In Bullying Around the World

Bullying in Thailand

Introduction

In the past century, Thailand established a reputation of being a tolerant nation, accepting of people and different cultures from around the world. In general, the Thai people are individualistic, freedom loving, generous of spirit, and happy.

When it comes to tourist spending, the Mastercard’s 2014 Global Destination Index ranked Bangkok as the second most popular travel destination in the world after London. Bangkok beat London in the number of annual tourist visitors. Other parts of Thailand are also popular, such as the beach area surrounding Phuket, which became infamous for all the deaths and destruction from the tsunami that hit the area in 2004. Rebuilding most of the areas damaged by the tsunami happened quickly after the disaster, thanks to the thriving tourist industry.

Even though 95% of Thais practice Buddhism, religious freedom has protection in the Thai Constitution. About 4% of the population is Muslim and 1% of the population is Christian, Hindi, or other religions. Radical Islamists are virtually non-existent.

The King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, is beloved by his people. At the age of 88, he is the world’s longest standing monarch alive today. He became King of Thailand in 1946 at the age of nineteen when his brother died. All his life, he did a lot charity work to help his people and conducted many lavish Royal ceremonies. He is the symbolic leader of the Thai people.

The King takes no active role in the governance of the nation, except for adding his signature to the Thai Parliamentary decrees, because prior to his monarchy, the previous King Ananda Mahidol granted the Thai people a constitution in 1932, making the government rule independent of the monarchy.

The Economist reports the King is very ill. His successor is Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn who is very unpopular unfortunately. The threat of the king’s death destabilized the Thai government in recent years.

Currently, the Thai military controls the country as a dictatorship. Protests against the government do happen and can become violent. TIME reports the recent military coup in May 2014 that ousted the democratic government has many complaining about government bullying, corruption of officials, and various forms of police harassment and “shake-downs” by police.

This is the twelfth military coup since the first one that happened in 1932. The military intent was to stabilize the country before the King’s death. Their brutal actions during the coup and police bullying thereafter, may achieve just the opposite.

Tourists, visiting Bangkok, say that they are frequently stopped by police, while walking through the entertainment districts, looking for a taxi, or on the way home from a night out. Police force some tourists to submit to an on-the-spot urine test for drug usage.

Those who fail the test or those who refuse to take it must pay a fine of 20,000 Thai baht (about US$600). For littering a cigarette butt, the fine is 2,000 Thai baht (about US$60). More information about this rather new phenomenon is in the section on police bullying.

Thailand is has a good international reputation for its tolerance of LGBT tourists. Yet, in Thai schools discrimination and bullying of LGBT teens is rampant.

Bangkok is the number one city in the world for sexual tourism. The thriving sex industry in Thailand is famous worldwide. Its darker side represents a significant problem of child abuse and human trafficking.

Therefore, it seems there may be more bullying going on in Thailand than first appears, when a deeper examination is made of bullying in Thailand.

Political Bullying Facts

The definition of political bullying is two-fold in the case of Thailand. There was the political bullying in the past by the much stronger foreign powers of Britain and France. Then, there is the contemporary political bullying by those who hold power in the Thai government, which affects the Thai people and those visiting the country.

History of Bullying in Thailand

The history of Thailand, previously known as Siam, includes how foreign powers bullied the country. In the early 1900s, Siam lost it control over Cambodia, Laos, and Northern Malay to the British and the French invaders.

The history also shows how the many military coups used political bullying to gain control over the country on multiple occasions. Thailand swung back and forth for decades between having a democratic government and military rule by dictatorship. Often, the military blames dissent on foreign or “western” influences.

As expressed in the essay by Nidhi Eoseewong, a famous Thai historian, called “The Thai Cultural Constitution,” if the military’s involvement in Thai society is reasonably benign or even helpful in protecting citizens from bureaucratic bullying or criminal extortion, the Thai people think of the military as “big brothers” who protect them.

Quotes from the Thai Cultural Constitution essay, say that it is better to have a group like the military that can influence strong powers, such as a corrupt bureaucracy, over which the public has little control. That is why the Thai people generally look up to the Thai military.

However, when the military makes the move to rule politically with brute force, the response from the Thai people is protest. Such protest usually leads to violence as it did in 1992, after a military coup, which culminated in the military firing upon the protest crowd and killing many people.

The history of bullying in schools in Thailand has only about three decades of research as noted in a paper published in the International Journal of Cyber Society and Education in 2013, called “Bullying and Cyberbullying in Thailand: A Review.” The 2013 review found only eight published papers about bullying in Thailand at that time. In those papers, few of them (only three out of eight) made the distinction between regular offline bullying and cyberbullying. Regardless of the limited statistics on bullying in Thailand, it is clear from the studies that bullying is a significant problem in Thai schools and there is a need for more effort to prevent it from occurring.

Types of Bullying in Thailand

In the Thai language, there is more than one word to describe bullying behavior.

These words are:

  • “nisai mai dee” – general bad behavior
  • “klang” – bad verbal behavior
  • “tum raai” bad physical behavior
  • “rang kae” – a more contemporary term for physical aggression
  • “kaow raow” – general aggression

Why people bully in Thailand is similar to why people bully elsewhere. The bullies assert themselves over whom they perceive as weaker, different, or vulnerable. The 2013 Review, concluded, just like in other countries, victims of bullying in Thailand are likely to have low self-esteem and bullies are likely to have experienced troubles at home, such as domestic violence.

Thailand Bullying Statistics

The 2013 Bullying and Cyberbullying in Thailand review reports that the Thai population is more than 65 million, and of those people:

  • 28% have Internet access that is regularly available
  • 26% have one or more mobile phones
  • 16% use Facebook

Bullying in Thailand Facts and Laws

UNESCO notes that the Thai Constitution says that every child has the right to receive an education in an environment that is safe.

The Thai Hotline says that the Thai laws, which protect children from bullying, include the Child Protection Act, B.E. 2546 Sec. 27. This act makes it illegal in Thailand for anyone to advertise and/or distribute in any way on any media, information about any child or guardian of that child, with the intent to cause damage to the mind, prestige, reputation, or any of the other interests of the child, or to seek benefits for oneself or for others in any illegal manner.

The Thai Hotline notes that online defamation is illegal under the Thailand Computer Crime Act (2007) Chapter 1 “Computer-Related Offences: Sec. 14”, which makes it illegal to import false data into any computer. False data includes defamation data, which is covered under Title XI “Offences Against Liberty and Reputation.”

Defamation can be against an individual or a family. Harsher penalties exist for defamation by publication. The definition of defamation against an individual is a person who says anything about another person (to a third person); in such as way as to degrade the reputation of that person that exposes him or her to hatred or scorn.

The definition of defamation against a family is a person who says anything to a third person about a deceased person in such as way as to degrade the reputation of the father, mother, spouse, or child of the deceased person, which exposes them to hatred or scorn.

The punishment for defamation is a prison sentence of up to one year and/or a fine of up to 20,000 baht (about US$600). Publication of the defamation in a drawing, painting, document, movie film, photo, audio recording, video, or visible letters by any means, or by broadcasting, or by distribution using any other means, increases the punishment to imprisonment for up to two years and/or a fine of up to 200,000 baht (about US$6,000).

Anyone subject to an action by someone else that violates either the Child Protection Act or the Thailand Computer Crime Act should file a formal complaint with the High-Tech Crime Unit of the Royal Thai Police.

Thai laws against bullying include The Gender Equality Act, passed in 2015 as reported by the Human Rights Watch. This law prohibits discrimination against any person, male or female, due to having any difference appearance of gender from sex at birth. This act seeks to promote gender equality through social, economic, and political rights.

This act established a fund to pay compensation to victims of gender discrimination. Compensation includes such things as, loss of income, loss of commercial opportunity, heath care expenses as required, including both physical and mental rehabilitation, as well as other expenses. The Gender Equality Act establishes a Gender Promotion Fund to promote gender equality.

Under The Gender Equality Act, any person found guilty of violating its provisions faces a sentence of up to six months in prison and/or a fine up to 20,000 baht (about US$600).

Thailand instituted this new law in 2015 because there were no provisions in the Thai law to prevent unfair gender discrimination and because of the country’s obligation to comply with the international standards of human rights that Thailand agreed to uphold by treaty.

Bullying at Home

UNICEF says that violence against children in Thailand is a major problem. Thai kids are subject to sibling bullying, as well as verbal and physical attacks by their parents. During 2013, over 19,000 Thai children received hospital treatment for abuse and 70% of those children experienced sexual abuse. UNICEF says that most cases of sexual abuse happen at home from known adults and family members. UNICEF registered nearly 150,000 children in its Child Protection and Monitoring System in Thailand of children who experienced abuse, exploitation, neglect and/or violence.

Besides bullying the children, the parents of many Thai children force them into child prostitution. The International Business Times reports that Thailand is one of the top five countries in the world for child prostitution, with estimates of 30,000 to 40,000 children involved in prostitution at any one time and during the past decades up to 800,000 being forced into prostitution before the age of 16.

Primary Bullying, Middle School Bullying, and High School Bullying
A study conducted of 1440 students attending private and public primary schools in the province of Pattani (located in southern Thailand) concluded that 32.9% of the students bullied other children.

Some of the characteristics of the bullies were:

  • Boys were more likely to be bullies than girls were.
  • Bullies were one and one-half times more likely to starting bullying other children around the age of 11-years old or older.
  • The bullies liked to watch action cartoons more than comedy cartoons.
  • Children who witnessed physical abuse at home were four and one-half times more likely to be bullies at school.

UNICEF reports that approximately 32% of Thai children who are 13 to 15-years old experience some form of physical violence from peers. This violence includes physical attacks, fighting, and bullying.

A study published in the Scientific World Journal, surveyed 2,758 Thai teen students from the ages of 13 to 15- years old. Of the schools selected for the survey, 93% of the students at those schools participated in the survey.

This study found the percentage of bullied students to be 27.8%, with males (32.9%) being bullied more than females (23.2%) were.

For the boys who were victims of bullying the predominant forms of bully attack were being:

  • hit
  • kicked
  • pushed
  • shoved around
  • locked in a room

For girls the most common forms of bullying were being:

  • made fun of
  • subjected to sexual jokes, comments, or gestures

For boys the risk factors for being the victim of bullying were:

  • being a younger age in the surveyed group
  • having been in a physical fight
  • being physically inactive
  • truancy (skipping classes or school)
  • psychosocial distress (being lonely, having anxiety, being worried or sad, and/or not having any close friends)

For girls the risk factors for being the victim of bullying were:

  • having been in a physical fight
  • lack of parental bonding
  • psychosocial distress

Another study conducted in the Pattani region, surveyed 244 students, who were between 12 and 19-years old. This study concluded that older students are more likely to be bullies, there was no significant difference between genders of the bullies, and urban schools had a higher prevalence of bullying than rural schools did. The rate of school bullies in this age group studied was 18.5%. This study also concluded that those who witnessed physical violence between parents were more likely to become bullies.

A study of 180 Thai middle school students attending an International School in Bangkok surveyed 87 males and 93 female students. The students were between 11 and 15-years old. The study concluded that there is a direct correlation with lower levels of parental bonding and increased levels of depression in the middle school students surveyed. The study also found that lower levels of parental bonding increased the likelihood that the student would be a victim of bullying. However, increased parental bonding had no impact on reducing the bullying victimization. The study found no significant difference between boys and girls.

In Thailand, school staff also can be bullies. UNICEF reports the use of corporal punishment on students, such as “caning,” in many schools in Thailand, despite the Thai laws that make inhumane punishment of students, with violent force, illegal. Research shows, this type of discipline reduces the academic performance of the students receiving the punishment, making the discipline counter-productive.

University Bullying

Universities in Thailand have hazing rituals for the first-year students, which sometimes lead to death. The Thai university culture upholds the ethos of SOTUS, which stands for Seniority, Order, Tradition, Unity, and Spirit. The Thai word for the hazing ritual is “rab nong.”

The practice came from American universities. Thai students, who went through U.S. military schools during WW II, brought it back to Thailand. Rab nong differs from college to college. Sometimes it is silly fun or simply embarrassing. Occasionally, the hazing gets out of control.

The Southeast Asia Globe reported on one such case. Pokai Saengrojra was a freshman at Pathum Thani Technical College. He went with 40 other students for a night of partying at the beach on August 29, 2014. He was 16-years old and just starting to recover from a diagnosis of leukemia he received two years prior. He underwent hazing, which included drinking huge amounts of alcohol. The senior students then pressed his face into the sand as the tide washed over it. The boy drowned.

Hazing frequently includes senior students yelling at the younger ones and humiliating them. Some students are severely beaten and forced to swallow lit cigarettes.

During 2012, four senior students from Thaivichitsilp Art School in Bangkok received convictions for criminal charges related to a hazing incident. They forced three freshmen to roll in the embers of a fire and the younger students received severe burns.

Many colleges and universities in Thailand now prohibit the hazing practice. Nevertheless, since most of the hazing happens off-campus, it is difficult for the schools to regulate the behavior.

In response to the abusive hazing practices, ANTI-SOTUS groups started on some college campuses. These groups see hazing as an attack on individuality and freedom of speech that forces students to conform to a hierarchical group in order to fit in. They maintain such rituals have a long-term negative effect on Thai society.

Cultural norms do not change easily. A professor at Mahasarakham University, Lalita Hangwong, found this out. When she spoke out condemning hazing, she received death threats and threats of rape.

Cyberbullying

Thailand has cyberbullying laws that prohibit Internet bullying, Facebook bullying, and bullying using other social media. Cyberbullying is a crime, with the possibility of the prosecution of a complaint under the Child Protection Act and/or the Computer Crime Act if defamation is involved. Convictions can land a person in jail for six months up to two years and/or fines from 20,000 baht (about US$600) up to 200,000 baht (about US$6,000).

In spite of these penalties, the facts about cyberbullying show that it is a growing problem in Thailand. A study of 2,500 children, teens, and young adults from the ages of 14 to 24-years old, conducted during 2010 by the Wisdom Society for Public Opinion Research of Thailand found that 43.1% of those surveyed said they received cyberbullying threats in the past.

One conclusion from the study was that children from families that were dysfunctional or where the parents divorced each other were more likely to use the Internet to attack others with cyberbullying. The reason was they wanted to expose the cyberbullying victims to the same kinds of embarrassment, harassment, threats, and violence that the bullies experienced in their own lives.

To combat this growing problem of cyberbullying the study recommends that parents try to get closer to their children, monitor their online activities, and learn more about information technologies, so that they are able to help their children avoid these attacks.
Other recommendations by Thai Hotline are to:

  • Limit where children post personal information
  • Do not escalate the situation, instead change accounts
  • Document all instances of cyberbullying
  • Report illegal activities to the proper authorities

Thai Hotline has an online form to report websites conducting illegal activities.

A study of 1,200 vocational and secondary students in Bangkok concluded that more than half the students (52.4%) experience cyberbullying. The most common form of cyberbullying is receiving electronic messages with vulgar or angry words.

Those who used the Internet for six hours or more per session experienced more cyberbullying than those who used it for less than two hours per session. Having good relationships with the family and never receiving severe punishment had a direct association with less cyberbullying experiences. Moreover, students who came from middle income families earning between 25,000 baht (about US$833) to 50,000 baht (about US$1,666) per month, experienced less cyberbullying than those whose families earned over 50,000 baht (about US$1,666) per month.

LGBT Bullying Mixed with Tolerance

It is shocking that LGBT Bullying is a problem in Thailand, because to foreigners visiting Bangkok, it seems to be one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world. Transgender “Lady Boys” compete in popular beauty contests and are very attractive as females, even though they were born male.

The spiritual practice of 95% of the Thai people is Buddhism. Buddhist monks and nuns take a vow to remain celibate, in order to concentrate on their studies to attain enlightenment. However, for lay people there is no Buddhist condemnation of LGBT people.

The Religious Tolerance website says that the Supreme Buddha was almost completely silent on such things, when he gave his teachings, even though the historical record shows he was certainly aware of the variety of sexual attractions and gender identifications that exist in the human species.

The Supreme Buddha warned against “sexual misconduct,” without clearly defining it. In general, sexual misconduct harms someone. An example would be rape. Consensual sex of any kind between adults that causes no harm is fine. The same thing goes for transgender people. Buddhism has nothing negative to say about them.

With such a spiritual practice to draw upon, one would think that LGBT bullying would be minimal in Thailand. Unfortunately, that is not the case, especially in schools. The problem was so significant, in its negative impact on transgender people that a new law called “The Gender Equality Act,” passed in 2015, making it a crime to discriminate against transgender people in Thailand.

Moreover, the military dictatorship, which is currently is in power due the 2014 coup is allowing efforts to make a new Thai Constitution that will identify transgender people as a third gender, which has all the same rights as the genders of male and female.

Even with all this positive news, there are plenty of examples of LGBT bullying in Thailand. The ways the Thai people define what is a bully differ from other countries, even though what causes bullying, the effects of bullying, and how to deal with bullying, are similar.

The Thai government has a slogan it uses, which is “Go Thai, Be Free!” to attract LGBT tourists, who are a major source of income for the country. The Global Alliance for LGBT Education (GALE) notes that this slogan is great for tourists, yet does not address the problem of LGBT bullying in Thai schools.

Time magazine reported that the warm welcome of LGBT tourists happens because they are a source of income. General members of Thai society ridicule the “Lay Boys” and, in general, the non-LGBT Thai people express various forms of intolerance, sometimes violence, against the Thai LGBT community.

For this reason, a research study entitled “Negotiating Invisibility,” notes that most LGBT Thai people still choose to remain in the closet and keep their sexual orientation a secret. There are no public role models, such as famous actors or Thai athletes who have “come out” as an openly LGBT person.

LGBT Bullying in Thai Schools
UNESCO surveyed 2,070 Thai students from the ages of 13 to 20-years old in five provinces. The experience of the LGBT students, reported in 2014, was the following:

  • 56% were bullied within the past month
  • 31% suffered physical abuse
  • 29% experienced verbal abuse
  • 24% were harassed sexually

UNESCO gives an infographic called “LGBT-Friendly Thailand?” and a summary brief to make it easier to understand the scope of the problem of LGBT bullying in Thai schools.

Incidents of LGBT Bullying included:

  • Female bisexual and lesbian students told by teachers their clothing and hairstyles violate school rules
  • Physical attacks on female bisexual and lesbian students by male students
  • Transgender women told to cut their hair, conceal their breasts, and dress as a male for the graduation ceremony, unless they had already completed a sex change
  • Non-LGBT students being attacked for simply appearing to be LGBT
  • Transgender students discouraged by teachers for wanting to become teachers because, “teachers need to be good role models for students”
  • Families of transgender students refusing to support their children’s’ interest in becoming doctors, lawyers, or engineers, because of the belief they would not be able to find a job in those fields as a transgender person
  • Transgender medical students discouraged from becoming surgeons, because that job requires a “normal” mental state
  • Transgender students discouraged from studying psychology because they have an “abnormal” psychological makeup

Over two thirds (68%) of the LGBT victims of bullying did not seek help and 23% thought nothing would happen if they told someone. It is rare for LGBT bullying cases to become news stories.

LGBT bullying frequently causes a student to skip classes or fail to attend school. Those who are victims of LGBT bullying are at higher risk of becoming clinically depressed, practicing unsafe sex, and attempting suicide.

The UNESCO study concluded the long term effects on students and school communities of LGBT bullying, discrimination, and violence against LGBT people are toxic and long lasting. This is why it is important for everyone at any school to prevent bullying of an LGBT teen.

Teen Suicides in Thailand

The suicide rates in Thailand are much lower than in many other parts of the world. Suicide.org shows Thailand ranking 57th on the list of the Top 100 Countries for Suicides, with around eight suicides per 100,000 in population per year.

A World Health Organization (WHO) report from 2004 shows the rate of suicides per 100,000 Thai teens aged 15 to 19-years old was 5.6, which is 47th on the list of the Top 90 Countries for Teen Suicides. In 2011, the rate of suicides for 15 to 19-year old Thais was only 3.4 per 100,000. About 170 Thai teens committed suicide each year from 2007 to 2011 as reported by the Chiangrai Times, which quoted the numbers given by Dr. Tavee Tangseree, Deputy Director-General of the Mental Health Department of the Thai government’s Health Ministry. There has been concern since then that the suicide rate for Thai youth is rising.

Being a victim of bullying increases the chance of a Thai teen attempting suicide. The UNESCO study concluded that only 1.2% of students who were not bullied attempted suicide, 3.6% of the students who were victims of regular bullying attempted suicide, and nearly 7% of the LGBT students who were victims of bullying, because of sexual or gender orientation, attempted suicide.

Workplace Bullying

Office bullying in other countries is concerned about why people bully at work. This is the bullying by adults of other adults in the work environment. While this certainly happens in Thailand, a more egregious form of workplace bullying is the exploitation of child labor.

The U.S. Department of Labor lists Thailand as one of the countries that exploits children in some of the worst possible ways.

The Thai government, even under the military rule after the 2014, has made improvements in the reduction of abusive child labor practices by raising the minimum working age in the agricultural sector to 15 from 13-years old and by raising the minimum working age in the fishing industry from 16 to 18-years old.

However, 13% of Thai children under the age of 14 have to work. Most of them go to school, work before school, and work afterwards. The worst forced child labor occurs in human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, such as prostitution and making child pornography. The bullying of street children forces them to beg or steal for their handlers. The abused children may be scouts, messengers, informants, and arsonists that bullies force to help organized crime gangs.

Police Bullying

Police bullying in Thailand comes from government corruption. As mentioned previously, Time reported in January 2015 about a surge in “shake-downs” of tourists by the Thai police.

The TIME article says that the rise in police corruption came about after the 2014 military coup disrupted the previous opportunities for corruption by the lower-level Thai street police. The street police, making only about US$1 per hour in salary, faced the loss of bribes from the coup. They turned to attacking tourists to supplement their income loss after the coup.

Corrupt police operate in Thailand with impunity because there is no authority to report the crimes to, since the police are the ones committing the crimes. No one has the power to stop them, except maybe the military. The problem is that high-ranking military members are also on the take.

Random searches by the Thai police of tourists are now common, which force tourists to pay bribes. Bangkok is a party town, yet tourists need to exercise caution when doing recreational drugs. Thailand has the death penalty, which is a possible sentence for drug offenses.

Cornell Law reports there are currently 649 prisoners on death row in Thailand, 47% are there because of drug offense convictions. The last execution of a death row inmate was by lethal injection. This happened to two men during 2009.

In Thailand, receiving a “life sentence” means gong to prison for life with no possibility of ever getting out of prison on parole, unlike other countries. Because of these severe penalties, the Thai police get away with any type of bullying or extortion they want to try.

The reporter for the TIME article wrote about his own illegal detainment by police, who tried to force him to pay over $14,000 for release to avoid a charge of cocaine possession. The police planted the “evidence” against him. The reporter was simply having a drink in a bar, when the police raided the place, produced a bag of white powder, and arrested (kidnapped) all the foreigners in the bar to hold them until they paid bail (ransom).

It is these kinds of stories in the major international press that will ultimately destroy the Thai tourism industry, which accounts for 15% of the Thai GDP.

Military Bullying

Indoctrination of new conscripts (those drafted and forced to be in the military) into the Thai military is sometimes so brutal that the young soldiers die. Such was the case of Wichen Puaksom who, during May 201, left home healthy and eager to serve his country in the Thai military. One month later, the 26-year old was dead.

Puaksom did not die from service in the line of duty. He died from the brutal beatings he received from other military members of his own squad. Lower-ranking soldiers beat him to death for disobeying orders and for trying to escape the military camp.

The Human Right Commission (HRC) investigated a complaint from his family. The HRC concluded that Puaksom received severe beatings over several days until he finally died from the torment. This is just one sad example from many, of what happens in the Thai military when new conscripts encounter brutal military bullying.

After fighting a lengthy legal case, the family of the victim received over 7 million baht (around US$210,000) from the Thai government in compensation for the loss, pain, and suffering. However, the Thai military’s brutal practices remain essentially unchanged.

Conclusion

The Thai government needs to increase anti-bullying efforts especially in schools. Thailand needs to increase nobullying programs in schools in order to stop bullying. The Thai Educational Ministry needs to increase bulling awareness by giving students more bullying information that teaches them how to stop bullies and how to prevent bullying.

These bullying resources need to consider the special needs of LGBT students in light of the new law that protects them from discrimination. Teachers need to stop bullying themselves, such as the tradition of using “caning” as punishment. Teachers need to help parents learn the bullying signs, so the parents of at-risk children know how to handle bullying and how to protect their children, especially from cyberbullying.

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