The Mistreatment of Children in Thailand’s Tourism Industry


By: Gabi Pardee

The key difference between sex trafficking and sex tourism is that while sex trafficking is when people are brought from one underdeveloped country to another more developed country to sell sexual favors, sex tourism is the opposite. When wealthy people from developed countries like the United States travel to less developed countries specifically to purchase sexual favors, it is considered sex tourism. In these developing countries, prostitution is seen more as a way to make money than an illegal act. As a result, police have begun to turn a blind eye to all forms of prostitution. This leniency has led to an overwhelming increase in the number of prostitutes in these developing countries. The largest issue with the sex tourism industry is that children are being introduced into it. Parents view it as a way to make money for the family and it has become a way for predators to exploit the needs of people in developing countries.

There are an overwhelming number of cases of tourists having sex with children. In 2009, 2,888 tourists were charged with having sex with children under the age of 15 in Thailand. In response to these shocking statistics, the local police decided to take action. Police Lt. Col. Apichart Hattasin has started heading up a task force focusing on finding these pedophiles. Although it is a small group of officers, they have been uncovering more and more cases. This could be due to the extra work going towards this matter or because Thailand has become a destination for pedophiles. Considering the fact that police have begun to take more of a stance against child sex tourists in Thailand, the number of cases will hopefully begin to decrease. This statistic, along with the estimate that the number of sex workers in the country average around one million has contributed to Thailand being named the World’s Sex Tourism Capital.


Thailand’s sex industry got its start during the Vietnam War when American soldiers went to the city of Pattaya in search of sex. Pattaya has since become one of the largest tourist attractions in Thailand. This city is located on the east coast of the Gulf of Thailand, making it a very attractive place to visit. Its proximity to Bangkok makes it a tempting vacation spot for Thai populations as well. As its draw as a tourist attraction grew, so did Pattaya’s reputation for sex tourism. Globalization has led to the growth of Thailand’s sex tourism industry because of how easily accessible the area has become, causing it to be more vulnerable and reliant on travelers from developed countries seeking sex adventures.

Another reason Thailand’s sex tourism industry has become so large is due to its lax regulations on prostitution. According to a BBC report in Pattaya, selling sexual favors is illegal, but buying them is not. This means that rather than the tourists who are purchasing sex being in danger of punishment, it’s the locals. The ease with which clients are able to find cheap sex also contributes to the success of the industry.

Lastly, the reason this sex tourism industry has expanded so much over the years is due to the growing wealth disparity between tourists and locals. Because of this economic gap, the men feel increasingly powerful in their relationships with these women. The women in the sex work industry are generally in desperate need of money and are traveling from poorer villages surrounding Pattaya, while male tourists are generally from extremely wealthy countries like America and western Europe. In the words of one tourist, “Over there, they’re told and they’re trained to serve… It’s also that power that the man has, that he feels like he’s the king.” This power dynamic creates a dangerous situation in which women are being taken advantage of because of their economic situation.


This issue began in the 1960’s and by 1993 the End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT) estimated that the income of the sex trade in Thailand reached a shocking $1.5 billion annually. The rapid growth of tourism to Thailand is a cause for this influx as well as how the Thai travel industry has promoted Thailand. When the Tourism Authority of Thailand dubbed 1987 “Visit Thailand Year”, they promoted the occasion with the slogan “The one fruit of Thailand more delicious than durian—its young women.” This slogan, among a number of others, has promoted the appeal of Thailand’s child sex trade, luring pedophiles to the area. The blatant catering to those seeking child prostitutes doesn’t end there. Featured in an airline’s inflight magazine, an insert featuring a photo of a prepubescent girl naked from the waist up advertised “the cornucopia of sexual pleasures,” visitors could experience around town.


The main organization currently fighting child sex tourism is The Code. This organization’s goal is to provide awareness and support to those manipulated by the sex tourism industry. They “represent one of the first initiatives to define the role and obligations of tourism companies with regard to the issue of child sex tourism.” The Code works with travel and tourism companies to end this type of crime. Because this organization is backed up by large organizations such as UNICEF and the World Tourism Organization, they can be trusted as an organization that will stick to its principals.

Today, most of the world views child sex tourism as immoral, but for any change to take place countries need to take action. Thailand has already started to combat the issue by organizing task forces to find sex tourists and prosecute them on site. The United States has also implemented laws to prevent child sex tourists from getting off on technicalities. In 2003, the U.S. passed a bill that helps prosecute sex tourists in other countries. Before this act was set in place, it was very difficult to prosecute these people because they had to prove that they traveled to another country for the sole purpose of having sex with a minor, as well as proving that they had sex. Now, whether or not the sexual activity was planned before the trip or not is now irrelevant, what matters is that sex with a minor occurred. While these are steps forward, they need to much more significant moves are necessary to truly begin addressing this worldwide issue. If the Thai economy improved, less children would be forced to travel into big cities in search for work which means that less children would be introduced into prostitution. Although prostitution of minors is illegal, since the police generally turn a blind eye to all prostitution, they miss it. If prostitution was more regulated, children would be forced out of the business and therefore protecting them from harm. To do this, the Thai government would have to implement more investigations regarding prostitution, but this sort of step is necessary to achieve a world where children aren’t exploited.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. I think the regulations is a great first step to try and rid sex tourism of exploiting children. This was very well written and every point you brought up made connections to the bigger issue of child sextrafficking being so popular. Do you think if the government gave some sort of incentive to families to have their children in school that it would help the problem? Maybe better or free access to education that would ensure the child would move onto better things like getting a high paying job, that could benefit the family in the long run.

  2. Ly says:

    I came from Cambodia which is next to Thailand. I think it is one of the big problems. I believe that this action in Thailand has more or less influence to other countries around it. In Cambodia especially at the beach sites, there are many young girls and people learn their money in that way. They do very similar thing like in Thailand.

    1. amandalevin says:

      For sure… Should they be barred from this? Or allowed? It is a tough question in some ways.

  3. JV says:

    Great post! I had visited Thailand last year and went to Pattaya and Bangkok. The sight bestow upon me was quite the culture shock; women and girls clearly exploited as they were in a daze. Left, right their were signs advertising prostitution and sexual favours. There were also police forces roaming the streets but as you mentioned they choose to turn a blind eye. It really like there was a big elephant in the room. I definitely support the notion of strengthening the legal and policing system in Thailand to eradicate sexual exploitation of children and women. Do you happen to have any resources or information of contacts and organisation that are currently fighting the sex trafficking and prostitution on Thai streets. Are there any organisations that are providing shelters for victims of sexual exploitation in Thailand? Many thanks!


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