KIDS FOR SALE
by Bob Herbert
"Sometimes you just have to swallow hard and drink another gin," said the teen-aged prostitute in Bangkok, Thailand. "I couldn't get through some nights unless I was drunk."
It is possible but not easy to imagine lives more hideous than those of the generations of children who are fed like cheap fuel into Thailand's flourishing sex industry. In some Thai villages, girls are dragged out of school as early as the sixth grade and taken to the brothels of Bangkok and other centers of the sex trade.
"A 10, you are a woman," according to a popular saying in Bangkok's red-light district. "At 20, you are an old woman. At 30, you are dead."
The demand for the young girls seems limitless. Each year tens of thousands of sex tourists from Germany alone visit Thailand, according to the international children's advocacy group Terre des Hommes. About 10 percent of the German sex tourists engage in sex with minors, the group said.
The traffic in very young girls has been accelerated by the mistaken but widespread belief that they are less likely to be infected with the AIDS virus.
"How would you like to marry a 14-year-old Asian virgin?" asks a brochure put out by Peter Stanton of PVS Publications in Santa Monica, Calif. Stanton offers a travel guide to the sexual resorts of Southeast Asia and personalized "Sex Tours to Thailand." Stanton's brochure asks, "Did you know you can actually buy a virgin girl for as little as $200?"
Stanton of PVS Publications indicated in a telephone conversation that increasing attention to the problem of child prostitution in Thailand was having an effect. "It used to be easy to get girls under 18," he said.
Now, he said, "You have got to be careful because the Thai police don't want any bad publicity, and they don't want any news media going out there and finding any tourists with young girls."
On the tours he arranges, Stanton said, the client is hooked up with a "private tour guide" in Bangkok. The tour guide introduces the client to girls, who will be over 18, he said. But if the client wants someone younger, he should tell the guide, he said, and she would likely "take you to some of the local Thai brothels."
As for AIDS, Stanton blithely insisted there is no need to worry. He said, "There are a lot of researchers now who say HIV is not the cause of AIDS, and HIV is not sexually transmitted."