It was not unexpected because no one knows about such operations. Everyone knows about it; seeing a pitiable young girl selling roses late at night in a bar or restaurant is one of the most depressing sights a tourist sees in Phuket. And they see it.
The news was unexpected because no law-enforcement official on the island has ever publicly made such arrests. And that single, sickening fact breeds suspicion to the deepest level.
Worse, the gang taken down was operating at an undisclosed venue in Muang District, not the hotbed of Patong, where they are seen night after night – and where tourists are stuck with the quandary of whether to give the child some money in the hope they won’t be beaten on returning to their masters with an empty purse, or to send them away penniless in the hope the operators start to understand there is no money to be made by such an unscrupulous scheme.
Yet The Phuket News understands that the press conference announcing the arrests was held at Patong Police Station to send a very clear message. It is impossible for any police officer who has done the rounds in any tourist hotspots on the island to say he has never seen such children in bars and restaurants late at night – and yet it has been allowed to continue.
As Lt Gen Jaruwat Waisaya, Commander of the Royal Thai Police Office of Legal Affairs and Litigation, explained last week, Bangkok knows better. Officers were dispatched from the capital to investigate. Local police were left out of the loop. If that is what it takes, then good.
Oddly, Gen Jaruwat also pointed out that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan both had an active interest in the case. That begs the question why, when Phuket is certainly not special in this ugly side of life in Thailand.
To that, if this is what the US Government meant when it said Thailand was not doing enough to uphold labour laws, they were very polite about it. If this is even only a small part of the fallout from the threat to suspend benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for Thailand amounting to over S$1.3 billion (B39.2 billion), we welcome it.
On this issue, we don’t care where the pressure comes from. We prefer it to come from within Thailand, for Thais to do more to protect Thai children, but if this is it, so be it.
Gen Jaruwat in announcing the arrests got one thing right: “This cannot be tolerated.”