The Situation

Thailand is a source, transit and a destination country for human trafficking. It is a destination-side hub of exploitation in the Greater Mekong Sub-region, for both sex and labour exploitation. NGOs believe there are between 200,000 to 2.8 million prostitutes in Thailand and a minimum of 40,000 children under the age of 18 trapped in sex trafficking. (1)

Migrants, ethnic minorities, and stateless people in Thailand are at a greater risk of being trafficked than Thai nationals, and experience withholding of travel documents, migrant registration cards, and work permits by employers. Thai men who migrate for low-skilled contract work and agricultural labour are subjected to conditions of forced labour and debt bondage as well. (2)

Although the networks that traffic foreigners into Thailand tend to be small and not highly organized, those who traffic and enslave Thai victims abroad tend to be more organized and work in more formal networks, often collabourating with employers and, at times, with law enforcement officials, and have been found to hold Thai and foreign passports. (3) Many Thais are lured by labour recruiting agencies and are forced into involuntary servitude or sexual exploitation because of the high debt owed to the agencies. (4)

The majority of Thai trafficking victims are trafficked to the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, and China for both sexual and labour exploitation. Thai victims have also been repatriated from Russia, South Africa, Yemen, Vietnam, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Singapore. Thai nationals are also known to be trafficked to Australia, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Timor-Leste. (5)


Thailand is a transit country for victims from North Korea, China, Vietnam, Pakistan, and Burma destined for third countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Russia, Western Europe, South Korea, and the United States. (6)


The majority of the trafficking victims identified within Thailand are migrants from Thailand’s neighboring countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region, but also come from countries farther away such as Uzbekistan and Fiji. These migrants are forced, coerced, or defrauded into labour or commercial sexual exploitation. They are often fleeing conditions of poverty, or in the case of Burmese migrants, who make up the bulk of migrants in Thailand, from military repression. Conservative estimates number this population in the tens of thousands of victims. (7)

Trafficking victims in Thailand are found employed in maritime fishing, seafood processing, low-end garment production, and domestic work. Children from neighboring countries are forced to sell flowers, beg, or work in agriculture or domestic service in urban areas. Evidence suggests that the trafficking of men, women, and children into these sectors represents a significant portion of all labour trafficking in Thailand. (8)

Prostituting children is a problem. According to government officials, academics, and NGO representatives, children (both boys and girls), especially among migrant populations, are forced, coerced, or lured into prostitution. (9)

Internal Trafficking

Thailand is a country with internal trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation, and labour trafficking. Ethnic minorities and women and girls from the northern hill tribes are especially vulnerable due to their lack of citizenship. (10) UNESCO officials assert that lack of legal status is the single greatest risk factor for trafficking or other exploitation of highlanders. (11) There is also an issue of rural-to-urban trafficking, where ethnic Thais are trafficked from the relatively poor areas of Chiang Rai, Phayao and Nong Khai to urban and tourist areas. (12)

Sex tourism remains a problem. According to the Thai Government, there are no laws that specifically address sex tourism. However, the criminal code, laws on prostitution, and laws combating trafficking in persons contain provisions to combat sex tourism. While it is widely believed there are fewer incidences of Thai citizens forced into prostitution today than in past years, children from poor families remain vulnerable, and there are some incidences of Thai parents who force their children into prostitution. The 1996 Prostitution Prevention and Suppression Act imposes heavy penalties on whoever procures, lures, compels, or threatens children under 18 years old for the purpose of prostitution. (13)

Child labour is still present, particularly in agriculture, the garment industry, seafood processing, fishing-related industries, and the informal sector. Within the country Thai men are trafficked into the fishing and seafood industry. (14)


There are many causes of human trafficking in Thailand. Many argue that Thailand is a destination for human trafficking because of its relative affluence in the Greater Sub-Mekong Region.

Other cited vulnerability factors include:

  • Statelessness
  • Poverty
  • Low education levels
  • Unemployment
  • Lack of human trafficking awareness
  • Dysfunctional families. (15)

Thai Government Response

The Government of Thailand is making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The Thai government made notable efforts to prevent human trafficking, including through collabouration with international organisations and NGOs. While some activities aimed to raise awareness on trafficking within Thai society as a whole, others attempted to raise awareness among targeted high-risk industries. The government reported that throughout 2010 and early 2011, it reached approximately 2,000 employers to raise awareness on labour rights and trafficking. NGOs noted that awareness of human trafficking and labour rights grew, both among high-risk populations and government officials. The government made increased efforts to educate migrant workers on their rights and their employers’ obligations to them and continued its efforts to train thousands of police, labour, prosecutors, social workers, and immigration officials on victim identification.

Australia, Thailand, and Sex Tourism

8 Things about Aussies and Thailand (16)

  1. Almost 650,000 Australians visit Thailand each year.
  2. Australians made up about 4.57% of the total international tourist arrivals in Thailand in 2009. In January and February 2010, the number of Australian tourists continued to grow by 34.63% and 19.73%, respectively.
  3. For Australians, a vacation in Thailand costs approximately 1,204 AUD per trip. An average daily spending is 4,437 baht or 165 AUD while an average length of stay is 12.28 days.
  4. According to statistics released in September 2009 by a hotel booking website,, the sheer amount of Australian travellers has contributed to placing Phuket in world’s top ten destinations over the past two years.
  5. Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Hat Yai remain top destinations for sex tourists.
  6. From the studied patterns of arrests and prosecutions between 1995-2006 by John Hopkins University, Australians are the biggest exploiters of Thailand’s child sex tourism.
  7. The penalty for sexual servitude is up to 15 years of imprisonment; Australians can also be prosecuted under the Child Sex Tourism Act for travelling abroad to engage in sex with minors under age 16.
  8. Currently, there are about 20,000 Australians living in Thailand.

Child Sex Tourism (17)

According to ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), child sex tourism has become a global problem.

In simple terms, sex tourism is when someone travels with the primary purpose of paying for sex at the intended destination. Both adult sex tourism and child sex tourism exist. The former involves consenting adults, and often prostitution, whether or not legal in the country in question, but with the laws not enforced in practice. It usually involves an organised element, such as specialised tours, and recognised red light districts. Bangkok is one of the best-known sex tourism destinations.

In 2010, it was reported that Thailand was considered to have one of the worst child sex trafficking records, alongside Brazil. (18) Child sex tourism is more complex and difficult to pin down than the adult sex trade. Trafficking in children often involves exploitation of the parents’ extreme poverty. Parents may sell children to traffickers in order to pay off debts or gain income, or they may be deceived concerning the prospects of training and a better life for their children. They may sell their children for labour, sex trafficking, or illegal adoptions. ECPAT also believes the use of the Internet has had a significant impact in recent years, both in terms of spreading child pornography and the exchange of information.

For the children involved, the impact is clearly devastating. The risk of sexually transmitted diseases is high, and the emotional and mental damage of abuse is well-documented. Victims can end up being socially ostracized, addicted to drugs and pregnant by their abusers. There are also issues of erosion of trust. In areas where child sex tourism is rife, single white Western males can automatically be looked upon with suspicion. This can potentially have an impact on the area’s economic development, making it hard for the likes of aid agencies. A distrust of foreigners can also hamper legitimate tourism development.


  1. 2008 US Department of State Human Rights Report Thailand, 2005 US Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
  2. 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report.
  3. 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report.
  4. 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report; 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report.
  5. 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report.
  6. 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report.
  7. 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report.
  8. 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report.
  9. 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report.
  10. 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, UNIAP: The Human Trafficking Situation in Thailand (last updated 2008).
  11. 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report.
  12. UNIAP: The Human Trafficking Situation in Thailand (last updated 2008).
  13. 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report.
  14. 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report.
  15. UNIAP: The Human Trafficking Situation in Thailand (last updated 2008), 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report.
  16. Corridors of Children website:
  17. End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes.
  18. “LatAm – Brazil – Child Prostitution Crisis”