Tuesday, November 4, 2003

English Wire

Thai debate on legalising prostitution set for late November

BANGKOK — Thailand will hold a two-day public hearing this month to debate whether to legalise its famous sex industry and will invite prostitutes to take part, Justice Minister Pongthep Thepkanjana said Tuesday.

"There will be a brainstorming session involving people from every segment of society including prostitutes who will share their information," Pongthep said of the November 27-28 hearing.

"If the public hearing finds that we should amend the current law, we will do it," he said.

The most recent legislation passed to govern the industry, the Protection and Suppression of Prostitution Bill, was passed in 1996. It substantially increased penalties for selling children into the trade while reducing punishment for sex workers.

Any modification of existing laws would likely be done through the repeal of up to four key articles, said Chulalongkorn University professor Narong Phetprasert, a researcher for the ruling Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party.

The articles, one of which makes it illegal for a woman to "behave" like a prostitute, are exploitative and provide opportunities for police to take advantage of sex workers, Narong told AFP recently.

Narong has drafted a proposal to repeal the articles, and said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has expressed his support but wants to close down brothels engaging in bonded prostitution, where women are virtually enslaved.

One of the major concerns in the legalisation debate is a proposal to register sex workers, a move the women fear will stigmatise them permanently.

Chantawipa Apisuk of Empower Foundation, which champions the rights of Thailand's estimated 200,000 sex workers, said registration would do nothing to tackle the bribery, unfair profit-sharing and repressive regulations that plague the industry.

Thailand's freewheeling sex trade can be seen in every corner of the kingdom, from Bangkok's famous neon-lit red light districts to a vast network of massage parlours and decrepit brothels in every town and village.

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Created: November 18, 2003
Last modified: January 15, 2004
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