For many years, Thailand has had an unwarranted reputation as a place where Western men could come to have sex with children. In the last few years, the Thai police have taken the prosecution of these men very seriously, yet the sad and terrifying fact is they still come to Thailand.
What is even sadder and more terrifying is that many of these men come to Thailand to be teachers. Without proper qualifications or experience, often without even a college degree, they manage to walk into a Thai school and procure themselves a job. Within days of getting off the plane, some of them are already at work in the classroom, with as much access to Thai children as they want.
The only reason for this is Thailand’s shortage of Western teachers and a previous lack of background checks on the part of the Thais.
Thailand was in the news again recently because of the international manhunt of an accused pedophile, who was eventually caught in Thailand. Christopher Neil was arrested in Nakhon Ratchasima just over a week after he had arrived here and charged with child sexual abuse. He is wanted in South Korea, Cambodia and Vietnam for similar charges. He was also a teacher.
Last year, another suspected pedophile, American John Mark Karr, was arrested by Thai police after he confessed to killing an American child, Jon Benet Ramsey. After being returned to the USA, the charges were dropped against him when DNA samples couldn’t connect him with Jon Benet. While he was in Thailand, he had been fired from two teaching jobs after the staff at the school felt uncomfortable about him being around children.
These are just two of the numerous Western men who come to Thailand thinking they can get away with having sex with children, something that would be much more difficult for them to do in their own country. In Thailand, in the past, it has been easier for them because of the trusting nature of the Thais and also because teachers are highly revered in this traditional Buddhist culture.
However, since the John Mark Karr incident, things have been changing and changing for the better. Now, when you apply for a teaching job anywhere in Thailand, you have to have a certified police background check either from a Thai police station or from a police body in your country of origin.
To be especially careful, some schools will only accept police reports from the country of origin of a teacher. This has proven useful in some instances as some of these pedophiles are wanted by law enforcement in their own countries. The last thing they want to do is to have to get a police report from them.
Gone also are the days of the easy ‘visa run’. Many Westerners used to live in Thailand illegally by doing a visa run to Cambodia once a month. From Bangkok, the visa run there and back only takes about 6 hours and, once back in Thailand, you were given another 30 day stay in the country. Now, the visa laws have changed, and a Westerner without a proper visa is only allowed to do three 30 day visa runs, before they are forced to leave the country and get a proper visa for Thailand.
What this has done is to dissuade some pedophiles from coming here, as they do not want to have to go to a Thai embassy overseas for a visa, in case their name comes up on a list of wanted pedophiles.
The Thai Department of Education is also clamping down on fake college degrees. Before the Jon Mark Karr incident, it used to be you could go to Khao San Road in Bangkok and buy a fake college degree for around $6. The Department of Education didn’t check the degree when you submitted it with your work permit application, so you were immediately eligible for many more teaching jobs.
Now, college degrees are checked and I know of at least four English teachers that have been caught and deported from Thailand when it was found their degrees were fake.
Finally, the Thai police have been doing spot checks of schools all over Bangkok, arriving at the school without warning and asking for Western teachers’ work permits and college degrees. When this first started, there were reports of several schools that had Western teachers desperately trying to escape out of back doors or up on the roof, hoping to evade the police until they had left the school.
Of course, some Westerners are complaining about this. It’s unfair of the Thais to mandate these new laws; it’s ridiculous to expect Westerners to comply. But for those of us who came here to teach, are qualified, and do care about the safety of Thai children, we are happy the Thai government has instituted these rules. As a Westerner, It’s embarrassing to have these awful men in Thailand, but it’s incredibly sad to think the Thais might believe these men are good examples of average Westerners.
Thanks to the Thai government and police, the days of free passes for Western pedophiles in Thailand are coming to a close. Now, if you’re really thinking Thailand is the place to find an 8 year old child, think again. The Thai police have other ideas.