While many foreigners flock to Bangkok drawn by the lures of favorable exchange rates and lax governmental control over the sex and drug trades, others are brought in under pretense and made to stay against their will.¬†Around 80,000 women and children have been sold into the Thai sex industry since 1990. Women, girls, and young boys from areas within Thailand, around Asia, and as far away as Eastern Europe are forced into prostitution in the red light districts of international “sin cities” such as Bangkok.

Many of the famous “night market” shops in Thai entertainment districts operate legally, and form an integral part of the flourishing Thai economy. Storefronts with gleaming neon lights advertise strip clubs and peep shows, beside tourist traps that offer “traditional” souvenirs and Thai street food. Although seedy, these nightclubs and other operations abide by the letter of the law. There are legitimate aspects of the sex trade in which many adults willingly work, because wages are consistently higher than in rural locales or in other occupations. There are even distinct night markets that cater to local populations.

The Patpong Night Market.

The Patpong Night Market.

The troubling side of the Thai red light district economy is a dangerous, drug-infested underworld, masking widespread human rights abuses and a burgeoning AIDS problem. Thai police struggle to penetrate prostitution rings and questions of collaboration among officials often arise. The temptation of benefits from the 500 billion Thai Baht industry corrupts many an authority figure, and women and children suffer. General unwillingness among policymakers to combat the roots of the problem passively encourage the criminal human trafficking.

Prostitution has been illegal in Thailand since 1956, but lackluster enforcement on the part of the Thai government and the growing power of transnational criminal networks highlight the fact that human trafficking is still a pressing issue. Simple legislation from the Thai government is not strong enough to end the problem. International efforts to combat the illegal sex trade in Bangkok must be coordinated immediately to end these wrongs as soon as possible.

A view of the Pattaya district at night.

A view of the Pattaya district at night.