Child porn goes beyond Bangkok's sleazy street vendors

If you really want to help, donate to ECPAT international, a global network working for the elimination of child prostitution, child pornography and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes.

NOTE: This post will be updated as and when new information and comments are made available to me. I'll keep people informed through Twitter.

The issue of DVDs and VCDs containing child porn being openly sold on the streets of Bangkok has been a popular topic of discussion on social media platforms such as Twitter and various Thailand forums recently. The trouble with a lot of these discussions is that they are often misinformed and essentially miss the bigger picture. The root of the problem is not in the fact that such DVDs and VCDs are sold. The problem is not even that they're openly sold. The real problem is the exploitation of children.

First of all, this issue is nothing new. There have been numerous stories in the past about the exploitation of children and human trafficking in Southeast Asia. There have also been numerous, high-level stories about people in Thailand being arrested for distributing child porn, such as the case of Briton Paul Cornelius Jones, who was arrested three years ago on charges of distributing pornographic photographs of children under age 15, which carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison. (BBC) [NOTE: I originally posted 15 years. This was in error. Info here.]

While the issue may be nothing new, it was given a new lease of life by an article in the Bangkok Post (Child porn on streets stirs outrage, Sukhumvit Vendors Openly Sell VCDs, October 10, 2010). The article in question asserted that “[c]hild pornography is being openly sold on the footpaths of the city's busiest road [Sukhumvit], outraging both tourists and residents who said it would not be tolerated in any other country.”

This story, however, was poorly executed. There were quotes, but not a single named source.

"This is totally outrageous and should not be tolerated by the authorities," said one ambassador who lives in the area. "You would have to look hard for any country in the world where this would be allowed, let alone on the main tourist street of the capital."

An ambassador? That means nothing to me. It could have been anyone. I'm not saying the quotes are phony, but they weaken the story, not only because they're anonymous, but because they imply that people are outraged primarily because child porn is being sold on the streets — their streets.

If it weren't there in plain sight, the unnamed ambassadors and diplomats in the story would not be saying anything, but the exploitation of children would continue regardless. If it's on the doorsteps of the elites and the well-to-dos, then all of a sudden it becomes an issue because it ruins someone's morning or a person's walk home from work.

The story was also weak because it quoted a “senior police officer” talking not about offences related to child porn, but to the distribution of regular porn. [NOTE: I'm correcting myself here. Section 287 of the Penal Code does cover child porn.]

"To distribute or exhibit obscene materials is a criminal offense under Section 287 of the penal code of Thailand with the punishment not exceeding three years' imprisonment or fine not exceeding 6,000baht, or both.”

This quote does nothing for the story. Bangkok Post then followed up with a ludicrous story (Police move in to clean up porno stalls in tourist areas, October 6, 2010), essentially a police press release, patting the paper on the back for instigating “police sting operations” to catch vendors selling the offending DVDs and VCDs, although the headline does not even mention children.

These sting operations are a show of face by the police. No doubt vendors will be arrested and paraded before the media for a photo op, but nothing will change. I saw this kind of thing all too often in Phuket. The police publicly crack down on something for a few days, get their names in the papers and then let the situation return to how it was before. This is no different, and I cannot stress enough here: The vendors are not the real problem.

Here's an instant classic from the Bangkok Post article:

The children used in the videos are Thai, Cambodian and other nationals who have been either hired or lured into the porn business, said Pol Col Suwitphon Imchairat, a deputy commander of the Anti-Human Trafficking Division.

What a revelation that is.

I have never seen child porn being sold on Sukhumvit, but various sources have confirmed that the offending material is there and it is being distributed. The most reliable of these sources is journalist and blogger Richard Barrow, who on October 6 posted on his Twitter account, “I'm shocked, they really are selling kiddie porn openly on [the] sidewalk of Sukhumwit. Jacket cover says '10 years & up'.”

Up until that point, the general consensus coming from discussions was that this is something that cannot be eradicated because of the involvement at a higher level than the vendors of people with considerable power and money.

Other Twitter users then seemed to realise in unison that perhaps they could do something if they got together and joined forces, so to speak. The trouble with this kind of mob mentality is that it can be counter productive because a lot of the time, people don't fully understand what they are talking about and fail to get beneath the surface of this issue. Before you know it, you have all sorts of wild words being spouted left, right and centre.

With this in mind, I contacted a number of organizations to get their feedback on the issue in question. This was something I felt the Bangkok Post journalists should have done. In fact, it was lazy of them not to even fire off a few emails so they could better inform their readers about the issue of child exploitation. Raising awareness is part of the solution and the Bangkok Post has so far fallen short in this respect.

World Vision is a large, global, Christian NGO that works with children, families and communities.

“World Vision is aware and condemns the fact that children are involved in production of pornography in the region and that it is distributed through a range of outlets. I personally was not aware that child pornography was being sold in the location identified in the story but was aware of the general sale of pornography at that location,” Laurence Gray, World Vision's regional advocacy director for Asia-Pacific, told me via email.

Plan International is another organization that supports children around the world.

Chariya Phongvivat, Plan Thailand's child rights advisor, told me over email that Plan is aware of the issues related to child porn but that she personally has never seen the displays on Sukhumvit, although she and colleagues from other organizations have seen child porn DVDs around Sanam Luang.

“There have been arrests before. The police traced back to the sources, which are usually in Pattaya and Chiang Mai. They distribute the porn mainly through websites with paid members. The children are usually trafficked, homeless or marginalised, such as those living along the borders,” she added.

“Arrests must not end at a raid on those stalls, but must trace back to the source, to see who made it and where the children are from.”

But arrests are not the end of the story. Working with children, families and communities at risk to protect them from child trafficking, sexual exploitation and other forms of exploitation and abuse is vital.

A source from Heart of the Street (HOTS) said, "HOTS is aware that child abuse images (child pornography) have been made available for sale at locations in Northern Thailand in a more discrete manner to that mentioned in the article in the Bangkok Post.

"Subtle cultural complexities have a fundamental role in this problem and often paralyse or create obstacles to child protection measures — the true extent of this is difficult for foreigners to fathom and for locals to elucidate to those outside their social fabric of existence. Despite this debilitating factor to child protection, there are a few local groups and individuals who are managing to steer a way through this challenging time in Thailand," added the source.

"The media certainly have a crucial role to play in helping prevent the sexual exploitation of children. However, the media also have to be educated on child protection measures to truly understand how to portray children appropriately whilst trying to shift public perception in an empowering manner, otherwise, the media risk perpetuating the situation for vulnerable children in countries like Thailand. Working to the ethical standard as recommended in the IFJ and UNICEF guidelines for media professionals working with vulnerable children will ensure that the media create a more positive impact for the children they hope to help and protect through their efforts," the source said.

Sunny Tong, Save the Children's marketing and PR manager in Hong Kong, told me, "Child pornography is a crime. In the case quoted in your email, we advise any visitor to Thailand who sees evidence of a crime against children – including child pornography on sale – should contact the police and contact their embassy. People can also help by getting involved in campaigns against child pornography and trafficking like ECPAT."

I did also contact ECPAT, a global network working for the protection of children, and received a response from ECPAT's public education and communications officer saying, “We are indeed acutely aware of the situation and related article.”

ECPAT promised to follow up with comments on the issues and their input will be added to this post in due time. Similarly if the other organizations I reached out to get back to me then I will include their comments. My main aim here, however, has been to get this post published before people start acting or speaking on impulse.

In the mean time, what are these groups doing about this issue? Keep in mind that some of these are large INGOs, and so some of their responses are a little generic at times, but still, at least they have responded.

“For long term, Plan Thailand is working with Child Protection Partnership under the support of IICRD [International Institute for Child Rights and Development] to develop child protection in ICT curricula for schools and for communities, and also working with the policy-working group to provide recommendations on ICT policy, particularly on child protection,” added K. Chariya.

"We work directly with children, families and communities at risk, right now in Chiang Rai, expanding to Chiang Mai, to raise their awareness on how to protect children from sexual exploitation, as well as help create livelihoods for the parents,” she said.

“We work with the children themselves in a preventative approach to involve them in peer education activities to affirm positive views of children and highlight risks to physical safety and dignity. Children have supported each other in reporting on situations where pornography is being shown to children or where children have been approached for sexual acts,” said Gray from World Vision.

“World Vision works on medium to long term solutions in partnership with the UN, human rights groups and governments to implement international and regional commitments to protect children and address human trafficking,” he added.

Tong from Save the Children said, "Save the Children works with local NGOs and government partners around Thailand, and across Asia and the world, to prevent exploitation of children through our child protection and empowerment activities. In Thailand, Save the Children works especially with migrant children who are particularly vulnerable to exploitation."

My source from HOTS said, "As you may have noticed from our website, we launched a highly visible campaign entitled 'Stop the child sex trade. Take action…report offenders' in 2006. The campaign is ongoing in a limited capacity. Although this campaign was considered to be effective at raising awareness and mobilising people to report offenders, we identified major systemic problems that need to be address if any child protection measures are to have any real impact in preventing children from being sexually exploited.

"As a community organisation we work with the community — within the limits of local cultural practices and against a backdrop of corruption, poverty, weak law enforcement and indifference to the problem faced by exploited and at-risk hill tribe children. Working within this challenging reality however, has helped HOTS to stay focused on the deeper issues that need to be addressed to help deal with this problem effectively and in a culturally appropriately manner," added the source.

One of the problems is that this issue is not sufficiently in the public eye, so there's not enough public sanction. Richard Barrow went so far as to say that “[t]he fact that child porn is openly sold on the streets means that Thai society accepts it”.

Social media is a curious thing. Discussions on Twitter have blossomed into what appears to be a full-blown movement, with promises of investigations, mass mobilizations, protests and petitions. People are quick to jump on issues like this so it's important to spread good, reliable information and highlight what the real issues at play are. It's also important that this not just be a flash in the pan.

The number of instant experts with things like this is always a little disturbing. I don't claim to be an expert here. I'm a journalist and I've written stories on similar issues in the past. As a journalist, though, when I want to know about something, I ask experts in the field, such as ECPAT, Plan and World Vision.

If you want to really stop children being exploited and ending up in DVDs and VCDs for sale on Sukhumvit Road, you have to understand that this is a global issue and it's one that won't stop even if all the street vendors are locked up.

If you'll recall, the US State Department in June issued its annual Trafficking in Persons report, and Thailand slipped down onto a Watch List along with Vietnam and Laos. This was basically a warning shot fired by the US to tell these countries that they need to bolster efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers in persons. (IRIN)

“What can people do is they see this on the street? They can notice and let others know. The Bangkok Post article correctly states that the display and sale of child pornography is illegal under local law and agreements the government has made in endorsing the Convention on the Rights of the Child and related protocols,” added Gray.

“They can also engage with groups working for an alternative future for child and their communities. Avenues are available for donation of time, resources or support needed to bring change.”

Useful numbers for reporting cases:

Saidek 1387 (Child hotline): 1387
Phachabodi Hotline Centre (Ministry of Social Development and Human Security): 1300, email: call1300@hotmail.com, website
The Thai Tourist Police: 1155
The police: 02-678-6800
Complaints can also be registered with ECPAT.

Useful websites for finding out more or for lending support:

World Vision Thailand
World Vision Asia-Pacific, human trafficking
Plan Thailand
Heart of the Street
ECPAT, ways to help
UNICEF Thailand
Save the Children
Rain Tree Foundation
International Organization for Migration
Trafficking in Persons Report 2010
Centre for Protection of Children's Rights Foundation

Useful info for journalists:

IFJ Child Rights Handbook (PDF)
UNICEF Guidelines for Media Professionals (PDF)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/7151796.stm

Social media buttons:

20 Responses to Child porn goes beyond Bangkok's sleazy street vendors

  1. KristoferA says:

    Good analysis.

    However, it almost sounds like you think the vendors should be left alone because there are bigger fish to fry.

    I have to disagree with that, getting this stuff off the streets will at least make remove one distribution channel. A few perverts will not be able to easily buy those movies for a hundred baht over the counter. Yes, the perpetrators, producers, distributors etc are the bigger fish that need to be stopped too but if everyone just goes with the "this is too big, let's ignore it" attitude then that means everyone has given up.

    I don't expect that our planned and tweeted walk down Sukhumvit will stop abuse, but I do expect that if enough people make noise about this we can at least show that not everyone just accept that these things are advertised and sold in public in one of the main tourist areas…

    I'm sure all the organizations you have referred to have big strategic plans for how to stop child abuse, but normal people from all walks of life can pitch in and just say "I don't accept this" too. More voices = better.

    JMHO.

  2. Jack says:

    I feel like at the same time everyone ignores the elephant in the room. girls of similar age, under 18 for sure, some even under 15, are being offered for prostitution every night at well known walk in places on soi cowboy and probably many other places. and as prostitution is illegal in thailand those places can only run with the local police being involved in some ways. this is in the middle of bangkok only meters from the busiest intersection if bangkok and it's modern highrise office buildings. Not somewhere at the border or hidden in a random village in cambodia.

  3. Stuart says:

    Yup, this is the story people should have been reading in the Bangkok Post – nice work.

    I do think though that the open display of child pornography on Sukhumvit does indicate a further wavering of the compass that steers Thailand. I was staggered by the amount of legal porn on display along Sukhumvit earlier this year. Sure it's always been there, in a box under the table, but never as prominently displayed as it is now.

    So the bigger question is what is happening in Thailand that this sort of behavior warrants barely a raised eyebrow from passing pedestrians?

  4. [...] 10-7: スクムウィットの道端で幼児ポルノが公然と陳列されている事に住人や観光客が苦情、という話の関連での興味深い記事。Child porn goes beyond Bangkok's sleazy street vendors | The Lost Boy の抜粋意訳。 [...]

  5. Snap says:

    "hired or lured into the porn business"…don't they mean sold, stolen, drugged, tortured, enslaved?

    I can't comment any further without using expletives!

  6. Swedish Tom says:

    There is one Swedish man in Bangkok who is a known abuser.

    His name is [name removed -- Matt].

    Does anyone know where in Bangkok he lives?

  7. hockeybik says:

    It looks like Swedish Tom tried to "out" a guy he knew was a consumer of this filth and therefore a contributor to the actual abuse of these kids.

    I know of a guy who wound up in an American jail for a year because he was "caught" by US Customs bringing child porn in on his computer. Now, I've been through US Customs returning to the US from Thailand dozens of times and no one has ever asked to take a look at my computer as happened to this guy. So, my guess is someone tipped the authorities about him and they were waiting for him. And I think that was a good thing.

    If more people turn these creeps in for this, it would play a small part in ending it. So… to Swedish Tom, hats off to you, sir! Report this scum to the right people and let him spend some time thinking about how this hurts his victims.

  8. Swedish Tom says:

    It is unfortunate you removed his name.

    He uses twitter a lot.

    Look for [initials removed -- Matt].

  9. The Lost Boy says:

    Yes, report it to the right people. Just not here.

  10. Phy says:

    So let me get this right – people got outraged that pirated child porn was sold? And they cracked down on that? So uhm, they actually helped people who abuse children in order to make money?

    If they want to write about child porn, they should target revenue streams of the producers and work on shutting those down. Or they should target the 'supply chain' to target it from the other side.

    If they want to write about illegal things being sold on Bangkok streets, they should write about how bribes make it possible to circumvent the law. Pretty easy to get an investigative report with names going on that – the names of the police district heads are publicly available.

    Major failure of the BangkokPost in terms of editorial quality. But probably a very profitable move in terms of new subscriptions. Cheap move to play on people's outrage at things that happen in front of their door.

  11. Phy says:

    Kind of weird effect of the advertising plugin/script that linked the term in my last comment…

  12. The Lost Boy says:

    Yeah it is a bit weird. I'll turn that off. That's an old site of mine I don't even update any more.

  13. The Lost Boy says:

    I'm also a bit worried about how the Adsense ads are going to go on this page.

  14. Devil's Advocate says:

    Matt would you be blogging about this or would any attention have been shed on this subject had the Post article not been published?

    The article pointed out something that was unknown to many people — child porn is sold openly on Thailand's main street.

    I have lived here 10+ years and wasn't aware of that. The article was a short one and a rare piece of non-press release journalism in the Thai news. It's goal was to elucidate that fact, not write a treatise on the various causes and deep background of the process by which children are used in pornography. Maybe it could be the first in a series? Why the need to bash?

    It's too easy to say, "Editorial lapse at BKK Post" and to criticize. I for one was happy to see something relevant to a reader's interest on the front-page of a daily newspaper here. It certainly beats the regular crap from both dailies, and I think this advancement — however, measured it may have been — should be applauded. Emailing NGOs and compiling a list of phone numbers does not a journalist make.

    I hope The Nation and the Post cover more of these sorts of stories and am glad that the response seems to have been the same from the majority of readers on other forums.

  15. The Lost Boy says:

    I think I've addressed all your points in my blog post already, except this one:

    Emailing NGOs and compiling a list of phone numbers does not a journalist make.

    I'm a bit confused what your point is here.

  16. The Lost Boy says:

    I just wonder if there will ever be a point then at which you think we should be able to critique Thailand's English-language media. How many years are we talking?

    And by the way, my name is Matt. What's yours?

  17. Andrew says:

    I think he means that at the end of the day this is just a blog and that comments from a wide variety of child welfare agencies do not take the story much further.
    The nub of the story is the allegation that child porn if freely available and apparently sold openly in high st Bangkok.
    The next stage of the story is where did the stuff come from (not just vague things like Pattaya etc) U can't do all that on the internet. And I cannot see the BP doing it either.

  18. The Lost Boy says:

    I disagree. The next stage is raising awareness of the issue, which is clearly needed if people's responses on Twitter and elsewhere are anything to go by. Raising awareness means people can get a grip of how they can productively help, which usually means lending their support in one way or another to people who actually know what they're doing.

    Do you not see that the organizations I contacted are the experts in this field? They are the ones with the knowledge and expertise. They are more or less the only ones who can help the media report on these sensitive issues.

  19. Patrik says:

    Off topic:

    Matt, I still have copies of Guru from 2006 on with your dispatches in them. What happened?

    Guru is the only reason I buy the BP once a week.

  20. The Lost Boy says:

    Well, I left Bangkok a little while ago (more than three years), and I think the Lost Boy column pretty much ran its course. I couldn't go on writing stuff like that forever. I had to grow up really.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>