Prostitution was an easy way to acquire "breastmilk money", the additional income sought by children in Thailand to express gratitude to their parents, a government representative told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon, as it concluded its consideration of Thailand's latest periodic reports on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Responding to questions posed at the morning meeting by the 23-member expert body which monitors compliance with the Convention, Saisuree Chutikul said that poverty by itself had not driven people into prostitution. It was always poverty coupled with other factors, such as a lack of education. The duty of Thai children to look after their aging parents had intensified the need for additional income, further increasing the incidence of prostitution.
On the subject of paedophilia, she said that there were many people from the United States and Europe who came to Thailand to engage in such activities. They were usually more interested in boys than girls, and streetchildren, driven out of their homes by parents, were often the primary targets. Thailand was trying to create a network with other countries in the region dealing with that problem, so as to determine ways to detect and track paedophiles and alert the tourist police.
She agreed with experts that raising awareness was not enough to curb domestic violence -- elevating it to the level of a public issue and involving citizens in the reporting of it were crucial. Domestic violence, especially between a husband and wife, was treated as an internal matter. The police often sought a compromise between the spouses, and incidents were seldom recorded. Violence between parents and children was also a problem. While physically harming someone was punishable by law, the police were reluctant to enforce it.
Addressing questions about mental health, she said that the number of suicides had increased over the last two years, especially in the wake of the economic crisis. As a result, the Government had introduced a number of counselling services and was developing a training curriculum for psychologists and social workers to enable them to meet those new challenges. Still, additional counselling services were needed, as was a reassessment of the system as a whole.
Aida Gonzalez (Mexico), Committee Chairperson, echoed experts' recommendation that the Thai Government should criminalize domestic violence. It was difficult for people to understand that such behaviour was a societal problem involving not only ill treatment between spouses, but also parental violence against children and older family members. It was no longer a private matter, as family violence impeded the development of society as a whole.
Another expert stated that, given the political will, there was no tradition that could not be overcome. Deeply rooted habits had to be reversed by education. Another expert called for further legislative reform, including the adoption of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law which defined both intentional and unintentional discrimination. Without it, the Government would only "skim the surface of discrimination".
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 1 February, to begin consideration of China's combined third and fourth periodic reports.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the combined second and third periodic reports of Thailand (document CEDAW/C/THA/2-3), submitted under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. That article provides for States parties to submit reports on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Convention, which Thailand acceded to in 1985. (For background on the report, see Press Release WOM/1090 issued this morning.)
SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, a representative of the Thai Government, responded to questions posed by experts this morning. She noted one expert's comment that Thai women would like to see more female doctors and health-care workers, and that the limited number of female health-care professionals had limited the right of women to seek medical care. To address that issue, the Ministry of Health required that there be a registered nurse in all rural villages, as well as a medical volunteer to assist with female health problems. Years ago, there had been more women in the country's medical schools, because they had better grades than men. The universities had actually had to institute quotas to increase the number of male students. One of the problems today was that female doctors did
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not want to leave their practices in the cities and go to the rural areas, mainly due to the hardships they would have to face there.
Addressing questions about mental health, particularly suicide, she said that suicide had increased more over the last two years, especially following the economic crisis. It not only affected women, but men and children as well. The Government had a national plan to promote counselling services. In addition, it was working on curriculum development for training social workers and psychologists to enable them to meet the new challenges facing society, such as dealing with AIDS victims. She mentioned that there was not enough counselling being done to help individuals deal with their problems, and that there was a need to reassess services as a whole.
She said that poverty alone did not send people into prostitution. It was always poverty and the lack of something else, such as education. Consumerism on the part of parents, who wanted to acquire material goods, and the need to look after aged parents were also contributing factors. If it had only been a matter of poverty, many more people in the north-eastern part of the country -- the poorest area in Thailand -- would have gone into prostitution. Prostitution offered an easy means for acquiring "breastmilk money", which children felt they owed their parents as an expression of gratitude.
With regard to the decriminalization of prostitution, she said that, in formal law, the penalties rested only on the commercial sex workers, and not on the pimps and customers. The police went after the workers, not in an attempt to legalize prostitution, but rather to decriminalize it. If the women were over the age of 18 and were not forced into prostitution, then they were charged a fine and let go. The parents of girls forced into prostitution were also subject to imprisonment. An expert had asked why the workers were charged at all. The lawmakers felt that if they were fined, then it would be possible to send them to shelters, where they could receive assistance and education. If they were not charged, then the police would have no basis on which to detain them. She agreed that there was a need to address the demand side of trafficking and prostitution.
On the subject of paedophilia, she said that there were many people from the United States and Europe who came to Thailand to engage in such activities. They were usually more interested in boys than girls. Streetchildren, driven out of their homes by parents, were often the primary targets. Thailand was trying to create a network with other countries in the region that were also dealing with the problem, so as to determine ways to detect and track paedophiles and alert the tourist police.
In regard to domestic violence, she agreed that raising awareness was not enough. There was a need to make it a public issue and to involve citizens in reporting such incidence. Domestic violence, especially between a husband and
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wife was thought to be an internal matter. The police would often try to bring about a compromise between the spouses, and incidents were often not put on record. Violence between parents and children was also a problem. While physical harm was punishable under the Penal Code, the police often did not want to enforce it.
She next responded to the inequality among the Hill Tribe population, and particularly why some of them were given Thai citizenship while others were not. There were two groups of Hill Tribes in the border areas of Thailand. One group consisted of people who had been there a long time and had not registered as citizens. The other group consisted of migrants who came in every day from the neighbouring countries. It was difficult to identify who belonged to which group. The Division for Hill Tribe People offered basic services to all Hill Tribe people regardless of their citizenship. It was also difficult to get witnesses to the birth of children born inside Thailand, which was needed for the official documentation required for obtaining citizenship.
Bribery and corruption had posed additional obstacles to getting the necessary documentation, she said. The problem was a serious one, and the National Commission for Women's Affairs, the Labour Ministry, the National Security Council and the Ministry of the Interior were currently in discussions to find ways of addressing it. The Government wanted to make sure that Thailand did not become a host country for a population so large that it could not handle it.
Regarding legislation, an expert offered two recommendations to the Thai Government. First, she said that there should be a comprehensive anti- discrimination law for the entire country. Since the Thai representative had stated that a children's code was being pursued first, it would be crucial to include a definition of discrimination that covered both intentional and unintentional discrimination. Unless that definition was included, the Government would only skim the surface of discrimination, and not reach the hidden areas.
Second, she said, lawmakers had stated that an explicit legal provision on marital rape was not necessary. It would not be possible to get the attention of victims unless the existing legislation explicitly stated that marital rape was a crime. There was a need to counteract such lawyers' opinions, and the campaigns had to be taken up to raise awareness of the issue. It was an issue deeply connected to the dignity of women.
One expert stated that there was no tradition that could not be overcome, and that it was only a question of political will. As far as the issue of rape was concerned, in some countries it had taken years before the issue was
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addressed properly and before the required legislation was put in place. Although some considered it a private matter, it was in fact a violation of the dignity and fundamental right of security of the person. Deeply rooted habits had to be overcome by education.
With regard to the serious problems of hill tribes, one expert asked whether the Government had considered a registration programme for cross- border migrants. It was important to protect their rights as well.
AIDA GONZALEZ (Mexico), Committee Chairperson, said that the Thai Government should consider the recommendation that the text of the Convention be translated into the national language. There were two indispensable steps, the first being the enactment of legislation, and the second, the dissemination of information and education of men and women. Without the second step, it would be difficult to implement the relevant legislation. She echoed the recommendation that the criminalization of violence within marriage be reconsidered. Penalties were needed for intra-familial violence. It was tough for people to understand that domestic violence was a societal problem, comprised not only of ill treatment by the husband of the wife, but also of parental violence against children and violence against older members of the family. It could no longer be considered a private matter, because when a family was infused with violence, society also became infused with violence and could not develop properly.
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