Nightlight jewellery and prostitution in Thailand
Much of our jewellery is made by the women of Nightlight a Christian non profit that works in the heart of Bangkok, offering women a way out of a life in the bars, of selling their bodies. It offers them hope, work with dignity and skills training.
Prostitution is an enormous business in Thailand, it is estimated that at any given time there are over 2 million prostitutes working there. Most are from Thailand but there are many from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Eastern Europe, Africa. Human trafficking and slavery is part of this business.
Prostitution existed in Thailand, as in other countries, before Western Colonialism. Thailand was never colonised, it was the one SE Asian country to avoid it, something the Thai people are incredibly proud of, and the very name Thailand means Land of the Free. But the prostitution that most westerners associate with Thailand, the bars, neon, pole dancing, that came largely with the Vietnam War. Thailand was a major R and R area for the Americans and other nations involved.
Parts of Bangkok, Pattaya were designated as "entertainment zones" with late licenses, alcohol licenses. They were areas separated off from the rest of Thailand, in Bangkok three main areas, Nana, Soi Cowboy and Patpong. These remain today. They cater mostly to westeners, although Japanese, Korean, Arab, Malay, Indian and African men can also be found there. English is spoken by most people there, not just in the bars, but in the banks, the restaurants, the shops, the hotels. The infrastructure is geared towards tourists. It is also easier for the Thai authorities to manage, if this part of Thailand is concentrated in small areas.
It is estimated that less than 5% of Thai prostitution is in these areas. The largest part of prostitution in Thailand is aimed at Thai and other Asian men. Thai and other asian men prefer white skin. Most of the girls in western areas are from Isaan province in the NE of Thailand, and have darker skin. Most of the women involved in Thai prostitution have fairer skin, usually Lanna province, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, the northern parts of Thailand.
Isaan is the poorest region of Thailand, the bulk of people are small farmers, rice or vegetables usually. Often the girls leave school early, without qualifications. Often they have become pregnant and the father of the child abandons them. With a baby and no job, they leave their home and go to where there is work, Bangkok, Pattaya. The baby is left in the village with the grandparents
For the girls there is real pressure to send money home, for the baby but also for the parents. Daily phone calls asking for money.
The girls will work in a bar, a massage shop, maybe karaoke. Prostitution is actually illegal in Thailand, but all have ways to get around this. For massage and Karaoke, the customer pays a fee to hire a girl and a room for a massage or singing and drinking/eating. Once in the room, the girl negotiates with the customer for a "happy ending" In the bar, the customer pays the bar a "bar fine" to have the girl for a short or long time. Payment for sex is paid to her. The owners have done nothing illegal, what the girl does is up to her. Although they often take cut of the money. As do the police, who make an enormous amount of money by turning blind eyes. This is a massive industry.
For the girls, they are at the mercy of the customers. Have a listen to Mints story Sadly this is a daily reality for most of the women involved in prostition in Thailand. There is a very real human cost to this industry.
This has been a long piece. I will write separately about Nightlight and how they work with girls who want out.