In March 2019, the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) revealed that nine people had been arrested in Thailand, Australia and the United States (US) after investigators took down an online paedophilia ring. More arrests had been expected as police in nearly 60 countries pursued investigations stemming from an Interpol operation launched two years ago into a hidden "dark web" site with 63,000 users worldwide.
It was not a surprise that out of the 60 countries, there were several ASEAN member states involved. Many of the countries in the region are known to be suffering in terms of combating child sexual abuse and paedophilia.
Thailand’s child prostitutes: Since 1960, prostitution in Thailand has been illegal. Nevertheless, it was estimated to be worth US$6.4 billion a year in revenue in 2015, accounting for a significant portion of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
“Protection Project”, estimates of the number of children involved in prostitution living in Thailand ranges from 12,000 to the hundreds of thousands (ECPAT International). The government, university researchers, and NGOs estimate that there are as many as 30,000 to 40,000 prostitutes under the age of 18, not including foreign migrants. Thailand’s Health System Research Institute estimates that children in prostitution made up 40 percent of all prostitutes in Thailand back in 2007.
Roots of the problem: Sexual abuse and exploitation of children are multifaceted problems with roots at the individual, personal relationship, community and societal levels. Poverty, poor parenting practices, dysfunctional families, association with delinquent peers, inadequate social protection and poor governance only worsen one of society’s greatest ills.
In addition, poorly-trained staff in the education, medical and social services sectors are factors which lead to a lack of reporting of sexual offences – and the meagre data on the prevalence of child exploitation. And after abuses have been reported, legal loopholes, red-tape, difficulties in collecting testimonies from victims and a lack of cooperation amongst government agencies contribute to the low-conviction rates for such cases.
Regardless of current numbers and statistics, it goes without saying that Thailand has a big problem. A report released in 2017 by ECPAT International identified outdated laws and weak legal enforcement as increasing the risk of sexual exploitation of children across Southeast Asia, with the issue growing in recent years due to a lack of awareness. Increased tourism and internet penetration are other factors that have contributed to a rise in sexual exploitation of children in the region.
A lot more must be done, especially in Southeast Asia. Child sexual abuse including child trafficking often involves multiple countries within the region, it is more than likely that a concerted effort from all ASEAN member states will be needed in order to tackle the problem effectively. Interpol’s current operations give hope to a slightly better future for ASEAN’s disenfranchised children.
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Source: The ASEAN Post