The city of Pattaya, Thailand, never intended for a pillar of their economy to be foreign men buying sex with children. Nor did they intended to become world-famous as a playground for pedophiles. And they certainly didn’t expect to see celebrities arrested on their streets for sex crimes. So how, then, did this small Thai city become the world capitol of child sex trafficking?
In Pattaya alone, there are an estimated 2,000 children involved in the prostitution industry year round, with an additional 900 or so traveling to the area for tourist season each year. These children are, for the most part, controlled by someone else, like a family member, a brothel owner, or a pimp. In addition to being deprived of an education, children in the sex industry are at increased risk for contracting HIV and other STDs, rape, and physical assault. Survivors of child sex trafficking are marred for years by the physical and emotional scars of their abuse.
Thailand, in general, and Pattaya specifically have become notorious for their child sex tourism industry through a combination of social, political, and economic circumstances. In Thailand, there is a massive wealth gap between the elite of the country and the populous, many of whom are very poor. The lack of social services and support for poor families and homeless children means there are few ways to get extra money other than prostitution. There has also been a long tradition of political corruption in Thailand, making it easy for pedophiles to buy their way out of trouble when caught with a child. As the availability of children and the laxity of law enforcement became known, Thailand grew as a destination for men seeking sex, and the child sex tourism industry grew in response.
Now, especially in areas like Pattaya, the money (spent at hotels, bars, restaurants, etc.) brought in by people traveling to Thailand for sex with children is a major component of the local economy. These factors can lead to a culture of tolerance for child sex tourism, which exists in many parts of Thailand.
None of these factors, however, is unique to Thailand. There’s a huge wealth gap in the U.S., and Nigeria is famous for its political corruption. So why has the child sex industry boomed in Thailand and not in the U.S. or Nigeria? The answer to that question will be key to preventing other countries with smaller child sex tourism industries from seeing theirs grow to Thai proportions. But since the DNA of child sex tourism is so common to so many other countries, we can’t forget that the crisis in Thailand is no more uniquely Thai than poverty, corruption, or economic uncertainty are. And it might just as easily pop up in Los Angeles or Abuja tomorrow.
Regardless of circumstance, however, child sex tourism is ultimately caused by the demand for sex with children. But combinations of circumstances like the ones present in Pattaya can direct that demand towards one area and away from another. Until we start to address the demand for sex with children, the industry may follow the political and economic circumstances, but will never really go away.
Photo credit: victoria peckham