Sex with underage children is easily available in Thailand, which also is major center for international child prostitution rings. Referring to the four or five customers she serves a night, one girl a P.O.V. documentary said, " I guess they think we are cute." When the police raided her room, she said, "just another guy, coming my room." In some cases, young Burmese girls are kept in cubicles and rented out as virgins. In Phuket, a 15-year-old was charged with pimping two younger girls.

At one time an estimated 80,000 children in Thailand are involved in the sex industry. There are probably less than that now as the practice has gotten a lot of negative publicity and there have been crackdowns. But even so child prostitution is still widespread, and for every place that has been shut down in Thailand a new one has sprung up in Cambodia or elsewhere. Even in Thailand some sex clubs still boast about the young age of their girls. According a 1995 survey, one third of the child prostitutes in Southeast Asia tested positive for HIV.

A Human Rights Watch report in 1993 accused the Thai government of permitting prostitution rings to trap Burmese girls and force them into a life of prostitution. The report said that are an estimated 20,000 Burmese girls were working in Thai brothels, some as young as thirteen. "The Thai government," the report entitled “A Modern Form of Slavery” read, "is guilty of complicity in the trafficking of Burmese women and girls into Thailand for forced prostitution." The girls are lured into the country "with the direct involvement of Thai police and border guards." [Source: William Branigin, Washington Post, December 28, 1993]

In the 1990s the “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand” reported: “Much to the embarrassment of the Thai officials and activists alike, commercial sex involving children has become a tourist draw to Thailand. The HIV pandemic has fueled the demand of a great number of customers for younger sex workers because of their perceived likelihood of being free of HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In many brothels, children as young as 10 and 11 are promoted by managers as “fresh” and “healthy,” and the price is prorated accordingly. In contrast to this myth, child sex workers are reported to have very high HIV seroprevalence, above 50 percent according to Hiew (1992). New evidence suggests that women who start as sex workers at a young age might be more susceptible to HIV infection than those who start later, even after controlling for the effects from the work duration. [Source: “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand (Muang Thai)” by Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D., M.A., Eli Coleman, Ph.D. and Pacharin Dumronggittigule, M.Sc., late 1990s]

“In theory, sex with children is illegal in Thailand, but the law has rarely been enforced. More recent external and internal pressures on the exploitation of children in commercial sex have led to some changes, but to what extent is unknown. These pressures also have made it difficult to estimate the number of child sex workers in Thailand, as they are “going underground”. The estimates have ranged from 30,000 to 40,000 proposed by the Thai Red Cross and Sittitrai and Brown (1991), to 800,000 suggested by the Center for the Protection of Children's Rights. Estimates have been calculated based upon the ratio of child to adult sex workers, with children making up 20 to 40 percent of all the sex workers in Thailand. The most scientific report available to us has estimated the prevalence of child sex workers to be 36,000. This number comprises 1.7 percent of the female population who are below the age of 18.

Book: “A Modern Form of Slavery: Trafficking of Burmese Women and Girls into Brothels in Thailand” by Women's Rights Project (1993, Human Rights Watch)

Burmese and Hill Tribe Children Sold Into Prostitution in Thailand in the 1990s

No children enter the prostitution trade on their own free will. Some are runaways or victims of abuse. Others are sold by their parents and enticed by gifts. Agents who recruit child prostitutes often build houses for their parents, and carry along catalogues that show the different styles. "Its not poverty alone" that drives the girls into prostitution, one official told the Washington Post. "In some cases it also greed on the part of the parents." [Source: William Branigin, Washington Post, December 28, 1993]

Many poor teenage girls are sold into prostitution by their parents to raise money. Mothers have been charged with sexual abuse for selling the daughters to brokers who supply girls for the sex trade. Loans are sometimes offered to peasant families. If the families can't pay their daughter are taken. A Thai sociologist told National Geographic's Noel Grove: "The girls most vulnerable are those whose parents cannot afford to send them past the compulsory sixth grade of school. Three more years of school give girls the maturity and skills to resist being drawn into bad situations."

One girl who begin her life of prostitution at the age of 14 told Grove: "One day a woman came to my employer's house and asked if I wanted to go to Bangkok and take care of children, at nearly twice my salary. She took me there and left me in an apartment, locked in a room. Another woman came and told me I was to entertain male guests. I knew what that meant. I managed to call my brother who works in Bangkok, and he bought me away from them for 3,000 baht."

Many child prostitutes in Thailand are from ethnic minorities. In some cases they are sold by their parents for as little as $40 to $80. Young Akha girls from Burma sometimes are sold into prostitution by their parents to make money for a television. The Washington Post described one Akha family that was offered a $400 television and when they realized they couldn't pay for it a child trafficker showed up who was willing to lend the family $1,600 in exchange for their "very pretty little daughter."

"Mii Chuu was 12, when her stepfather, an opium addict, sold her into prostitution," wrote William Branigin in the Washington Post. "A slight girl, she was brought from her village in the Akha hill tribe region of neighboring Burma by a Thai policeman, who paid her stepfather $192 and delivered her to a brothel in the town of Chiang Rai. She was forced to have sex with three men her first day." [Source: William Branigin, Washington Post, December 28, 1993]

Children Sill Being Recruited for Prostitution in Thailand in the 2000s

Reporting from Mae Sai in 2008, Joel Brinkley of the McClatchy-Tribune Information Services wrote: “In this little town on the Burmese border, parents sell their young daughters into sexual slavery for less than the cost of a toaster oven. These little girls, 11 or 12 years old, are forced to serve in brothels and are not permitted to leave. This has been going on for many years. I know this to be true. I was here before, in 2001. Back then, brothel agents visited the schools to look over the fourth graders. They offered cash down to parents of 8-year-olds for the right to buy their daughters when they finished the sixth grade. [Source: Joel Brinkley, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services, September 11, 2008. Brinkley is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The New York Times and now a professor of journalism at Stanford University.

The agents dressed in business suits and called themselves professors. They told parents they would take their girls to good jobs in the city— nannies, secretaries, etc.— where they could also continue their educations. Instead they were sold to brothels and held captive until they paid off that payment to their parents— the cost of transport and numerous other charges piled on. That could take years. I interviewed 12-year-old Noie Wongboonma, whose mother had just tried to pull her out of school and put her on the "bus to Bangkok," as everyone here refers to that trip to perdition. "Sometimes my mother wants to sell me," she said, her head bowed. "I feel very sad that my mother would want to do that. I don't dare argue with her. But I don't want to go where my mother wants to send me."

I went home with Noie and met her mother, a blank-faced woman who had a part-time job peeling garlic. "Yes, a person offered Noie a job," she acknowledged. "I don't know where that person is from. I don't know what job. Maybe to sell herself. He said, 'let her go to work with me, and you will get a lot of money.' He didn't say how much." Today, agents still troll the schools. But after all these years, thousands of girls from here have been forced into the trade. Many have died— of AIDS or abuse. Some others, however, have paid off their bondage. They are allowed to return home for the Buddhist New Year— wearing spaghetti-strap blouses, garish bangles, sparkly makeup. The younger girls look at them, wide eyed.

"These 11 and 12 year olds, they go with the traffickers now because they want fancy clothes and mobile phones," said Ladda Benjatachah, who runs a government shelter for victims. "You see them come back here with nice clothes, mobile phones. They go out drinking." The Daughters Education Program, a school in Mae Sai, tries to rescue young girls who are at risk of being sold. The teachers now see the trafficking problem passing through a worrisome transition. The school harbors 180 local girls. Brazen agents still stop by to flatter and wheedle the 12-year-olds when the teachers are not around. Mothers still try to pull their daughters out of school. As the school's Web site puts it, "they stand to gain much by selling their daughters." But more often now, even when girls are given protection from the traffickers and the opportunity for a free education, some will instead sneak off in the middle of the night. "I've thought about it," said Santyod. (She would not give her last name.) When asked her age, she said "almost 13."

She and two schoolmates giggled, hands to their mouths. They sat on a couch, tight up against each other, glancing occasionally at the school director who sat by, watching without comment. How can any government stand by and watch as this despicable practice continues and evolves, year after year? Part of the answer can be found in the offices of almost any police commander in Bangkok. Gift bags, dozens upon dozens of them, sit on the floor. Spilling out of them are bottles of whiskey, sweets, perfume or lingerie for the wife or mistress. Any cash that might have been tucked in next to the Chivas Regal will have been plucked out, but the bags remain as a display of the officer's power— and corruption.

No gift bags sit on Visut Vanichbut's office floor. He's a police major general. The trafficking problem in Thailand, he says without any hesitation "has gotten worse— much worse" because "our people are more interested in the financial gains they can get from these activities."

Life of a Child Prostitute in Thailand

The children who become sex workers often earn next to nothing and some of them have sex with more than a dozen men to pay off their "debt." One girl described by the Washington Post had sex as with many as 13 men a night and was paid only $1.20 a day for food. Many start at the age of 11, although girls as young as 8 have been discovered. "The first man I had to service was Thai," Chuu told Branigin. "I was very scared, and I cried, but he didn't beat me. The second person was an old man, and he beat me. I said, 'I can't do this.' he said, 'I already paid money for you. You have to do this.'" [Source: William Branigin, Washington Post, December 28, 1993]

At the places where the girls work different colored badges indicate the price. Some of the girls get by on tips from customers "who felt sorry for me." Westerners pay $60 to have sex with a "new girl," or virgin. "My price kept coming down the longer I was there, one girl told Branigin. "It came down to 240 baht ($9.60), then 120 baht ($4.80)." She stayed at the brothel for about a year.

Describing her customers one girl told Branigin, "Some of them would beat me. They wouldn't use condoms. I would tell them they were too big and I was too tiny. But they would just beat me and force themselves on me...I was there for 6½ months. In that times I had to service four to seven men a day. Most of them drunk." The girl was eventually freed by a Thai Chinese who took pity on her and arranged for her to be rescued by police.

"In the brothels, "the girls are kept locked up," one aid worker told Branigin. "they can't leave the promises unaccompanied, and even if they do leave, they can't speak Thai and often don't know where they are...Usually the customers are drunk, and most of them aren't using condoms." If they escape they are usually returned to the brothel which usually pays the police for protection.

Some brothels try to break the desire of the girls to escape by starving them and forcing them to eat excrement. Sometimes when girls flee from cruel brothel owners and go to the police, the police simply return them to the brothels. Police protecting a brothel will inform the owner if there is going to be a raid. When that happens the girls are usually moved to another location.

Pedophiles, Male Customers and Child Prostitution in Thailand

Thailand has been described as a “pedophile’s paradise.” Child prostitution in Thailand is geared mainly for providing young girls for both Thai and foreign men. But there is also gay sex industry which seems to cater mainly to foreign clients, often providing boys for older foreign males. "The vast majority of men who visit a prostitute don't much care whether she's 15 or 25," a British sociologist told Newsweek. "In Thailand, they say 'they're naturally subservient; they're eager to please.' That makes it easy for a man who wouldn't dream of pursuing a child in Britain or America do it overseas, because they think it's accepted here."

Most sex offenders are locals not foreigners. While much attention has been focused on pedophile who come from the United States, Germany, Australia and Japan who come to Thailand to have sex with children, including young boys, most of the clients for child prostitutes are not foreigners. [Source: William Branigin, Washington Post, December 28, 1993]

Many men who use child prostitutes do so in part under the assumption that their young age makes them less likely to carry the AIDS virus but in reality that is not the case. In some cases young girls are more likely to have the virus because their soft tissue is more like to bleed and thus pick up sexually transmitted diseases. According to “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand”: “Children proven to be virgins are especially sought after by Chinese and Middle Eastern clients. There is an ancient Chinese myth that “deflowering” a virgin girl will revitalize the sexual potency of an old man and make him prosper in business. Others are sexually attracted to children and adolescents because of their youthful qualities. Because child sex workers are accessible in Thailand, the country has become a tourist destination for those who believe in these myths, as well as pedophiles and ephebophiles around the world. In their own countries, they could be imprisoned, castrated, or killed for being caught having sex with a child. In Thailand, however, their sexual behaviors go unnoticed and only cost them some money. [Source: “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand (Muang Thai)” by Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D., M.A., Eli Coleman, Ph.D. and Pacharin Dumronggittigule, M.Sc., late 1990s]

In 2006, around time John Mark Karr, an American working at a nursery school in Bangkok, claimed that he killed JonBenet Ramsey, The Nation reported: “Another worrying trend is that some pedophiles, fully aware that commercial sex involving minors has become scarcer and riskier here, now come to Thailand to live and work under the guise of legitimate professions like English teaching. Such jobs are plentiful and allow pedophiles access to impressionable youths. Indeed, many pedophiles busted by the police were found to have used fake credentials to land teaching jobs at reputable schools, thanks to lax screening procedures and a failure by the Education Ministry to regulate language schools. [Source: The Nation, August 2006]

Child Sex Worker Trade in Thailand and the Socio-Cultural Forces Behind It

In the 1990s the “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand” reported: “The buying and selling of child sex workers in Thailand is a lucrative business, as it is elsewhere in Asia (End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism, ECPAT, 1992, cited in Kaime-Atterhog, Ard-Am, and Sethaput, 1994). Girls and boys (albeit mostly girls) are brought into Thailand from the hill tribe areas, Myanmar (Burma), China, Kampuchea (Cambodia), and Laos (Friends of Women Foundation 1992). In addition, they are also bought from rural Thailand for as high as U.S. $8,000 (Serrill 1993) and brought to the cities and larger tourist locations. Farmers under greater economic pressures have been forced to make many sacrifices, including sending their children to work in the cities in order to send money home (Srisang 1990). These farmer parents are not always aware that their children are to become sex workers. In other cases, the entry into the sex industry does not happen until after an initial period of working in other low-paying jobs. [Source: “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand (Muang Thai)” by Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D., M.A., Eli Coleman, Ph.D. and Pacharin Dumronggittigule, M.Sc., late 1990s]

“The business of finding job placements in the cities for rural children is not a new phenomenon. However, the growth of this business, and its connection to the sex industry, have been boosted by the socioeconomic shift in decent decades, and now it can be found in most parts of the country. As Thailand is moving toward the status of a newly industrialized country (NIC), most of the rapid economic development is concentrated in urbanization and industrialization. Although all socioeconomic strata have enjoyed their share of the country's economic boom, income inequalities have widened and poverty persists (Pyne 1994). Wealth is concentrated in the cities, while the rural poor are becoming more and more landless, and profits from their domestic businesses in rural areas are diminishing. Poverty, combined with the women's obligation to provide for their parents, and the lack of job opportunities for unskilled laborers, create an enormous pressure that has forced many Thai women to consider the sex industry as an occupation.

“While many children and young women have been bought, most available data suggest that the process is not involuntary or forced. Hantrakul has pointed out that, “More and more prostitutes... have shown their strong determination in stepping in the profession. Sex is harnessed to an economic end. Men are seen as targets, a source of income”. Data from van Griensven (1995) support this notion: When asked how they entered commercial sex, 58 percent of the female sex workers said it was their own decision, and 37 percent said a friend or relative had advised them. Only 3 percent reported that they were either sold by their parents or recruited by an agent or employer. A number of the women, 14 percent, also had one or more sisters in commercial sex. Poverty was the most common reason for entering the profession, reported by 58 percent of the women.

“After years of living through the sociocultural changes which have put more strains on rural women, being a sex worker to support one's family has become an acceptable value in several communities in the north. Some children go into this business without reservation and with full parental permission and support. Many of these girls return home with honor, marry, and repeat the cycle by sending their own daughters into the sex business when they come of age. This phenomenon is also true of some of the hill tribe villagers. Almost all sex workers are clear about their desire to quit working in the sex industry once their goals of income are met, and many would return to their native villages to marry and take care of their parents. Upon reintegration into the village, women who have worked as sex workers may be subject to condemnation, but it is usually based not on their prostitution, but on their having sex outside of marriage. This offense, however, can be amended by their active accumulation of merit, such as caretaking of parents and helping local charities.

“In any case, many women have already been recognized by family and the community for their previous remittances during the years of work in the city, as their financial contributions are already evident in the family's house, motorcycle, and even donations to the local temple. Although the cults of ancestral spirits (phii puu yaa) frown upon women's premarital sex, the act of kinship loyalty and filial piety is considered adequate to propitiate the spirits. In fact, when commercial sex agents recruit women from the villages, they frequently offer some “customary payments” to the family and the ancestral spirits much like a brideprice. With an income up to twenty-five times the median income of women in factories and clerical jobs, sex workers can easily redress their sexual misdemeanors by their generous support of kinship.

“Nonetheless, other evidence suggests that many children and families are deceived by the brokers, and that the children are led to believe they will go to the cities to work as domestic servants or waiters/waitresses, only to find themselves forced into commercial sex. Sometimes, coercion takes the form of financial threats rather than physical confinement of the women. Many women must continue working to earn the sum of money for which their families are indebted to the commercial sex agents. For example, 31 percent of the female sex workers in van Griensven's study (1995) reported they were in debt to their employer. Worse cases are seen in women in commercial sex businesses in foreign countries. In a 1993 article in Time magazine, Hornblower (1993) reported that numerous Thai women are working in Japan as “virtual indentured sex slaves” in bars controlled by Japanese gangsters. These women, mostly from rural villages of Thailand, are usually sold by Thai brokers for an average of U.S. $14,000 each, and then resold to the clubs by Japanese brokers for about U.S. $30,000. The women are obligated and threatened to work under hostile circumstances to earn this sum of money, but very few can.”

Victims of Pedophilia in Thailand

Some drug-addicted parents sell their children to pedophiles. "The pedophiles offer parents money for their addictions in exchange for access to the children," Bangkok’s Father Joe maier told the Los Angeles Times. "They say that one day the kids will forget the sex. We say they will never forget. They are scarred forever."[Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, October 02, 2006]

John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times: There are children like Gee. Maier found the boy, then 11, living under a freeway, using dirty rags to wash windshields at intersections to help care for his grandmother. He was also a drug addict, hooked on a mixture of cough syrup, soda and ground-up mosquito coil. He sniffed glue and paint thinner, a vile yellowish concoction known as 505. Gee and some other boys had been approached by three British tourists who offered them money and drugs to pose nude for photographs and videos. For months, the men molested them.

When Mercy Center social workers discovered the youngsters, Maier whisked them to safety until they could testify against the men, who were later convicted. "Society tends to fixate on the predators," Maier says. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, send the bad guys to jail, but what happens to the children? Who's taking care of them?" With only half a year of schooling, Gee was illiterate. But he blossomed under Maier's care. He learned to read and write. He took up the guitar, often playing for the AIDS and HIV patients. He also protected Galong, the Down syndrome man, who is often hectored by street urchins.

Child Prostitution Laws and Efforts to Combat Child Prostitution in Thailand

Laws were passed in 1993 that imposed sanctions for sexual abuse. Amendments were added that made it illegal for anyone to have sex with someone under the age of 18 in a house of prostitution. Otherwise the age of consent is 15. Several countries—including New Zealand, Australia, France, Germany and the Unites States—have passed extraterritorial laws making child-sex offenses committed by their citizens abroad punishable at home.

In the mid-1990s, the Thai government developed a plan against child prostitution that included laws and policies for prosecuting pedophiles and protecting and rehabilitating children. Under these laws men found having sex with children could be sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Responding to an article in Time on the sex trade in Thailand, the Thai ambassador to the U.N., wrote criticized the magazine for giving the impression that "Thailand is the center of a problem that exist everywhere." He also wrote: “"New measures have been instituted especially aimed at resolving child prostitution. They include more stringent enforcement of existing laws, with specific emphasis on apprehending perpetrators; the creation of hundreds of added emergency centers for victims of child prostitution; and revised laws to enhance the rights of children. Thailand is doing its utmost to eliminate child prostitution completely."

The “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand” reported: “The recent concern about child sex workers in Thailand seems to have been fueled by the awareness of the HIV pandemic and the growing anguish about child victimization around the world. Initially, the pressure for a governmental policy towards child sex workers came from foreign sources, with the pressure more recently internalized. When the government of Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai took office in 1992, he promised to eliminate child sex workers during his term of office. Impressive work has been done by the Task Force to End Child Exploitation in Thailand, a coalition of twenty-four government and private agencies dedicated to exposing European links of child sex trade in Thailand. [Source: “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand (Muang Thai)” by Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D., M.A., Eli Coleman, Ph.D. and Pacharin Dumronggittigule, M.Sc., late 1990s]

“Brothels in Thailand known to employ children were raided and closed, and the events were highly publicized in Thai newspapers. However, data are still lacking regarding the extent of success in reducing child sex trade. Although some reports have mentioned the age restriction that sex workers must be at least 18 years old, statistics still show a small number of female sex workers under 15 years old in brothels.

In 2006, The Nation reported: “Anti-human-trafficking experts say the situation in Thailand in regard to child prostitution has improved dramatically from the 1990s. The availability of children under 18 for commercial sex has been sharply reduced, thanks to intensified crackdowns over the years. Far fewer children are in the country's sex trade, because the economy has improved, and fewer poor families need to take their children out of school to help make ends meet. Crackdowns on pedophiles - foreigners and locals alike - attempting to buy sex from underage children have been ratcheted up, as Thai authorities now take a serious commitment to the nation's youth. Efforts have also been strong in eliminating the trafficking of people from other countries for sex or other forms of heinous exploitation. Thanks to cooperation with foreign governments, hardly a week goes by without foreign pedophiles being arrested and deported to face prosecution back home. [Source: The Nation, August 2006]

Foreigners Arrested on Pedophile Charges in Thailand

In August 2001, a confessed American pedophile, listed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, was arrested in Bangkok. Eir Franklin Rosser, a former concert pianist, was arrested while on his way to a language school, where he was training to be an English teacher. He was wanted in the United States for producing and distributing child pornography, including a video of him having sex with an 11-year-old girl. He was arrested in Thailand of possession of hundred of explicit photographs with girls younger than the age of 15.

In November 2005, a German man caught in bed with a 14-year-old Cambodian girl in the man’s hotel was arrested on pedophile laws. In March 2006, a 41-year-old Briton named. Robert Alexander was charged with sexually assaulting children aged 15 and younger after armed police raided his residence in Rungrueng Park Villa in Banglamung and found five Thai boys aged between 11 and 15 lying naked in his bed, Alexander had been in Thailand for five years working for a development company in Pattaya. He said he paid the boys around $15 each.

In August 2008, a Canadian teacher, Christopher Paul Neil, was sentenced to three years and three months in jail by a Thai court after pleading guilty to sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy. He had been arrested a year before. An international manhunt for him began after police in Germany digitally reversed swirls resembling colored lollipops that obscured Neil’s face in about 200 photographs posted online that showed him molesting boys, some as young as six, in Vietnam and Cambodia. Neal had taught in schools in Thailand, Vietnam and South Korea and was charged in a separate case with abusing a 9-year-old boy.

In July 2010, internationally-acclaimed Russian pianist and conductor Mikhail Vasilliev Pletnev was arrested for raping a 14-year-old boy at the Thai beach resort of Pattaya. Pletnev was released on bail but faced a 20-year prison sentences if convicted. He said the incident was the result of a misunderstanding. In December 2011, a 51-year-old German man was charged in a German court with sexually abusing minors in Thailand while on holiday there between 2007 and 2010 in Pattaya. The man was charged with “grave sexual abuse” of children aged four to nine.

In 1995 two British DJs claimed they were framed when they were arrested for running a boy sex ring. Police said that they received $120 to $200 for referrals for a sex service called "Gayline" advertised on their radio show that linked clients with Thai boys aged 9 to 15. As evidence the police seized photographs and videotapes of nude males, some in erotic positions, but none appeared to be of minors.

Arrest of Notorious British Pedophile in Thailand

In 2010, AP reported: A suspected British pedophile wanted for abusing children as young as 18 months old and selling online child porn internationally was arrested in Thailand after more than a decade on the run, officials said Wednesday. Charles David Taylor, 66, was due to be extradited to Britain, where he was first arrested in 1998 and charged with 35 pedophilia-related offenses before fleeing to northeastern Thailand, where he allegedly continued to abuse children and record the activities for Internet sales, the Thai Immigration Bureau said in a statement. [Source: Associated Press, December 22, 2010]

“When British police arrested Taylor at his home in Leicestershire, England they found more than 10,000 pornographic photographs of children on his computer — including images of boys being tortured, sexually abused by adults and having sex with dogs — and video footage of child abuse, the statement said. Thai and British investigators tracked Taylor to the northeastern Thai province of Nakhon Ratchasima, where he was arrested at a local post office where he had rented a mailbox, the statement said. A Thai court had issued a warrant for his arrest and extradition in 2001, on a request from British authorities, who accuse him of sexually abusing children aged 18 months to 12 years old.

“Taylor led Thai police to his apartment where they seized a computer, DVDs of child porn and explicit photos of Thai children and other nationalities, the statement said. In Thailand, Taylor “lured children to have sexual activities and released video clips on the Internet,” the statement said. “He confessed that he would find children to take pictures of and then sell the images on the Internet.” Britain’s Leicestershire police, the regional force where the man was first detained, said an international warrant for Taylor’s arrest should allow him to be returned to Britain for trial. “We will now be working with the Thai authorities to arrange for the man to be extradited back to the UK,” the Leicestershire police said in a statement Wednesday.

John Mark Karr and JonBenet Ramsey

In August 2006, John Mark Karr, an American working at a nursery school in Bangkok, claimed that he killed JonBenet Ramsey the 6-year-old beauty queen murdered in Boulder, Colorado in 1996. Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy took his claim seriously enough to authorize to have Karr extradited and flown from Bangkok to the United States in a private plane at taxpayers expense. The governor of Colorado called it the “most expensive DNA test in Colorado history.”

Karr claimed that he was with Ramsey when she died; that she was on drugs at the time; that he had sex with her; and that her death was an accident. But there were many inconsistences between his story and forensic evidence, which revealed no presence of any drug and concluded she had been strangled to death with a chord and her skull was fractured by a massive blow to the head (something that is hard to happen by accident). Karr also said he picked up Ramsey from school on the day she died which was not possible because she was killed during Christmas vacation. Police found no evidence that she had been sexually assaulted (they found saliva of a white male on her underpants mixed with her blood but no semen). On top of all this Karr’s ex-wife said he was with her in Alabama at the time of Ramsey’s death.

The case against Karr was dismissed after he arrived in Colorado after DNA tests failed to link him to Ramsey’s body. The whole series of events began with Karr e-mails to University of Colorado professor Michael Tracy who took the messages seriously enough to report them to the Boulder district attorney. Investigators said they acted because Karr knew things about Ramsey’s death that only the killer could know.

In 1993, Karr moved to Petaluma, California, which was still in shock over the abduction and murder of a 12-year-old girl that happened there. There he worked as a substitute teacher and was investigated and arrested for having child pornography. He spent five months in prison while his wife took their two sons and began divorce proceedings. Shortly after he got out of jail he failed to show u for court appearance, having skipped town. He spent the next five years on the run, living in Europe, Asia and Central America, working when he could as a teacher in places as diverse as South Korea. Germany, the Netherlands, Costa Rica and Honduras. [Time, August 28, 2006]

When he taken by police in Bangkok he was living in a rundown hotel and had just landed a job as a second grade teacher at Bangkok Christian College, Thailand’s oldest private school. An assistant director at the school told AP: “he was qualified to be a teacher. He had a diploma and has experience in teaching in Bangkok for some time.” He was very presentable, the assistant director said, but he was dismissed after two weeks after parents complained he was too strict. [Source: AP, AFP, August 19, 2006]

Volunteer Europeans Fight Pedophilia in Thailand

Reporting from Phuket, Daniel McGrory wrote in the Times of London: Britons living in Phuket “have joined an undercover team of volunteers to help trap sex tourists preying on youngsters. This “foreign legion” comprises European expatriates who infiltrate bars around Patong Beach, which the authorities have been trying to purge of pedophiles since the tragedy tsunami in December 2004. John Turner, a 37-year-old systems analyst and one of the volunteers, said: “We can visit places where the police can’t go to look for under-age youngsters being used for sex.” He and two others from the 60-strong force were dressed in T-shirts and shorts and sitting in a dimly lit bar after midnight, no more than 500 yards from the refurbished seafront. [Source: Daniel McGrory, Times of London, November 30, 2005]

Mr Turner, who has lived in southern Thailand for six years, said that a number of Europeans were awaiting trial next month on charges of trying to abduct children. While most of the customers were watching teenage girls who were dancing on a bar in the backstreets of the Bangla district, the undercover squad was keeping an eagle eye on one patron who was chatting to a young street vendor in a torn dress who was selling chewing gum. She looked to be no more than eight years old.

Some of the civilian recruits work part time as volunteers for the Thai Tourist Police Division, but they are not armed and have no powers of arrest, so they call on officers to deal with any tourist they suspect of soliciting for under-age sex. The volunteers’ role is not without risk because a number of the bars are controlled by local gangs. Olinto Barletta, an Italian photographer and police volunteer, said: “Since these civilian teams have been operating, the bar owners won’t risk using anyone under-age because they know what will happen if they are caught.” He described his undercover work last week in a gay bar, where an under-age boy was found among the dancers. The club was shut down immediately .

Signor Barletta, who has lived in Patong for 15 years, said that both men and women have been arrested in recent weeks for alleged child-sex offences. Local officials are eager to improve the unsavoury reputation of Patong. Graham Tardif, of the charity World Vision International, said: “The intentions were honourable, but the club scene in Patong makes too much money for it to go quietly.”

Mr Tardif said: “There have been some dodgy groups pitching up here, claiming to be from all sorts of charities and offering gifts and help for children, and Thai communities don’t know what to do. It is part of their culture not to be rude to guests and to be grateful if offered a gift.” A Greek visitor who is awaiting trial allegedly tried to “adopt” half a dozen youngsters from a refuge and take them to what he claimed was a charity that he ran in northern Thailand. He had no documents to support his claims, so a suspicious teacher called in the police.

Tourist Resort That Helps Victims of the Thai Sex Industry

Alexa Pham's Chai Lai Orchid in Mae Wang, Thailand is a resort that features typical activities such as hiking and elephant rides but is also a way for girls to avoid falling prey to the sex industry. Jeff Greenwald wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “As we sat together on a long, narrow raft of bamboo, Alexa Pham dipped her hand into the quickly moving river. "It's the really simple things," she said with a long breath, "that make it beautiful here in Mae Wang." Two wiry boatmen, steering with long poles, navigated the raft beneath the branches of overhanging trees, around boulders and through bars of late-afternoon sunlight. The men are part of Pham's staff, hired from the hill tribes and Burmese refugee communities of northern Thailand. [Source: Jeff Greenwald, Los Angeles Times, May 5, 2013]

As idyllic as the scene appeared, Pham's work in this hilly, wooded area (an hour's taxi drive south and west of Chiang Mai, Thailand's second-largest city) is anything but simple. Pham, a professional photographer, opened the Chai Lai Orchid in December to help address one of the region's crises: the trafficking of girls and young mothers into Thailand's sex industry. Pham, 30, divides her time between Asia and Manhattan, where she lives with her husband. She was born in upstate New York and, at 16, ran away from home, crossed the Atlantic and worked, undocumented, in Germany. She earned enough money to return to the U.S. and attend film school in Florida. That career path didn't take. "I found my passion is more in doing work than documenting it," she said with a shrug.

In 2006, what was meant to be a brief vacation in the hills of Chiang Mai changed her life. "I came here during the rainy season and saw the way the mist looked on the mountains," she said. "I fell in love with it." Pham already had experience working with at-risk girls in Nepal through the nonprofit Daughters Rising ( Bringing her values to Thailand seemed an imperative next step.

The Chai Lai Orchid is one of the more unusual resorts in this overgrown part of northern Thailand. Pham and her high-spirited local partner, Puang (foreigners can't own land or businesses alone), have created a small but welcoming retreat that feels more like a home stay than a hotel. Though it lacks the polish of a high-end resort, its rooms (and traditional thatch-roof "eco-huts") are clean and cozy, with fans, mini-refrigerators and mosquito nets. The Chai Lai features all the signature activities of this popular area: rafting, hiking to hill tribe villages, raft rides and bareback elephant trekking (a full-body tactile experience not to be missed). For about $100, visitors can adopt an elephant and its mahout, or tender, for a full day — learning how to feed, steer and bathe their beast.

But the Chai Lai is a resort with a purpose. It was created to offer hospitality training to local girls, drawn mainly from the refugee communities along this part of the Thailand-Myanmar border, who are at risk of being sold or traded into sex slavery. Even basic skills such as cooking, waitressing or housekeeping, Pham has seen, can be the difference between work in a legitimate tourist hotel or a brothel. "Sex trafficking is a huge problem in Thailand, a problem that a lot of Western visitors contribute to," she said. "Many girls who cross the border from Burma [Myanmar] dream of getting jobs in hotels and end up being tricked and trafficked instead. Here at the Chai Lai Orchid, we're giving some of those girls that dream for real."

One highlight of my stay was participating in the evening English classes, which Pham offers at no cost to children from nearby villages. They arrived in their best clothes, on foot or by local transport, and filled the tables at the resort's terrace cafe. Pham (and other recruits, myself included) helped the arrivals with workbook drills and engaged them in basic conversation. After one class, the mother of a bright young student presented Pham with bananas from her garden. "People give what they can, when they can," she said, as delighted as if she'd been given a case of fine wine.

When I visited, three at-risk women were training at the Chai Lai. Pham's goal is to hire 14. Before one class, I met two of them. Each shared a similar story. Ann, 23, has a serene, almost Buddha-like nature. Her mother smuggled her from Myanmar into a Thai refugee camp at 6 months old; she now has three children of her own. Lin, 15, is being trained as a cook. Though she looks like a typical teenage girl — with braces that display a tiny pink heart over each tooth — she had a baby recently and barely survived the ordeal.

Ann and Lin are especially vulnerable because, if they're in a brothel, the owners can threaten to harm their children if they try to leave," Pham said. "So being a young mother is one criteria for accepting girls into our programs." Others include not having access to education, or being an ethnic minority or a refugee without documents. "I'm not from Burma," Pham continued. "But at 16 I worked as a maid, in a foreign country, without papers. So I can talk with these women even though there's a language barrier. I can understand their struggle with learning a new language, in a new culture, and feeling alone."

As devoted as Pham is to her work, she never brings you down. Her delight with the area is contagious, and staying at the Chai Lai is an uncomplicated pleasure. Visitors are welcome to engage with her work or enjoy the hills, river and jungle on their own terms. And there's a great deal to enjoy. The morning trumpeting of elephants punctuated the rush of the Mae Wang River, and evening brought the cries of exotic birds and the croaking of river frogs. In between, water-loving guests can join Pham and the mahouts for the afternoon elephant bath — a ritual that inevitably devolves into a gleeful, shrieking splash fight staged on the slippery backs of the well-loved beasts. Despite the hardships that motivated its creation — or more likely because of them — the Chai Lai is an uplifting destination. Here, the simple things are beautiful — and the complexities lead to rewards of their own.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

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