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. Police arrested suspects in 65 percent of sexual assault cases reported from January to mid-September.
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, depending on such factors as age of the victim, severity of the assault, use of a weapon, participation of multiple assailants, and the physical and mental condition of the victim afterward. The law also provides that any person convicted twice for the same type of criminal rape within three years may receive increased penalties for recidivism. According to court records, authorities filed 3,933 cases involving sexual assault in 2015, compared with 5,310 cases in 2014.
NGOs believed rape to be a serious problem. Academics and women’s rights activists maintained that a measure in the law that allows for offenders younger than 18 years to avoid prosecution by choosing to marry their victim constituted a violation of women’s rights. They also maintained that victims underreported rapes and domestic assaults, in part due to a lack of understanding by police, prosecutors, and judges of gender and women’s rights matters 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. Police sought to change this perception by encouraging women to report sexual crimes. NGOs lobbied for more female investigators in police stations to deal with cases of violence against women, and police made some efforts to increase women’s enrollment into the Police Cadet Academy. Female officers constituted approximately 8 percent (or 17,000) of police personnel countrywide, the same as reported in 2015. There were an estimated 300 female police investigators nationwide, with 130 based in Bangkok.
Domestic violence against women was a significant problem. The Ministry of Public Health operated one-stop crisis centers that provide information and services to victims of physical and sexual abuse throughout the country. The law provides authorities, with court approval, the power to prohibit offenders from remaining in their homes or contacting family members during trial. The law also 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 voiced concern the law–with a family unity approach–may put undue pressure on a victim to compromise without addressing safety issues and has led to a low conviction rate.
Authorities prosecuted some domestic violence crimes, particularly cases where the perpetrator seriously injured the victim, under provisions for assault or violence against a person, where they could seek harsher penalties. Domestic violence frequently went unreported, however, and police often were reluctant to pursue reports of domestic violence. NGO-supported programs included emergency hotlines, temporary shelters, and counseling services to increase awareness of domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, and other matters involving women. 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. Government hospitals referred abused women to private organizations when in-hospital services were not available.
The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, which collects data on victims who seek legal assistance under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act, reported 363 cases of domestic violence nationwide as of September, compared with 294 cases reported during the first eight months of 2015.
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 international or 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 ($560) for those convicted of sexual harassment. The punishment depends on the degree of harassment. Abuse categorized as an indecent act may result in a maximum 15 years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of 30,000 baht ($840). The penalty depends upon the degree of severity and the age of the victim. 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. Data on the numbers of abusers prosecuted, convicted, and punished were unavailable.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The publicly funded medical system provided access to contraceptive services and information, prenatal care, skilled attendance during childbirth, and essential obstetric and postpartum care.
According to estimates by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 76 percent of women and girls between 15 and 49 years used a modern contraception method during the year. Officials estimated more than 93 percent of women could access prenatal and postnatal care, and UNFPA reported that skilled health-care personnel attended approximately 100 percent of births. UNFPA estimated the adolescent birth rate was 60 births per 1,000 girls between 15 and 19 years. The Ministry of Education provided sex education in schools, but the rising number of adolescent pregnancies and increases in emergency contraception and unsafe abortions suggested a need to increase access to sexual and reproductive health services, according to UNFPA. Access to health services, including reproductive health, for displaced persons living along the border with Burma was limited.
Discrimination: The interim constitution purported to protect “all human dignity, rights, liberties, and equality of the people.” The 2016 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.”
Women generally enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. Nonetheless, women sometimes experienced discrimination. In 2015 the government passed the Gender Equality Act, imposing a maximum jail term of six months or a maximum fine of 20,000 baht ($560), or both, for anyone committing 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 faced discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.). The law prohibits discriminatory hiring practices common in the workplace, although the law remained untested as of September.
Women were unable to confer citizenship to their noncitizen spouses in the same way as male citizens.
Military academies (except for the nursing academy) refused admittance to female students, although a significant number of instructors were women. According to the Ministry of Defense’s Personnel Directorate, 80 women held the rank of general or its equivalent across all military branches and within the Ministry of Defense as of August, a decrease from 96 in 2015. 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. During the year the Royal Thai Air Force accepted the first two women into its pilot training program. Women also accounted for approximately 20,700 of the country’s 230,000 military personnel.
The Police Cadet Academy for commissioned officers accepted female cadets and reserved 70 of 280 places in the cadet class for women. The first female cadet class graduated from the four-year program in 2013, and four groups of 70 women have graduated from the program and serve throughout the country. According to the Office of the Civil Service Commission, women held 19 percent of executive-level civil service positions (or 211 of 1,097 positions), a slight increase from 2015.
The government designed its Bureau of Women’s Affairs and Family Development to promote the legal rights of women, notably under the Bureau of Gender Equality Promotion, but it is not an independent agency. It worked with NGOs, but it did not take a leading role in women’s rights.
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.). According to NGOs 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: Many NGOs reported that children of registered migrant workers, particularly in Samut Sakhon, Kanchanaburi, Ranong, and Chiang Mai Provinces and Mae Sot District of Tak Province, had more limited access to schooling due to frequent relocation to new job sites, distance from school, and a lack of Thai language abilities. Many children attended migrant learning centers at the primary level instead of government schools, which limited migrant students’ opportunities beyond primary education because the government did not officially recognize the centers. Migrant children also remained without access to community services provided to children attending public schools, such as day-care centers and government-subsidized free milk and lunch. Migrant workers who could afford it often chose to send their children to private nurseries or day-care centers at their own expense.
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 imposes a term of seven to 20 years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of 40,000 baht ($1,120) for sexual intercourse with a victim younger than 13 years. If the victim is between 13 and 15 years, the penalty for conviction is four to 20 years’ imprisonment and the same range of fines.
Police showed reluctance to investigate abuse cases, and rules of evidence made prosecution of child abuse difficult. The law provides for protection of witnesses, victims, and offenders younger than 18 years in abuse and pedophilia cases. With a judge’s consent, children may testify on videotape in private surroundings in the presence of a psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker. Many judges, however, declined to use videotaped testimony, citing technical problems and the inability to question accusers and defendants directly in court. Some children’s advocates claimed sexually abused girls received better physical and psychological care than male victims. Authorities charged persons accused of pedophilia under appropriate age-of-consent laws and, in cases of the commercial sexual exploitation of children, prostitution laws.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage for both sexes is 17 years, while anyone younger than 20 years requires parental consent. A court may grant permission to marry for children between 15 and 16 years. Awareness programs by Islamic committees and government agencies sought to prevent child marriage under Islamic tradition.
NGOs noted that early forced marriage between student teenagers who become pregnant, a practice to “save face” and protect the baby’s legal status, appeared to be increasing as the country’s teenage pregnancy rate also increased.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Information is provided in the Women’s subsection above.
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. The law also requires that a customer who purchases sexual intercourse with a child younger than 15 years be subject to two to six years in prison and a maximum fine of 120,000 baht ($3,360). If the child is between 15 and 18 years, the prison term is one to three years and a maximum fine of 60,000 baht ($1,680). Authorities may also 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 penalty for conviction is a maximum imprisonment of three years or a maximum fine of 6,000 baht ($168), or both. 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 prostitution remained a problem. According to government officials, academics, and NGO representatives, boys and girls, especially among migrant populations and ethnic minorities, were coerced or lured into prostitution. Children from 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.
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 also arrested children, many of whom were trafficking victims, for begging on the streets. 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.
National reports on child labor often omitted street children, and national statistics on street children often included only citizens. There was no reliable data on the number of beggars. This population included children who were homeless, kidnapped, or deployed by their parents, and many were trafficking victims.
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The resident Jewish community is very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts. 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
Prior to the 2014 coup, the constitution and law prohibited discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. Although coup leaders suspended the constitution, laws pertaining to persons with disabilities remained intact. The 2016 constitution prohibits discrimination based on disability and physical or health conditions.
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 does not require government entities to install accessible street curbs when they repair or construct roads.
The law entitles persons with disabilities who register with the government to free medical examinations, wheelchairs, and crutches. The government provided five-year, interest-free, small-business loans for persons with disabilities.
The government’s Community-based Rehabilitation Program and the Community Learning Center for People with Disabilities project operated in all provinces.
The government maintained 46 separate schools for students with disabilities and 77 education centers for 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. According to the Ministry of Education, an estimated 337,144 students with disabilities attended 48 schools designed specifically for students with disabilities and some of the 213,000 regular schools nationwide. There were also eight government-operated and at least 23 NGO-operated training centers for persons with disabilities, including both full-time and part-time or seasonal centers. The government operated 11 government shelters and nine rehabilitation centers specifically for persons with disabilities, including two day-care centers for autistic children. Private associations also provided occasional training for persons with disabilities.
Some employers subjected persons with disabilities to wage discrimination (see section 7.d.).
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. The government supported efforts to register citizens and educate eligible hill tribe members about their rights. Despite such efforts, activists reported widespread corruption and inefficiency, especially among hill tribe village heads and district and subdistrict officials, that contributed to a persistent backlog of citizenship applications and to improperly denied applications. According to the Ministry of the Interior’s Department of Provincial Administration, more than 400,000 persons were waiting for authorities to process their citizenship applications.
Hill tribe members faced societal discrimination arising in part from the perception that many of them were involved in drug trafficking, contributed to environmental degradation, and posed a threat to national security.
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.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) groups could register with the government, although there were some restrictions on terminology used in registering their group names. The 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 2015 Gender Equality Act prohibits discrimination “due to the fact that the person is male or female or of a different appearance from his/her own sex by birth.”
A local NGO reported that police and military targeted transgender persons for harassment and discrimination in the tourist city of Pattaya, which is known for its transgender performers.
University authorities allowed transgender students to participate in commencement ceremonies and sit for examinations while wearing gender-specific uniforms of their choice on a case-by-case basis. At the same time, university authorities usually required students to obtain official permission before they could wear their chosen uniform. Such permissions remained voluntary at each school.
There was some commercial discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, some life insurance companies refused to issue policies to gay men, although some companies also expressed willingness to sell policies to LGBTI workers with provisions for full transfer of benefits to same-sex partners. NGOs reported more insurance companies began to accept same-sex partner beneficiaries, but this remained at the company’s discretion. NGOs alleged some nightclubs, bars, hotels, and factories denied entry or employment to LGBTI individuals, particularly transgender persons.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Persons with HIV/AIDS faced psychological stigma associated with rejection by family, friends, colleagues, teachers, and the community, although intensive educational efforts by the government and NGOs may have reduced this stigma in some communities. There were reports some employers refused to hire persons who tested positive for HIV following employer-mandated blood screening.