Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, although the government did not always enforce the law effectively. The law permits authorities to prosecute spousal rape, and prosecutions occurred. The law specifies penalties for conviction of rape or forcible sexual assault ranging from four years’ imprisonment to the death penalty as well as fines.
NGOs asserted rape was a serious problem, and noted a measure in the law allows offenders younger than 18 years to avoid prosecution by choosing to marry their victim. They also maintained that victims underreported rapes and domestic assaults, in part due to a lack of understanding by authorities that impeded effective implementation of the law regarding violence against women.
According to NGOs the government underfunded agencies tasked with addressing the problem, and victims often perceived police as incapable of bringing perpetrators to justice.
In June a female British tourist claimed she was raped while she was vacationing on the resort island of Koh Tao. Initially the police rejected her claim and refused to investigate the incident. Following the incident, authorities arrested 12 Thai persons and charged them with violating the Computer Crimes Act for sharing information about the alleged inadequate police investigation on Facebook.
Domestic violence against women was a significant problem. The Ministry of Public Health operated one-stop crisis centers to provide information and services to victims of physical and sexual abuse throughout the country. The law establishes measures designed to facilitate both the reporting of domestic violence complaints and reconciliation between the victim and the perpetrator. Moreover, the law restricts media reporting on domestic violence cases in the judicial system. NGOs expressed concern the law’s family unity approach puts undue pressure on a victim to compromise without addressing safety issues and led to a low conviction rate.
Authorities prosecuted some domestic violence crimes under provisions for assault or violence against a person, where they could seek harsher penalties. Women’s rights groups reported domestic violence frequently went unreported, however, and police often were reluctant to pursue reports of domestic violence. The government operated shelters for domestic violence victims, one in each province. The government’s crisis centers, located in all state-run hospitals, cared for abused women and children.
The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security continued to develop a community-based system, operating in all regions of the country, to protect women from domestic violence. The program focused on training representatives from each community on women’s rights and abuse prevention to increase community awareness.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No specific law prohibits this practice. NGOs reported that FGM/C occurred in the Muslim-majority south, although statistics were unavailable. There were no reports of governmental efforts to prevent or address the practice.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal in both the public and private sectors. The law specifies maximum fines of 20,000 baht ($600) for those convicted of sexual harassment, while abuse categorized as an indecent act may result in a maximum 15 years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of 30,000 baht ($900). The law governing the civil service also prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates five levels of punishment: probation, docked wages, salary reduction, suspension, and termination. NGOs claimed the legal definition of harassment was vague and prosecution of harassment claims difficult, leading to ineffective enforcement of the law.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The 2017 constitution provides that “men and women shall enjoy equal rights and liberties. Unjust discrimination against a person on the grounds of differences in origin, race, language, sex, age, disability, physical or health condition, personal status, economic or social standing, religious belief, education or political view, shall not be permitted.”
The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security took steps to implement the Gender Equality Act by allocating funding to increase awareness about the Act, and hearing from complainants who experienced gender discrimination. Since the Act became law in 2015, the Ministry of Social Development has received more than 25 complaints, and issued judgement in four cases. The majority of cases related to transgender persons facing discrimination (see subsection on Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity below). Human rights advocates expressed concern about the act’s implementation, given lengthy delays in reviewing individual discrimination complaints, and a lack of awareness about the act among the public and within the ministry’s provincial offices.
Women generally enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, but sometimes experienced discrimination particularly in employment. The law imposes a maximum jail term of six months or a maximum fine of 20,000 baht ($600) or both, for anyone convicted of gender discrimination. The law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender and sexual identity in policy, rule, regulation, notification, project, or procedures by government, private organizations, and any individual, but it also stipulates two exceptions criticized by civil society groups: religious principles and national security.
Women were unable to confer citizenship to their noncitizen spouses in the same way as male citizens.
Women comprised approximately 9 percent of the country’s military personnel. Ministry of Defense policy limits the percentage of female officers to not more than 25 percent in most units, with specialized hospital/medical, budgetary, and finance units permitted 35 percent. Military academies (except for the nursing academy) refused admission to female students, although a significant number of instructors were women.
In August women were banned from applying to the Royal Thai Police Academy. The RTP did not provide an explanation for the decision. Activists criticized the decision as contrary to the aims of the Gender Equality Act. Activists also formally petitioned the Office of the Ombudsman to urge the decision be revisited. Separately, the RTP listed “being a male” as a requirement in an employment announcement for new police investigators. The NHRCT and the Association of Female Police Investigators objected publicly to this announcement. In media reports the RTP cited the need for this requirement given that police investigations require hard work and the perception that female officers take frequent sick leave or abruptly resign.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is conferred at birth if at least one parent is a citizen. Birth within the country does not automatically confer citizenship, but regulations entitle all children born in the country to birth registration, which qualifies them for certain government benefits regardless of citizenship (see section 2.d.). NGOs reported that hill tribe members and other stateless persons sometimes did not register births with authorities, especially births occurring in remote areas, because administrative complexities, misinformed or unscrupulous local officials, language barriers, and restricted mobility made it difficult to do so.
Education: NCPO Order No. 28/2559 provides that all children receive free “quality education for 15 years, from preschool to the completion of compulsory education,” which is defined as through grade nine. NGOs reported children of registered migrants, unregistered migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers also had limited access to government schools.
Child Abuse: The law provides for the protection of children from abuse, and laws on rape and abandonment carry harsher penalties if the victim is a child. The law provides for protection of witnesses, victims, and offenders younger than 18 years in abuse and pedophilia cases. According to advocacy groups, police showed reluctance to investigate abuse cases, and rules of evidence made prosecution of child abuse difficult.
Early and Forced Marriage: According to the Civil and Commercial Code, the minimum legal age for marriage for both sexes is 17 years, while anyone younger than 20 requires parental consent. A court may grant permission for children between 15 and 16 years to marry.
According to the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the country has the second-highest rate of child marriage in Southeast Asia. UNICEF further reported that one in seven Thai teens from 15 to 19 years, is married.
In the Muslim majority southernmost provinces, families may use Sharia (Islamic law) to allow marriages of young girls after their first menstrual cycle, with parental approval. According to media reports, public hospital records in Narathiwat Province indicated that 1,100 married teenage girls gave birth in 2016. In August an 11-year-old Thai girl was returned to Thailand after marrying a 41-year-old Malaysian man. They resided in northern Malaysia but were married in Thailand. Child rights advocates and journalists reported it was common for Malaysian men to cross into Southern Thailand to engage in underage marriages for which getting approval in Malaysia would be impossible or a lengthy process. In December the Islamic Committee of Thailand raised the minimum age for Muslims to marry from 15 to 17 years old. Under the new regulation, however, a Muslim younger than the age of 17 can still marry with a written court order or written parental consent, which will be considered by a special subcommittee of three members, of which at least one member must be a woman with knowledge of Islamic laws. Islamic law is used in place of the Civil Code for family matters and inheritance in the country’s predominantly Muslim southern provinces.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides heavy penalties for persons who procure, lure, compel, or threaten children younger than 18 years for the purpose of prostitution, with higher penalties for persons who purchase sexual intercourse with a child younger than 15. Authorities may punish parents who allow a child to enter into prostitution and revoke their parental rights. The law prohibits the production, distribution, import, or export of child pornography. The law also imposes heavy penalties on persons convicted of sexually exploiting persons younger than 18 years, including for pimping, trafficking, and other sexual crimes against children.
Child sex trafficking remained a problem and the country continued to be a destination for child sex tourism, although the government initiated new programs to combat the problem. Children from migrant populations, ethnic minorities, and poor families remained particularly vulnerable, and police arrested parents who forced their children into prostitution. Citizens and foreign sex tourists committed pedophilia crimes, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
The government made efforts throughout the year to combat the sexual exploitation of children, including opening two new child advocacy centers in Pattaya and Phuket that allow for developmentally appropriate interviews of child victims and witnesses. The centers allowed both forensic interviewing and early social service intervention in cases of child abuse, trafficking, and exploitation. The multiagency Thailand Internet Crimes against Children Task Force also accelerated its operations, leveraging updated regulations and investigative methods to track internet-facilitated child exploitation.
Displaced Children: Authorities generally referred street children to government shelters located in each province, but foreign undocumented migrants avoided the shelters due to fear of deportation. The government generally sent citizen street children to school, occupational training centers, or back to their families with social worker supervision. The government repatriated some street children who came from other countries.
Institutionalized Children: There were limited reports of abuse in orphanages or other institutions.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The resident Jewish community is very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts. During the year Nazi symbols and figures were sometimes displayed on merchandise and used in advertising.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The 2017 constitution prohibits discrimination based on disability and physical or health conditions. The Persons with Disabilities and Empowerment Act establishes the National Commission for the Promotion and Development of Disabled Persons’ Life Quality and sets out its compositions, functions, and powers. The law also establishes an office to implement recommendations of the commission, as well as a fund to be managed by the Office for the Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons. The law provides tax benefits to employers employing a certain number of disabled persons. The tax revenue code provided special income tax deductions to promote employment of persons with disabilities. Some employers subjected persons with disabilities to wage discrimination.
The government modified many public accommodations and buildings to accommodate persons with disabilities, but government enforcement was not consistent. The law mandates persons with disabilities have access to information, communications, and newly constructed buildings, but authorities did not uniformly enforce these provisions. The law entitles persons with disabilities who register with the government to free medical examinations, wheelchairs, and crutches.
The government’s Community-based Rehabilitation Program and the Community Learning Center for People with Disabilities project operated in all provinces. The government provided five-year, interest-free, small-business loans for persons with disabilities.
The government maintained dozens of separate schools and education centers for students and persons with disabilities. The law requires all government schools nationwide to accept students with disabilities, and a majority of schools taught students with disabilities during the year. The government also operated shelters and rehabilitation centers specifically for persons with disabilities, including day-care centers for autistic children.
Disability rights organizations reported difficulty in accessing information about a range of public services, as well as political platforms in advance of elections.
In May the Disabilities Council, together with 100 activists, filed 430 complaints in the Central Administrative Court in Bangkok demanding financial compensation for the city hall’s failure to provide disabled-friendly access to the Bangkok Mass Transit System’s green electric train network. The Disabilities Council indicated Bangkok’s Metropolitan Administration failed to implement the Central Administrative Court ruling of January 2015, which stated that the company must upgrade 23 of its stations and improve access for persons with disabilities in all its train stations within one year after the ruling.
Two groups–former Chinese civil war belligerents and their descendants living in the country for several decades, and children of Vietnamese immigrants residing in 13 northeastern provinces–lived under laws and regulations restricting their movement, residence, education, and access to employment. A law confines the Chinese group to residence in the northern provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Mae Hong Son.
Noncitizen members of hill tribes faced restrictions on their movement, could not own land, had difficulty accessing bank credit, and faced discrimination in employment. Although labor laws give them the right to equal treatment as employees, employers often violated those rights by paying them less than their citizen coworkers and less than minimum wage. The law also limits noncitizens in their choice of occupations. The law further bars them from government welfare services, such as universal health care.
The law provides citizenship eligibility to certain categories of hill tribes who were not previously eligible (see section 2.d.). The government supported efforts to register citizens and educate eligible hill tribe members about their rights.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
No laws criminalize expression of sexual orientation or consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reported that police treated LGBTI victims of crime the same as other persons except in the case of sexual crimes, where there was a tendency to downplay sexual abuse or not to take harassment seriously.
The law does not permit transgender persons to change their gender on identification documents, which, coupled with societal discrimination, limited their employment opportunities.
The United Nations Development Program and NGOs reported that LGBTI persons experienced discrimination, particularly in rural areas. The United Nations Development Program also reported media represented LGBTI persons in stereotypical and harmful ways resulting in discrimination.
The Gender Equality Act prohibits discrimination “due to the fact that the person is male or female or of a different appearance from his or her own sex by birth.” The Act is the first law in Thailand to protect transgender students from discrimination. The country’s Third National Human Rights Plan 2014-2018 includes a “sub-human rights plan” on “persons with different sexual orientation/gender identities.”
NGOs and the United Nations reported transgender persons faced discrimination in various sectors, including in the military conscription process, while in detention, and because of strict school and university uniform policies, which require students to wear uniforms that align with their biological gender. If university or school uniform codes are not followed, students may be denied graduation documents, have their grades deducted, or both. In January the Gender Equality Act’s judicial committee ruled Chiang Mai University had discriminated against transgender students by not allowing them to wear uniforms that correspond to their identified gender in graduation ceremonies. Following the committee’s ruling, the individual students were allowed to wear uniforms that aligned with their identified gender, but the overall policy remained unchanged and in place.
The NHRCT provided advice and support to transgender individuals who faced discrimination during the military conscription process. The NHRCT also represented transgender individuals who faced discrimination in society, including a transgender person who was refused entry to a Bangkok pub.
There was some commercial discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Some social stigma remained for persons with HIV/AIDS despite intensive educational efforts by the government and NGOs. There were reports some employers refused to hire persons who tested positive for HIV.