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Thailand considers legalising sex work with new bill

Bar workers in Thailand

Thailand’s billion-dollar sex trade operates in plain sight, with massage parlours, nightclubs and girlie bars pulsing with activity in the country’s red-light districts – Nana, Soi Cowboy, Walking Street, Soi 6, Patpong, Bangla Road, etc. While technically illegal, a new Thai government-led plan aims to change that.

The proposed Protection of Sex Work Act would replace the 1996 Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act, which criminalises most sex work, with a law that affirms sex workers’ rights and their ability to sell sex. It will also clarify many of the muddy areas in the current legislation that isn’t clear on whether prostitution is illegal or not.

Jintana Janbumrung, director-general of the Department of Women’s Affairs and Family Development, which is spearheading the reform effort, believes this law will make sex work safer by giving sex workers legal status.

Under the current paradigm, getting paid for sex is not illegal in Thailand, soliciting and advertising paid sex is. Running a business where sex is for sale is also illegal, which puts much of the country’s sex industry outside the law. The new law drafted to replace the 1996 law would require the clubs, bars, and parlors where sex is sold to apply for a special license, with the goal of making sex work safer.

Sanphasit Koompraphant, a former director of Thailand’s nongovernment Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights Foundation, said that licensing businesses to sell sex would still amount to the commercial exploitation of sex workers and land the country afoul of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which it ratified in 1985. He also worries that the system of middlemen who now run much of the industry will keep sex workers from earning their fair share of profits.

He believes the Thai government should be doing more to draw people away from or out of the sex trade, rather than formally endorsing an industry he believes is bred by, and breeds, other social ills.

“This group of women will have very serious physical health and mental health problems, which means that we have to pay a lot of money to treat them. And moreover they will create more problems of family conflict and it will affect Thai development.”

Some people who attended the public hearings complained that legalising or decriminalising sex work would run counter to Thai culture. Whether the bill becomes law will be up to a new administration and parliament. The major parties in the race have said little or nothing about the issue so far in the lead up to the May general election.

Still, Surang Janyam, a sex workers’ rights advocate who runs a group called Service Workers in Group, or SWING, said she remains optimistic about change.

“After nearly 30 years of urging a succession of administrations to decriminalise the industry, the odds of progress are at least growing.”

SOURCE: Voice Of America

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