Thailand is a country in Southeast Asia and the only country in the region which was not touched by colonizers. The Asiarooms. com provided a proof to the common knowledge that name of the country came from the fact that being devoid of colonizer influence means they are free, thus Thailand means land of the free (Thailand population 1st par. ). The country’s population as reported by Asiarooms. com as of 2006 is about 64 million (Thailand population 11th line).
Similar to most developing countries in the world, migration of people from rural to urban areas in search for better paying jobs and opportunities, is a trend in Thailand. Bangkok has been the favorite destination. It is a common belief that westernization and effect of consumerism as seen in television, broadcast and print media provided the inertia and idealism for poor people to move to prime urban center that is Bangkok. According to United Nations poverty yardstick as reported by Stickman, poor people are those whose income is US$1. 00 per day or below. The UN report further stated that as of year 2000, there are about 19 million Thailanders classified as poor and that is about 29. 9% of the total population. These people
are the rural dwellers in the provinces of north, west and northeast regions of Thailand (Stickman, “Poverty” 4th par. ). They are full of hope that they can successfully seek an employment in the city and send part of their wages back to their impoverished families which they left in the rural areas. As they move to the city, it is a normal expectation that most of them will face problems related to descent housing. Majority of them opt to stay with their relatives and friends in slum areas while trying to adjust to the new environment and searching for an employment.
Due to the fact that majority of them are unskilled having come from an agriculture area where rice farming is the dominant livelihood, experience will tell us that the chances are they will get a job which is normally low paying in the informal sector. If the new city dweller is a female, experience will tell that temptation is great to earn money from prostitution and drugs to relieve the tension of psychological worry that their families left behind in the rural area may go hungry. It can be hypothesized that since the new city dweller lack the essential skills and knowledge for a high paying job, majority of them will opt to be added to the ever increasing slum population of Bangkok.
As a sign of progress, others who have tasted the experience of touching money from their services rendered as prostitute or worker in informal sector and not from 2 farming, will opt to get their families back in the rural areas to stay with them in the slum areas amidst the hardship and glaring neon lights in the city. This paper aims to elucidate the plight of rural workers with emphasis on the female gender in urban setting and causes of poverty of slum dwellers in Bangkok.
Current Status of Women in Thai Society The Thaiwaysmagazine.com in 2002 revealed that women status in Thailand has come a long to its present stage where the women are supposed to be in the same level of societal standing to men. In the middle 18th century, the wives were considered as material thing that can be possessed and be disposed of anytime. The culture of Thailand even up to this day expect women to go to work like men and at the same time take care of the household, cook food, take of the children and ensure the welfare of family members at all times (“Women status in Thai society” 1st par). It has been in the social structure in
Thailand in the past that woman had to take care of the husband and be obedient to him. Whether born from a high society or not, ladies were still considered inferior to men (“Social Structure” 1st par. ). Theravada Buddhism is the religion of almost 85% of Thai population (Asiarooms. com, “Religion” 1st par. ). Buddhism as religion instilled into the mind of Thais the concept of karma. This concept is deeply engrained into the culture of Thais. The doctrine of karma teaches that every human act carries with it a merit and demerit points. The merit makes karma pure and clean while demerit makes karma dirty.
Buddhism instilled into the minds of Thai that their life on earth is a process of being born again. When they die, they will be promoted into higher karma if they have no demerit. If their soul is impure due to demerits, they will be reincarnated into a lower form of life, they will undergo punishment and must learn to cleanse their karma (Sexwork. com “Buddhism and Prostitution” 7th par. ). Furthermore, Buddhists believe that by helping someone and showing gratefulness to their parents, they are purifying their soul leading to clean karma and nirvana, the purest of all souls.
It is this belief that ladies since they are viewed lower in status than man under Buddhism ( 10thth par) opt to be prostitutes and sacrifice their virginity and shame just to earn money and give to their parents to redeem themselves and cleanse their karma (9th par. ). On closer analysis, the over-all effect in the long run is dependency of the family to their daughter prostitute for financial support and forgetting to strive harder to earn a descent living.
3 Thus the family remains in poverty all through their lives. Earning much money as prostitute compared to farming in the rural villages where the ladies originated and at the same time cleansing their karma gave the woman an honorable profession in her own and family’s perception per standard of Buddhism. In totality, up to the present time, we can say that women under the Thai culture as influenced by Buddhism are considered as profitable investment like a material thing and less of a human being under the condition of poverty as experienced by economically deprived rural Thais. The Different Faces of Poverty in Bangkok: Informal Sector, Slum Settlements and Prostitution
On closer analysis of an agricultural economy trying to be an industrialized one, the poverty in Bangkok is mainly due to migration of poor rural folks who are less skilled to do urban jobs (Sethuraman 79). This is the reason for majority of them landing into jobs in the informal sector of the economy. Author Mark Kramer in his book “Dispossesed” argue that jobs in the informal sector in Bangkok are mainly of small scale as the capital investment is also generally minimal (120).
The author revealed that the activities are usually conducted without proper approval and recognition from authorities and as such lack laws and regulations related to worker compensation standard and safety. The major activities include retail trade, transport repair and maintenance, personal and domestic services which include prostitution and small scale manufacturing. The enterprises in informal sector normally employs ten or fewer employees and mostly immediate family members. The work is normally labor intensive and require less skill which explain the rationale for offering a low pay.
The workers learn the needed skills on the job and the employer-employee relationship is unwritten with little or no appreciation of worker rights and industrial relation (121). For this reason, the entry and exit in the informal sector is easier than in the formal sector. The operation of the informal sector work in conjunction with the formal economy and contribute a lot to the economy of Thailand and become integral part of the global economy (122). Despite this fact however, we can conclude that the wages of individual worker is just barely enough for hand to mouth existence of the worker and his family. This is the reason for the ever existence of poverty in Bangkok.
The workers of the informal economy live in cramped quarters made out of scrap ply board galvanized iron and used tires and erected by the worker themselves on the land not their own. The 4 concentration of the slum houses in the last 50 years gave rise to a well known squatter community called Klong Toey (Kramer 125). The author revealed that the Klong Toey slum community is populated mostly by rural migrants from Northeast Thailand who came to Bangkok for job opportunities. Being squatters, they constantly face the danger of eviction , their make shift house dismantled and their properties like television sets and sala sets destroyed and dispossessed due to the fact that they have no legal right to the occupancy of the land (126).
For this reason, the slum area don’t receive basic facilities like water, electricity and garbage removal from the government. The make shift shacks are built very close to each other provided with very small lane just enough for a two way walk. The author added that there are some small stores and food lots that sell basic commodities like canned goods, salt and sugar inside the slum area. More than 100,000 people live in the area making it damp and fishy smell permeates.
One thing is very noticeable in Kong Toey and that is the clean maintenance of Buddha shines with fresh flowers daily, a proof that the slum occupants are deeply religious despite their poverty (127). The author added that health problems and poverty goes hand in hand at Klong Toey. Modernization and access to television, radio and print media gave rise to consumerism among rural Thais. The poor people are also hoping that someday they can save money to buy the amenities and luxuries in life. It is an accepted fact that when there is poverty and the strong desire for material thing, prostitution will surely set in.
Reliable sources revealed that prostitution in Bangkok is in an ever increasing trend due to three causes. First, it is promoted by the government, second, prostitution and woman is already interwoven in the Thai culture, third, the practice is indirectly supported by Buddhism, the dominant faith of the Thais. 1. Prostitution is indirectly promoted and encouraged by the government Author Dave in Phoenix reported that the Thai government by virtue of The Entertainment Act of 1996 declared that “Prostitution is illegal in Thailand. Yet the law is written (even if enforced) as to protect the activities that bring in so many billions of baht to the economy which supports so many families, women and children, and does little to change the sexual traditional morals of Thailand” (“Another report on The Entertainment Places Act of 1966” 30th par. ).
It can 5 be said that based on the pronouncement of the author, the prohibition is only on paper but is not strictly enforced as doing it will harm the economy.
As a support to the fact that the Thai government is encouraging prostitution, Justin Hall, a Master Degree student of Politics of South and Southeast Asia researched from reliable documents that in 1967, during the Vietnam War, Thailand agreed to provide “rest and recreation services to American serviceman” (“International Political Economics” 4th par), thus Thailand in the words of Senator Fulbright agreed to become an “American brothel”(4th par 4th line). It is a fact that American soldiers need girls and Thailand need dollars. The Vietnam War resulted to injection of about $16 million into the Thai economy annually. The author added that in 1957, there were about 20,000 prostitutes in Thailand but in
1964, when the Americans established seven military bases in the country, the number skyrocketed to 400,000. After the war, the resulting slack in dollar earning was replaced by prostitution dollars from tourism which centered on sexual aspect (3rd par. ). 2. Prostitution is now interwoven in Thai society The practice which can only be done by a sweet and innocent woman is drawn by the prospect of much higher reward than what they could earn in government position, doing unskilled labor in informal sector and in agriculture (Hall, “Opportunity” 1st par. ).
The author reported further that a study of a Thai sociologist Pasuk Pongpaichit in 1982 for International Labor Organization of UN revealed an estimated income of sex worker to be about 25 times higher than what can be earned in other occupation. The author added that a couple of years work could enable the prostitute family to build a house which can only built out of lifetime savings in rural area of Northeast Thailand. The author claimed that “Our survey clearly showed that the girls felt they were making a perfectly rational decision within the context of their particular social and economic structure” (“Opportunity” 3rd par.).
This shows that the entire family can be supported by just one prostitute and the entire rural village is made up of such families (“Opportunity” 1st par. ). It is thus expected that a girl in a family will bring economic fortune to the poor family by working as a prostitute. 3. Prostitution is indirectly supported by Buddhism, the dominant religion of the Thais It was learned earlier from author Dave in Phoenix that Buddhism inculcated into the minds of 6 Thais that our life on earth is a process leading to being reborn or re-incarnated (“Buddhism and Prostitution” 7th par. ).
The good acts to fellow person showing gratitude for what they have done serve as a merit factor leading to a clean karma and ultimately nirvana.. Buddhism propagated the belief that woman is of a lower gender and should not be praised, loved and taken cared of as their natural role is nothing else but of procreation. The girl in the family upon reaching adolescent age is more than willing to be a prostitute, earn money to support her parents and family. The girls are sacrificing for they know that their acts will lead to clean karma and they will be reincarnated to a higher being after death and achieve eternal peace or nirvana.
(“Buddhism and Prostitution” 10th par. ). The foregoing analysis supported by reliable sources points to the fact that prostitution is a product of poverty and the way out is inspired by societal acceptance of the practice ably supported by religious belief. Summary and Conclusion It was proven from the sources consulted, that migration of rural folks from Northeast Thailand to urban Bangkok in search of better paying jobs is the trend in the last three decades. The exodus resulted to more cases of alleviated poverty than reducing it. As a means of fighting poverty, the rural folks
while seeking their destiny in Bangkok congregates in informal settlements one of which is the known Klong Toey slum community. In exchange for a low paying job in the informal sector but still better than farming, the new urban dwellers developed within themselves the inherent quality to endure psychological pain and stress from constant threat of eviction and dispossession of the materials they painstakingly bought out of the money coming from sweat and sacrifices.
One of the proven ways to seek out of poverty is to be a prostitute. The Thai government although pressured by UN to stop the practice cannot do anything but indirectly support prostitution for fear of losing precious dollars which help the economy survive. It is a co-incidence that the female gender is being looked at as the one who can do it as it is accepted by society as indirectly influenced by Buddhism. Being the land of the free, Thailand is maintaining its sovereignty in the community of nations and it is only their society and no one else can judge the morality of female prostitution as a way of escaping poverty.
Dave in Phoenix. “Legal Status of Prostitution- The Creative Law to bow to Outside Pressure Yet Preserve Traditions and Economic Advantages to Families” Sexwork Cyber Center. 1999. 23 April 2009 <http://www. sexwork. com/Thailand/legal. html> Dave in Phoenix. “The Influence Of Thai Buddhism on Prostitution: Traditional Acceptance / Encouragement vs. Modern Reform Views. Sexwork Cyber Center. 1999. 23 April 2009 <http://www. sexwork. com/Thailand/buddhism. html> Hall, Justin. “Prostitution in Thailand and Southeast Asia”. 1998. 23 April 2009 <http://www. links. net/vita/swat/course/prosthai. html> Kramer, Mark. Dispossesed. New York: Orbis Books, 2006 Sarutta.
“Women’s Status in Thai Society” Thaiwaysmagazine.com. 10 September 2002. 23 April 2009 http://www. thaiwaysmagazine. com/thai_article/1911_thai_women_status/thai_women_status. html Sethuraman, S. V. The urban informal sector in Asia: an annotated bibliography. Geneva: International Labor Organization, 1992. Stickman, L. “Thailand-Population, Poverty and Prostitution”. Stickman’s guide to Bangkok. 23 April 2009 < http://www. stickmanbangkok. com/reader/reader291. html> “Thailand Population “AsiaRooms. com. 23 April 2009. 23 April 2009. http://www. asiarooms. com/travel-guide/thailand/thailand-overview/thailand-population. html