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Thailand Economics

 A green harvest of a different kind
 by Kamol Hengkietisak
 Bangkok Post: March 20, 1994 (Page 17)

 `Tok khiew' or "green harvest" originally meant "pledging green paddy"
 for loans. The term had been used extensively for decades as a symbol of
 the farmers' hardship. It was often the case that most farmers did not
 have enough to sustain themselves while waiting for their paddy to
 mature enough for harvest. So they pledged their green paddy in the
 field to the local money men, usually rice millers, as a mortgage in
 return for a sum of money at a very deep discount, often up to 50 per
 cent of the actual value of the harvest.

 Recently the term `tok khiew' has acquired a new sinister meaning.
 Instead of pledging green paddy, farmers pledge their young daughters,
 often 12-13 years old, to the procurers in return for money or other
 material things such as houses or pick-up trucks.

 The young girls may be pledged when they are still in school or as young
 as Prathom 5 (grade 5). When they finish the compulsory Prathom 6, these
 young girls will be sent to serve the flesh market in Bangkok or other
 major provinces, including Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Hat Yai and Phuket. They
 have to work as prostitutes in brothels, or any other disguised brothels
 such as short-time hotels, restaurants, tea-houses, massage parlours,
 cocktail lounges, membership clubs, and karaoke bars for a number of
 years to pay off their (parents') debts.

 Recognising that Thailand will never be able to rid itself of the
 problem of prostitution, Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai nevertheless,
 insisted very early in his term that he would like to see the problem of
 child prostitution licked during his administration.

 "I understand that it is near-impossible to get rid of prostitution in
 this country due to several reasons, but at least we can do something
 about child prostitution.

 "My government will never tolerate child prostitution, and those
 government officials who fail to carry out this policy will be harshly
 dealt with," vowed Chuan.

  Interior Minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh echoed Chuan's remarks and
 warned police officers to urgently tackle the problems or else face
 disciplinary action.

 Seeing their superiors were serious about the child prostitution
 problem, the police began to crack down on child prostitutes. Those
 prostitutes who did not have ID cards would face arrest, and if they
 were aliens -- usually Burmese or Chinese -- they would face
 deportation.

 In this country, every Thai citizen has to register for a National
 Identity Card when they turn 15. So if a prostitute does not have an ID,
 she is considered a child or an alien. Either way, she can no longer
 work openly as a prostitute.

 Chuan did specify the age of a child prostitute, but the police seem to
 consider 15 as the minimum acceptable age as the National I.D. Card
 bestows the title of `Nai' or "Mr" for males and `Nang Sao' or "Miss"
 for female card-holders. Below the age of 15, a boy is known as `Dek
 Chai' and a girl has the title of `Dek Ying'.

 From a legal standpoint, 13 is considered the minimum age that a child
 can be engaged in sex with a partner if his or her parent consents.
 Eighteen is the minimum age of consent without parental approval.

 So a paedophile (one who is sexually attracted to children) can engage
 in sex with a child prostitute with no punishment if the child is at
 least 13 years old.

 As 15 is the most convenient age for checking the age of child
 prostitutes, police often raid entertainment places and check the ID
 cards of those girls who work there. Police raids were carried out quite
 often when Chuan first made his policy stance and died down as time went
 by.

 The raids began to pick up again when Pol Gen Pratin Santiprabhob was
 appointed acting police director-general in November, and was again
 intensified when the new police restructuring went into force in late
 January. When it seemed to die down, the issue of police kickbacks in
 Chon Buri rekindled the flame and the police began to conduct raids of
 various entertainment places again to check for child prostitutes.

 For the past month, the issue of `tok khiew' began to emerge officially.
 On February 17, there was a meeting at the Ministry of Labour and Social
 Welfare attended by several government agencies and non-governmental
 organisations (NGOs) on the problems of prostitution and the trade of
 human flesh.

 Arthorn Chanthavimol, deputy permanent secretary of Education, revealed
 that after April 15, the traditional Thai New Year, there will be a new
 batch of girls entering the flesh trade as the newcomers will follow the
 senior prostitutes when they visit home.

 Arthorn said that there are about 1,000-1,500 young girls from Chiang
 Rai likely to enter the oldest profession, approximately 1,000 from
 Phayao and some more from other provinces.

 "The ministry has figures as compiled by our teachers that tell us that
 already there are over 2,000 young girls who are already pledged [tok
 khiew]. These young girls are only 13-14 years old. They are completing
 Prathom 6 and some of them were pledged when they were still in Prathom
 5," he said.

 Laddawan Wongsriwong, a woman MP and native of Phayao Province, admitted
 the problem of `tok khiew' is very widespread in the North, including
 Phayao.

 "When a girl was born into a family, there would be a celebration
 because the girl, especially if she is good-looking, will bring wealth
 and prosperity into the family," she said, acknowledging that the
 problem has been going on for a long time.

 "The procurers are getting sophisticated. They usually have an agent
 within a village who will act as a middleman, but more likely the agent
 is a woman who is a former prostitute herself. The agent will approach a
 family with pretty young girls who are still in school. They may even
 offer to build houses or give a pick-up truck as an advance for the very
 pretty ones," she said during a recent TV programme highlighting the
 issue.

 Siriphorn Panyasen, a noted social worker from Lampang, said that the
 problem of `tok khiew' was not easy to solve as senior prostitutes were
 often recruiters and that parents of the young girls enjoy the luxurious
 lives brought on by their children's sex labour.

 "Instead of thinking that it is morally wrong, they [young girls] think
 only of gaining material comforts that their bodies can bring for them
 and their family," she said, adding that girls are taught to obey their
 parents and would be considered a good child if she can repay her
 upbringing.

 Samphan Thongsamak, minister of Education, said that apart from poverty,
 `tok khiew' could be attributed to copycat fashion as young girls saw
 some successful prostitutes coming home with riches.

 "Those who are not successful and/or catch dreaded diseases such as Aids
 would keep quiet," he said while presiding over the ceremony to expand
 educational opportunities in Chiang Rai on Thursday.

 Pol Lt Gen Prasarn Wongyai, commissioner of Police Region 5, revealed
 that the agent would `tok khiew' in the form of personal loan contract
 while girls are still in school. The police could not do anything as the
 loan contract is not illegal.

 Another method is to marry the young girls and then sell them as
 prostitutes in Bangkok, but this method works only once as most rural
 folks are now aware of such a trick, he said.

 However, Pol Lt Gen Prasarn discounted press report that some policemen
 are `tok khiew' agents themselves. "Tell me who and I will punish them
 harshly," he said.

 Asst Prof Napaporn Thavanond from Chulalongkorn University, during the
 TV programme "To the Point" last Monday, said that people should not
 judge those parents who sell their daughters from a high moral ground as
 they did not have much opportunity in their lives.

 "In my research, rural folks now don't love rural ways of life as
 agriculture only brings on mounting debt. For this reason, `tok khiew'
 is understandable if a family wants to have a better material life," she
 said.

 Boonserm Thavornkul, Chart Thai MP from Phichit, blamed the system which
 allowed local moneymen to charge astronomical interest rates which
 forced most farmers into heavy debt, the only way they could get rid of
 these debts was to sell their daughters for prostitution.

 On the same TV panel, Saphasit Khumpraphan of the Children Foundation,
 said that the problem of `tok khiew' cannot be attributed to the supply
 problem alone. Demand should also be considered as the main cause.

 "If there is no demand for child prostitutes, do you think these young
 girls can sell their bodies?" he asked.

 Arthorn Chanthavimol, who was the first to raise the `tok khiew' issue
 officially, said that the NGOs and Chiang Mai University are trying to
 solve the `tok khiew' problem by giving scholarships to young girls to
 continue their secondary education for three more years. The amount is
 3,000 baht per head. The target is 1,000 potential young prostitutes.

 Yet he conceded this amount was not enough. "10,000 baht is more
 realistic. I think the government should invest by helping these 2,000
 young girls at the tune of only 20 million baht a year, which will be
 cheaper than paying for Aids treatment in the future."

 MP Laddawan agreed that more scholarships are needed for young girls'
 families. But they should be supplemented by occupational training.

 "I have helped set up women's sewing cooperatives in Phayao. Young girls
 will be trained to make clothes, and we try to find orders for regular
 employment," she said.

 However, she conceded that her job was not easy.

 "When I went door to door to explain the evils of `tok khiew' I was
 often met with a hostile reception from certain families who are getting
 rich from selling their daughters.

 "I was even threatened by these families that they would not vote for me
 during the next election as they thought that I caused them to lose
 face," said the MP who garnered the largest vote in the province.

 "But I am ready to lose a few thousand votes as I don't want my province
 to be known as the supplier of young girls for child prostitution," she
 said, adding that more and more families are beginning to understand her
 sincerity in trying to help them.

 MP Boonserm said the Government should help get rid of farmers' debts
 and provide them with low-interest loans.

 He also urged the government set up more training centres and industrial
 estates in the provinces.

 Saphasit said the solution must begin with the patrons.

 He advocated allowing guest workers from Burma to bring their wives
 along so that they do not have to rely on prostitutes. For foreign
 tourists, the TAT should make sure that no travel agents supply any
 details on prostitution to their customers.

 Saphasit reserved the harshest criticism for the lifestyles of Thai men
 who frequent brothels -- either directly or disguised as entertainment
 places such as cafes, membership clubs, or karaoke bars.

 "We should inculcate the young men with an attitude of 'the New
 Generation Won't Patronise Prostitutes'. Support groups should be
 created in universities to change the attitude of having sex with
 prostitutes as part of an initiation rite.

 "For the attitude change to be successful, `Phu Yai' [elders] must set
 an example, especially senior government officials," he said.

 Asst Prof Naphaphorn said `tok khiew' exists because of the network. The
 only way to break up the network is to get rid of the agent.

 "Even in schools, some students themselves act as agents, supplying
 young girls to clients who are waiting in hotels. The young girls are
 not professional but want pocket money to have fun in pubs and dance
 halls.

 "If there are no agents, they could not become prostitutes as they don't
 know the route, however much they are willing," she said.

 Naphaphorn agreed with social pressure measures.

 "We should start condemning those who frequent child prostitutes,
 starting with friends or close associates," she said.

 Naphaphorn also advocated creating jobs in rural areas and expanding
 educational opportunities three more years.

 Minister Samphan believes in extending education as one of the
 preventive measures. While in Chiang Rai on Thursday, he requested the
 cooperation of respected monks in urging parents to continue their
 children's' education three more years.

 He also urged the police to take strong measures against `tok khiew'
 agents who are well-known locally.

 Samphan also urged monks to stop praising young prostitutes when they
 return home temporarily to make `khatin' (annual) merits, as this
 continuing praise sets a bad example.

 The minister even proposed bringing parents of potential `tok khiew' to
 come to Bangkok to witness with their own eyes the real conditions in
 brothels, tea houses and bars.

 Saphasit of the Children Foundation said that the problem of `tok khiew'
 was not easy to solve as long as the tradition of selling daughters
 continues.

 "It's no use rescuing the girls and bailing them out if their mothers
 continue to sell them back to the procurers," he said sadly.

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