Defining child trafficking & child prostitution: the case of Thailand

Montgomery, Heather (2011). Defining child trafficking & child prostitution: the case of Thailand. Seattle Journal for Social Justice, 9(2) pp. 775–811.



Child trafficking is a poorly misunderstood and badly defined phenomenon, the phrase often used synonymously with child prostitution, child sexual exploitation and linked to child sex tourism, even though the connections between them can sometimes be tenuous. This paper starts by carefully delineating the different forms of child prostitution that exist in one particular country – Thailand – and showing how the different manifestations of the problem require different solutions and different interventions. Child prostitution in Thailand, as elsewhere, ranges from girls being forcibly brought in from neighbouring countries or being debt bonded into brothels far away from their home villages to children that live on the streets with their peers who occasionally sell sex when the opportunities are available. Other forms also exist in which prostitution is a family trade and children, who live with their mothers and grandmothers, are expected to sell sex as part of the family economy and to supplement the family income. By focusing only on the most extreme forms of trafficking, these other children are frequently overlooked and yet they may well be more numerous and ever more exploited than the passive, silent victims of popular trafficking discourses.
In order to explore the complexities of interventions and the problems of focusing only narrowly on child trafficking, this article will then go on to look at child prostitution in a particular community in Thailand where the children, while not trafficked, were expected, from the age of around 8-10, to have sex with Western men. Their case shows how politicised the child trafficking agenda has become and how little it aids the children who desperately need outside help.

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