Monday, August 17, 2009

The Tradition That Fosters Trafficking

Thailand is an example of a culture in which the lower status of women is supported by the traditional values. A Thai woman, by tradition, is encouraged to take pride in making her husband comfortable and satisfied. Such traditional values of women are well reflected in the literary work of Sunthon Phu, a Thai poet recognized as a UNESCO Classic Poet of the World in 1986, described the duties of a good wife as follows:

A wife should show her respect to her husband every day. When the sun sets, she will not go anywhere but prepare the bed for her husband. When the husband goes to bed, she krap him at his feet (by raising the hands pressed together at her chest and prostrating herself at the husband's feet as a Thai way to show her high respect). In the morning, she wakes up before him to cook food and prepare all things for him. When he has breakfast, she sits besides him to see whether he wants anything that she can bring to him. A good wife will not eat before her husband.
Sadly, the dynamics of such traditional norms still pervade in many ways in Thai society. Since Thai society considers domestic violence as a private matter, a man can justifiably abuse his wife in any circumstance without fear of punishment. In any case, neither the victims nor the law enforcement would be willing to bring the matter before the court.

Such traditional values, if nothing else, mitigate the gravity of sex trafficking and the prostitution in the minds Thai men and women. A Thai man whose upbringing teaches him that a woman should please him would not feel bad about abusing his wife when she fails to do so. Neither would he feel the need to apologize to his wife for having multiple mistresses or visiting brothels for his sexual pleasure and comfort. Similarly, another Thai man with the same upbringing would not feel bad about buying Burmese or Cambodian children as a brothel facilitator to meet the customers’ sexual pleasure. Neither would he feel bad about selling them to the sex industries abroad such as, Japan, Europe or the United States.

Similarly, a Thai woman whose primary duty as a wife is to serve her sick husband will choose to sell her daughter as either a domestic servant or a prostitute to pay for her husband’s hospital bills. In her mind, her duty to fulfill the needs of family and her husband comes before her duty to protect her daughter as a mother.

Unfortunately, Thailand is not the only example of a culture that supports the lower status of women. In fact, the status of a woman in Japan is much worse than it is in Thailand. Therefore, the education that challenges such traditional or cultural norms in the minds of young men and women in various cultures is a vital step to fight against human trafficking.


  1. having worked to combat human trafficking in various cultures, i am always nervous to use the phrase 'negative cultural practices' because in many ways and often, they are not negative at all. the lower status of women within a culture (compared to our own, using our own biases) can be exploited by traffickers, but is not inherently linked to trafficking.

    i am also troubled by the statement made that women have it worse in japan. a blanket statement like that should be hedged, at the least, and investigated and explained more thoroughly, ideally.

  2. Anonymous10:42 PM

    I am not Thai, nor can I say I am very familiar with Thai culture, but I have to say that this article concerns me. It is full of sweeping generalizations that are completely unsupported by references to case studies or reports or even the author's personal experiences, other than one quote from a Thai poet. Even if the prevailing idea about a Thai woman's place is different in Thailand than in other parts of the world, frankly if I were Thai I would probably be offended by these stereotyping statements about what IS in a Thai woman's mind, or that she WILL choose to sell her daughter, or what IS in a Thai man's mind, etc...written as though it is unquestionable fact, and every Thai person is the same. Perhaps it would be more helpful to discuss general tendencies in Thai culture, with more in the way of support, other than the author's personal opinion.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Lu,

    I should have cited some references as far as my statement regarding women in Japan. I do apologize for failing to do so. ( 520, www.jstor. org/stable/3054071)

    In regard to your statement, "negative cultural practices-- in many ways and often, they are not negative at all", I do believe that some cultural norms were created with a good intention and purpose but misused by the people in the society as a tool. For instance, Strong family bond in Asian culture is a good thing-- But if it is used in a way to abuse children and women or any other family members to promote family values or even for their economic well-being by oppressing them, I don’t know how much you can call it "not negative." Like I mentioned, some cultural norm can be created with a good intention or purpose, but misused by the people in the society. And of course, I think it is true in every culture whether it is eastern or western while the way of manifestation may differ. (

    By stating that the lower status of women in Thailand (or any other culture) is related to the issue of human trafficking, I wanted to address the perspective on women within the culture as one of the root causes of human trafficking, cultural perspective on women, on a surface level, seems to be irrelevant to the flourishing of human trafficking in the country. However, experts testify that sex trafficking of women and young girls are fueled by their lack of economic opportunity and education. ( Their lack of economic opportunity and education of course, in the case of Thai as many other countries are based on the traditional gender roles reinforcing double standards. (

    A study shows that in Thailand, “tradtionally, socially women have been assigned a place lower than me, which means that afamily’s meager resources will tend not to be invested in a dughter. ( 520, Therefore, “stimuli and opportunities for self-improvement are lacking.” ( 520,;;;


    Thanks for your comment.

    I agree with you in that “the article would have been more helpful to discuss general tendencies in Thai culture, with more in the way of support” than my personal opinion. I apologize for failing to do so.

    But, in a culture where collectivism is much stronger than individualism like Thailand (, defining one's identity or individualism or even their mindsets based on generalized assumption is not an offensive thing in a culture of collectivism unlike it is in a cultural setting where individualism is highly emphasized (i.e. many Western cultures). I can say this because I spent 15 years of my life in a society of a strong collectivism and another 14 years in a culture, where individualism is much stronger than collectivism. Hence, the community standard often defines one’s identity, thoughts, preference, or behavior based on which individual characteristics of a person are formed in a collectivist society. Rather, they take it as a shame to fall outside of that community standard. In fact, rather, they’ll find it offensive if you tell them they fall outside of what is called the community standard or norm, or you tell them that they think outside of box.

    Lastly, I cited the poet because literary works often well reflect one's culture or tradition.

  5. Once again,

    thank you for your comments.

  6. Anonymous10:36 PM


    Thank you for your thoughtful clarifications and citations. And I agree with you that literary works often provide insight into cultures and traditions, and do apologize if my comment appeared to imply otherwise.

  7. Anonymous,

    I am just grateful that I had your attention :) Please continue to visit our blog and help us spread the words for human trafficking victims.