucks, tourists, all you can eat, all you can buy, and too many children with an unsure future.
By: Margunn Tove Aartun, 2003, RTP PC Pattaya, Thailand< span>
Thailand is a beautiful country and the Thai people must be the friendliest hosts. They must be born with the biggest hearts you can ever find as they smile to all the tourists, to us and to all the mid-aged men roaming the bars here. In fact Thailand is called the Land of the Smiles and it proudly markets itself as a beautiful and friendly tourist destination.
And how many don't pack their backpacks and suitcases and go here, to this cheap and magnificent country in the midst of Asia? And the Thai's still keep smiling, and they offered us a warm "sawat dee ka/khap" when we arrived at Bangkok International Airport early in May this year. Since that we have offered coffee and cold water everywhere we go, and a chair to sit on "just for us".
But I wonder how a country that consists of so many beautiful people can give away so much? I am not referring to kindness itself, but to the extent they give, and what they offer to the tourists. It seems they have sold their soul, given the tourists and foreigners all they have in order to please their needs. Needs that might be questioned in Western countries. Needs that will be considered as immoral in Western countries. At times I feel that the first English a Thai will learn is "You want, how much you pay" and then smile from their hearts. It has become all that drives certain parts of Thailand, it has become the reason why Thailand breathes. It appears as tourism and they money it brings has become a narcotics. Or so it seems. But how does this relate to me? It does in every way, and every day.
Behind the Smile
I work with the children in Pattaya, the sex-city of Thailand. Pattaya is referred to as City of Fun, but it has also been named the City of Sin by some tourists. This City of Fun has created a marketplace where one can buy sexual favors and love for a short moment. It involves me when children can be sold for such favors, or when they become orphans due to the high HIV rate in this area. It involves me when they are involved in drug-abuse or when they have been sold to the mafia in Pattaya. It involves me when children are the victims of crime, negligence and abuse. It involves me when these children are victims of the darker sides of the City of Fun, or that there are no other future for them than to become part of the sex industry.
I read in Pattaya Mail when I arrived in May; "German arrested". He lived here for over two years with an 11 year old girl. The article stated further that she had been sexually active every day and that he had picked and dropped her off at her school every day. "How much do you pay for my daughter, she is 11 and a virgin?" I don't know if this sentence was ever said for this particular girl, and I don't know how much that was paid for her favors (if any). But I do however know that this sentence has been said many times here in Thailand, and that many of these children ended up here in Pattaya. Children have become a commodity and people let it happen. That involves me when I work with children that are victims of such a crime, and when I train teachers at these schools that might have students like her. "Look after One Another, Look After Your Children", should be a slogan that reached every corner of Thailand. < span>
In the Buddhist year of 2546 (2003) Thailand seems to be in the midages when it comes to a women and children's rights. They are the target groups of recruitment to sexual work in Thailand and as they are often forced to do so by family or someone they depend on in one way or the other. There are laws that forbid pedophilia, but it will be ignored in Thailand if money is offered. As soon as a woman marries she has no rights, and as soon as her husbands leave them many is forced to take drastic steps to provide for their children. Either that, or abandon them and go to another part of the country and change name. UNHCR has investigated where all the orphans come from, and many of them are victims of parents splitting up. These children are easily recruited by the mafia for sexual favors or into the drug dealing world. As for prostitution the numbers that are thrown at us are scary. According to Ministry of Pubic Health and Chalulongkorn Univeristy's Population Institute as many as 0.8% of the population is selling sexual favors. Of these are 6.7 % married and 38.86% divorced or separated. These are numbers of those that could be registered at a specific time, and then there are all those that never exist in Thailand (Burmese, Lao and Cambodian women) and those that have been Sex-workes in the past and who will return to the work. The numbers are closer to over 2%. As for the buyers as many as 75% of all Thai men buy sexual favors at least twice a month and 85% of all Thai men cheat on their wives at least once a month. But the really scary part is that only 2,5% of all Thai- prostitutes work in bars (bars is all Pattaya seem to consist of), and 1,3% are found in massage institutes. As many as 96.2 % of the sex workers are found in café's, barber shops and brothels that only Thai men visits. Some of these back street coffee shop brothels only charge 1.5 USD for a short hour.
This leads to the issue of HIV/AIDS and STD in Thailand. The first case of HIV was in 1984, and Thailand has in many ways battled this demon with more success than its neighboring countries. At first it was assumed that it was only found among sex workers. In 1988-89 that view was challenged. In the first major wave of the epidemic, HIV infection exploded among injecting drug-users, rising from almost zero to 40% in a single year. At almost the same time a second wave of infection spread among sex workers. In 1989, it was found that 44% of sex workers in Chiang Mai, in the north, were infected with HIV. The rising infection level among sex workers reached 31% nationally by 1994. This also launched a subsequent wave of the epidemic in the male clients of sex workers, their wives, and partners, and their children. The numbers are now declining among sex workers, but the injection drug user's numbers are increasing. The estimated adult prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS is now 1.8% and over 20.000 children live with HIV/AIDS. More than 290.000 are orphaned due to HIV/AIDS. We work with some of these children that sadly are robbed for a future. I can't really explain how much these children have paid for adult's short moments for fun, a price that I find hard to accept but a price I can't bargain.
The present and the future
How is all of this possible? Oh they smile to me then and tell me a story from the Land of the Smiles. It's about minor and major wives and a history of women being trained in the Kama Sutra, the art of lovemaking. But that story doesn't tell me why they sell themselves, why they sell their children. Why they give up the future of the children so easily. Why do they sell their daughters and sons to the bar owners in Pattaya? Why do men push their wives to get foreign boy friends and why Thai women sometimes have 10 foreign boy friends? The sister of Fountain of Life tell me about Buddhism and one of the five Precepts that Buddha taught his followers. It reads " I undertake to observe precept to refrain from wrong conduct in sexual pleasures". This precept says in simple ways that a man and wife should only engage in sexual activity for reproduction reasons. This created a need for more than one wife, and also a need for a sophenii (a courtesan) and Concubines. It was accepted for rich and powerful men to have many wives and mistresses. In the former capitol of Ayuthaya there was an office that governed over 600 concubines in the late 17th Century.
But that is history now, the reality today is that almost 2% of the Thai population will at some point have worked in the sex industry. Many foreigners go to Thailand for one purpose only, and anything can be bought in Pattaya. The numbers indicates that I know at least 200 children that will be found in bars in the future as we work directly or indirectly with over 1000 children. Some have already sold their favors. Sister Joan at the Fountain of life can tell how they overhear talks between kids, and how one boy showed another girl how he received money if he played with his genitals.
A volunteer from another organization witnessed something she will never forget. On one of her strolls down Walking Street in Pattaya she happened to get a glimpse of a child's eyes meeting hers for a second. He was one his knees in a dark alley, in a side lane of the Walking Street. It was after midnight and in front of him was an older white male with his pants unzipped. "Sir, how much you pay?" , the words had been said minutes earlier. As far as I can see, the children of Pattaya, and Thailand has already paid enough.< span>