Prostitution touches lives of Thailand's children
November 19, 1999
BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- The suburban street in Bangkok seems normal, on first appearance. Young children are playing.
Their faces don't reveal the scars these children carry from childhood. Today, many of them live in a home for child-abuse victims. Several were forced into prostitution before they reached their teens.
Sixteen-year-old Rin knows that lifestyle. Her mother, who was heavily in debt, forced her into prostitution when she was 9 years old. She was a child prostitute for one year.
"I refused several times," Rin recalled. "Then my mother took me out of school and kept telling me to do 'the job.' In the end, I gave in. I felt pity for my mother. I wanted to help her."
Too few people care
Complicating the issue of child prostitution in Thailand is the problem that nobody knows how many children are in Rin's former situation, and too few people care.
Montri Sintavichai does care. He runs the home where Rin lives. But he is not optimistic about possible solutions.
"There's no way you can solve it. Ten years ago, most child prostitutes were forced into it by their parents," Sintavichai said.
"Now they volunteer, school kids who want the money so they can live what they think is a luxurious lifestyle. They don't see themselves as victims," he added.
Rin said she would sometimes feel bad about the prostitution, and would cry. That would prompt beatings at the hands of her mother. The resulting bruises caught the attention of authorities, who then placed Rin in the home.
American raises awareness
American Butch Colvin, an expatriate in Thailand, also cares. Earlier this year, he became the first person to run the length of Thailand -- to raise awareness of his concerns in Southeast Asia.
Trafficking of children for sex is also a problem in Cambodia. Social workers say thousands of children are forced into the sex trade in Cambodia, and thousands more are smuggled into Thailand to beg.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen vowed Wednesday to stamp out child abuse, especially trafficking of girls for sex. He said anyone trafficking children will face severe punishment.
"I join other members of the Royal Government ... to find a way to curb the worst inhuman act of children trafficking, especially our virgin girls for sex," Hun Sen told thousands of marching children and social workers.
The march, through Phnom Penh's streets, was organized by non-government groups to mark the 10th anniversary of the U.N. Convention on Children's Rights.
"Child prostitution, it's about as low as you can get. I mean really, I applaud the people who save the whales. I applaud the people who save the wetlands. And people have to look out for children," Colvin said.
But was his run worth the effort?
"Has it solved the problem? I'm not foolish -- absolutely not. But it's a step. And if enough people take steps like that, it'll go a long way towards solving the problem," Colvin said.
Rays of hope
Some victims actually provide rays of hope. Eleven-year-old Rong is one example. He said he ran away from home to live on the streets at age 9 because his parents used to beat him. A man offered him a place to stay -- but there was a catch.
"He made me do 'that'," Rong said. "And I did it for nearly a year. I couldn't go out. I didn't have enough food. I tried to escape, but I was trapped."
Rong now lives in the same shelter as Rin. He is receiving an education and is focusing on the future, not dwelling on the past.
"I want to help other people," he said. "I have no bad feelings. I don't want revenge. I want to be a doctor, if I can."
Bangkok Bureau Chief John Raedler and Reuters contributed to this report.
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