note: I was reading one of those supplements out of the Sunday Post, Spectrum I think it was and was somewhat shocked to see this as the headlining article? They make a big point of saying how Udon is
a booming tourist town with nightlife areas(photos to boot) but then they are ambiguous about these knock-up shops which are run by Thais and patronized by Thais. Why can't they just come out and say it? Ifound it all to be somewhat less than honest, and left wondering where the blame will fall?*****
Lao girls lured into child-sex trade in Udon
Published: 21/02/2010 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Spectrum
Ambling down a quiet, dimly-lit street lined with wooden houses, Peerawit Kampira tells his guests from Bangkok not to be afraid. "It's safe here ... because you are with me," he said half-jokingly.
As we get closer to a house with pink-lit rooms, two bouncers in tight jeans and T-shirts called out: "Please come in. We have pretty girls!"
There are plenty of pretty girls around in Soi 2, and Mr Peerawit, a 32-year-old social welfare worker, has spent the past eight years chatting up young Lao women in Muang Udon Thani as part of his research on the trafficking of underage Lao girls into prostitution.
"It used to be a close-knit community here," said the bespectacled, long-haired Mr Peerawit, who was born in this neighbourhood. "Things began to change some 20 years ago, when brothels were set up in Soi 2, with the arrival of girls from the northern Thai provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phrae and Phayao."
When these northern Thai women started to pick destinations further south, to Pattaya, Phuket and foreign countries around 1991-92 - many on a circuit influenced by human trafficking gangs - the vacuum was quickly filled by traffickers from the other side of the Mekong River.
Here in this booming town awash in foreign tourists and entertainment zones, one can stumble on a bar with a dozen or so attractive Thai women looking to make some quick money. In another part of town with a number of pubs and restaurants, more Thai women walk around, settle into tables, laugh and share drinks with their friends.
But in the "Lao section", except for Soi 2, there is generally an air of somberness. Lovelorn men discreetly scour the row of wooden houses, which are partially hidden by rusty corrugated tin fences. With a slight knock on the tin door, bouncers will let them in.
At Soi 3 we meet Phen, a girl from Vientiane, in one of the so-called "tin houses".
It's almost midnight and the narrow street is empty. Mr Peerawit knocks on the door and a burly man lets us inside. There is no weapon search. No words are spoken. In a large room with pink neon lights there are 10 girls in short skirts sitting on a long sofa, watching television.
We settle down in wooden chairs and order three bottles of soda water. It comes with a bill for 180 baht. Three new customers arrive, all of them casually dressed. They pick three girls, and all of them disappear into the back of the house. All this is done under the watchful eyes of the pimps.
After paying 600 baht, Spectrum has a closed-door chat with Phen, who says she has been there for only two months. All her co-workers live in the same house, with their own rooms. It is equipped with a bed, a fan, a bathroom and a television set.
Phen gets 200 baht for each customer. The remaining 400 baht goes to the brothel owner for food, accommodation and other expenses. She has a buddy, named Kaew, who is also from Vientiane.
Chompoo, another Lao girl interviewed by Spectrum, is from Luang Prabang. Both Chompoo and Phen say they have been persuaded by their friends to come to Udon Thani.
"We have not been forced to do this," said Chompoo, who has been in Udon for nearly one year.
"I send money home every month.
"If there are no customers, we are free to go out during the day," she added."The owner also lets me go home for Songkran [also the Lao New Year]."
It's unclear how many underage Lao girls work in Udon Thani's sex trade. By observation only, seven of the 30 girls in the brothel Spectrum visited looked to be in their early teens. All the pimps say none of their girls are under 18 - which would make them children as defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Social workers like Mr Peerawit say Udon Thani has gained a reputation as a haven for child sex - mainly because of the easy availability of children driven into the business by poverty-stricken parents and caretakers, and because of lax law enforcement and corruption.
"Poverty is so overwhelming in some rural parts of Laos that girls as young as 12 or 13 are routinely sold by parents or guardians into the sex trade as virgins, fetching a price from 2,000 to 3,000 baht," said Mr Peerawit.
"After the trafficked girls spend a week or so with the first client, they work in brothels like these in Udon," he added.
As time passes, the price drops until she's earning 150 or 200 baht per client. This is the net income per client after deductions are made for accommodation and other expenses incurred by the brothel operator.
As part of his research, Mr Peerawit has travelled to some poverty-stricken villages in Laos, where he learned that the conditions driving young Lao girls into prostitution in Udon Thani are no different than those behind the thriving child sex trade in Thailand some 20 years ago.
"It's the same story of the poor village girls coming to the city," he said, peering down the length of Soi 7, where a group of men, one in khaki trousers, loitered under the dimly-lit neon lights.
"The proliferation of consumer goods, and the need for money to buy them, has fostered the attitude that the sale of young girls into prostitution is an acceptable form of income," he said.
"Many people say that prostitution is the world's oldest profession and it isn't going to go away," he added. "But no government can deny its responsibility in allowing underage girls to work in a place like this."
The case is clear because Thailand has ratified ILO Convention No 182 on the elimination of the worst forms of child labour, as well as Convention No 138, which mandates that ratifying states pursue a national policy designed to ensure the effective abolition of child labour.
Mr Peerawit has his own ideas on how to solve the problem, but was reluctant to have them published because he worried that it could upset some powerful people. "Because I live here," he said, "I am afraid for my own safety."
This is the first of a two-part series on Lao child prostitutes in Udon Thani.