Fighting for the Rights of Thai Women

Thai girls at work

Nearly 150 years ago, King Rama IV abolished a long standing law that treated women as cattle. Up until 1867, husbands and fathers were allowed to buy and sell women without their consent. The King announced that from this date, women were allowed to choose their own husbands. He also said that women weren’t possessions and couldn’t be sold as slaves without their consent. Despite all of this time passing, Thai culture, and more importantly, Thai law, do not see women as equal to men. In particular, a fight is continuing at the moment regarding marital rape. In front of me I have a copy of the Thai Penal Code. It is Section 276 that many people argue that should be changed. This is what it says:

Whoever has sexual intercourse with a woman, who is not his wife, against her will, by threatening by any means whatsoever, by doing any act of violence, by taking advantage of the woman being in the condition of inability to resist, or by causing the woman to mistake him for the other person, shall be punished with imprisonment of four to twenty years and a fine of Bt8,000 to Bt40,000.

What is so wrong here are the words “who is not his wife”. Social activists want this part deleted for good reason as it basically gives permission to husbands to rape their wives as they please without having to worry about consequences. A wife could be separated from her husband and living elsewhere. But he can come and rape her at any time with the full blessing of the law. There is nothing she can do to stop him. Divorce laws in Thailand don’t treat each party equally. If a man has an affair with another women or sleeps with a prostitute his wife cannot use this as a reason to divorce. However, if she sleeps with another man, then he can divorce her with no problem. The only way she can divorce her husband is if he agrees or if he has another women who he supports as if she is his wife. The same goes for engaged couples who are not even married. If the woman has an affair with another man, then her future husband can sue her and that other man for damages. But, it is perfectly alright by law for him to have an affair during their engagement.

This attitude towards women is so embodied into Thai society that it is difficult to change. But, it must change if women are to be protected and to be treated as equals. Things are certainly moving. Women can now keep their family name when they marry. They also hold more important posts today compared to just a few years ago. But, changes are coming at a slow pace. This amendment to the law is being put to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) at the moment but unfortunately it is facing delays because of the drafting of the new Constitution and the present political climate. Although Section 276 is pretty bad, I think they also need to look at one of the clauses of Section 277 as well. This talks about sexual intercourse with a girl not yet over fifteen years of age. This is the clause that I find shocking:

“If the offender being the man commits against the girl over thirteen but not yet over fifteen years of age with her consent and the court grants such man and girl to marry together afterwards, the offender shall not be punished for such offense. If the Court grants them to marry together during the time the offender is imprisoned, the Court shall release such offender.”

This is so distasteful. Who in their right mind would later marry someone who had just raped them? The problem here is that it is open to abuse. The parents of the girl could come to some kind of monetary agreement with the offender. For example, if he paid them a certain amount of money then he would then be allowed to marry their daughter. If the girl is less than fifteen she is certainly not going to be able to have any say in this matter. I really hope that the NLA will take a close look at this clause at the same time. I know what their argument is going to be. They will say that the girl has already been ‘damaged” and that as she has already lost her virginity no other man would want to marry her. So, if the offender agrees, then they should be allowed to marry for the sake of the girl. That argument is so wrong. It again treats women (and girls) as if they are possessions. It is like nothing has progressed in the last 150 years. Let’s hope that the NLS can set things right sooner rather than later.

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