[Thailand] Open Space #1: The impact of COVID-19 on Sex Workers in Thailand
Thailand sex workers are the forgotten victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since March this year, the government has forcefully shut the nightlight entertainment venues down to prevent the spread of the virus – leaving the estimated 200,000 – 300,000 sex workers without earnings. Because selling sex services are illegal in Thailand, the workers have to survive without insurance and unemployment benefits. They are also excluded from the government-funded cash relief program amounting to 5,000 baht (around US$ 160), while also being arrested when sought helps from NGOs.
This is the raison d’etre for the ASEAN Youth Forum to hold an open space via a Zoom meeting on September 29 to raise awareness about the adversity of Thailand’s sex workers among the youth in the country. As many as 31 youths with diverse backgrounds had registered to join this event, but only five did eventually join. The focus of this discussion was the possibility to legalize the sex industry – which contributed US$6.4 billion for Thailand’s economy before the pandemic – to give better social protections for the workers. On the one hand, the illegalization of the sex industry – which was first imposed in the 1960s thanks to social pressure from Buddhist conservatives – has given employers the freedom to abuse sex workers without having to fear formal justice retaliations. On the other hand, many sex workers were afraid to report their employers because there are no laws to protect them.
As shown in the survey after the open space event, all participants agreed that the sex industry should be legalized, so the government can give social protections for the workers in exchange for their taxes. A participant said that the government as well as the conservatives should not be worried about the possible increasing numbers of prostitutes by the legalization. She said that legalization is intended to bring transparency into this sector, “to make this profession out in public.” Another participant added that the Thai government should treat sex workers equally as other professions that enjoy labor rights protections. Meanwhile, participants also concurred that the legalization of the sex industry can also reduce sex trafficking in the country that has become a critical human rights problem in Thailand – more than 20 percent of trafficking cases in the country are related to the sex industry.
Here are some highlights from the session
I want sex/service workers to be legalized and decriminalized and put under the labor laws so they can get help from the government.
Youths are the main driving force of social change. Adults should be listening to them more.
Migrant sex workers are not granted basic rights like education, healthcare, social welfare, and it’s even worse during the pandemic because they are being left out, which made them one of the most vulnerable groups as well.
The primary factor in bringing children into the sex trade orbit is family, which is also linked to socio-economic factors. The solution is to tackle poverty.