6 June 2024

Thailand’s sex industry has employed thousands of people for decades, even though soliciting, procuring or operating brothels are all prohibited under the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act of 1996. 

These workers have, to date, been without any legal protection. Now, however, they are eagerly looking forward to the passage of the Sex Workers Protection Bill, which aims to address issues related to exploitation, human trafficking and the protection of workers’ rights.

The experiences of sex workers in Thailand vary greatly. While some may be coerced, trafficked or forced into the industry, some people actively choose sex work as a means of making a living. To provide support to these workers, many agencies have been trying to address the challenges they face.

Service Worker in Group

Established in 2004, the Service Worker in Group, or ‘SWING’ Foundation, is one such organisation, which has been supporting and protecting the health, human rights and dignity of sex workers in Thailand for nearly twenty years.

Surang Janyam, the founder and the Director of the SWING Foundation, said that its aim is to promote the rights of all genders of sex workers. It was, however, challenging as a female activist, who has led many campaigns for LGBTQ+ rights since the foundation was established. She has earned a lot of respect from the LGBTQ+ community.

She said “The root of the problem lies in the economy. A person becomes a sex worker because they want to have a job and earn money, but now we only have laws to punish them, make them illegal, and it doesn’t make their lives better at all.”

Surang Janyam, the founder and the Director of the SWING Foundation

Decriminalize for equality

For Surang, to provide sex workers with a better life, they should be brought under the labour bill, the same as other professions, to promote equality. She said that she doesn’t want to have a new law that legalises this profession, she wants sex work to become a profession that is ‘not illegal’ and to get rid of the law that criminalises it. Then, it would put them on an equal status with other workers.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, sex workers were among those who suffered the most. Surang said that many people became homeless. Most of them used to just live at their place of work so, when it closed, they had to spend nights on the street.

It was a tough time for the foundation, as they had to do whatever they could to support the sex workers. What SWING did was, instead of spending money on clinics or health care services, they used it to provide food for them.

The foundation currently provides health-related services to sex workers, which include blood tests for HIV and syphilis, PrEP medication, hormone level measurements for trans genders, along with condoms and lubricants free of charge.

Surang’s goal is to see that sex work is decriminalised in Thailand. She told Thai PBS World that, in today’s open-minded society, there is a lot of hope that her dream will come true.

by Kitipat Chuensukjit