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Modern Babylon?

Modern Babylon?: Prostituting Children in Thailand

Heather Montgomery
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Modern Babylon?
    Book Description:

    Child prostitution became one of the key concerns of the international community in the 1990s. World congresses were held, international and national laws were changed and concern over "cemmercially sexually exploited children" rose dramatically. Rarely, however, were the children who worked as prostitutes consulted of questioned in this process, and the voices of these children brought into focus. This book is the first to address the children directly, to examine their daily lives, their motivations and their perceptions of what they do. Based on 15 months of fieldwork in a Thai tourist community that survived through child prostitution, this book draws on anthropological theories on childhood and kinship to contextualize the experiences of this group of Thai child prostitutes and to contrast these with the stereotypes held of them by those outside their community.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-476-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    The prostitution of children is not an easy topic to research, to read or to write about. It is a supremely emotive issue, which stands as an affront to accepted notions of appropriate sexuality, to the nature of childhood, and to the responsibilities that adults have towards children. It is unsurprising that so many voices of protest have been raised against it in recent years and that it has become so important an issue for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). It is equally unsurprising that few academics, outside departments of social work or social policy, have shown much interest in it. In...

  6. CHAPTER 1 History and Context
    (pp. 21-52)

    It is, perhaps, a truism that activists in the West need child prostitutes in developing countries far more than child prostitutes need the activists; they fulfil a special need and function in Western iconography. At some level, there is an agreement about what is expected of child prostitutes and how they will be portrayed. The child prostitute has taken on such iconic status that each child’s suffering is no longer seen as the suffering of an individual but has become a stereotype of martyrdom. The assumptions behind this have not been examined, and yet it seems obvious to ask; why...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Cultural Constructions of Childhood
    (pp. 53-68)

    During this century, childhood has come to be regarded as an unchanging and ubiquitous rite of passage through which everyone must go. It is assumed to have certain universal features such as innocence, dependence and happiness which are the ‘natural’ state for all children, regardless of culture or geography. Yet, it is obvious that these ‘natural’ standards are nothing of the sort and that childhood is socially and ideologically constructed. ‘Adulthood is always a matter of social definition rather than physical maturity’ (La Fontaine 1986: 19). There are no universal standards for childhood, except for those imposed by the industrialised...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Child Prostitutes of Baan Nua
    (pp. 69-88)

    Before setting out for Thailand, I had done a great deal of background reading on child prostitution, mostly from newspapers and from NGO reports. I was fascinated by the repetition of the same stories, with the same details that recurred constantly. What also interested me was the gaps and silences in these stories. Despite all the media horror stories that I had read concerning child prostitutes, what struck me most from reading newspaper stories was just how resilient the children seemed to be. They were rarely allowed to speak, unless it was to express sorrow at what had happened to...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Struggles and Contradictions
    (pp. 89-106)

    The children in Baan Nua were caught between many contradictions: between social stigma and community sanction, between force and choice, and between prostitution and the failure to give their families economic support. It is difficult for those outside the community to reconcile these. Yet, in one way or another, many of the children did attempt to make their own sense of these difficulties; through claiming that they chose prostitution, that it fulfilled their familial obligations, or that it was a ticket to another life. Although there were flaws in all these arguments, and the children’s approach to their world was...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Identity and its Difficulties
    (pp. 107-132)

    It is evident that the child prostitutes of Baan Nua challenge many assumptions about how children generally, and child prostitutes in particular, should act. Their stories make uncomfortable reading because they contain none of the elements of helplessness that are expected of children. Issues such as child pimps are particularly hard to deal with as they foreground the children’s agency and their attempts to order and make sense of the world, struggles usually only recognised in adults. The image of child prostitutes that has been received from the media and from NGOs locates their identity solely in their abuse. They...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Protecting Innocence
    (pp. 133-154)

    Child prostitutes are problematic because they challenge many notions about childhood itself, especially what is considered to be appropriate behaviour for children. They are children who are out of place, both physically, because they work when they should be in school and conceptually, in that while they are emotionally and physically children, they have the responsibilities of adults. The contradictions that the children of Baan Nua struggle with as they try to form an identity and self-image are mirrored on a wider conceptual level regarding the very nature of childhood. Child prostitutes who are tricked into brothels and helplessly await...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 155-174)

    The children with whom I worked in Baan Nua were undoubtedly exploited and forced into lifestyles that exposed them to many forms of abuse and oppression. There has been no intention or attempt to justify this in writing this book. However, this abuse does not exist in a vacuum and it needs to be contextualised in order to understand what motivates these children and their families. This is not ‘academic voyeurism’ but an attempt to look at the very few options available to the poor and powerless. Unless other realities and discourses in discussions of child prostitution are acknowledged, any...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 175-188)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 189-192)