A Timely Study Highlights Violence Against Thai Women

“This is the first study ever conducted in Thailand on this issue and it has made us better aware of the extent of violence that women experience in our country,” noted study team member Dr. Churnrurtai Kanchanachitra of Mahidol University. “The findings help to develop the national plan for the elimination of violence against women and children.”

Such a national plan will need to take into account women’s concerns about Thailand‘s proposed domestic violence law. “It’s simply too weak,” according to law student Areewan Jatuthong, quoted in the Bangkok Post. Jatuthong, a former beauty queen, was a victim of domestic violence; her ex-husband received a sentence of six years in jail for his acts of abuse, humiliation, and control. But a draft of the pending domestic violence bill would allow a man like Jatuthong’s former spouse to walk out of jail in six months or less, and/or be fined only 5,000 baht (about $125). The bill also discounts marital rape and allows only three months for victims to press charges.

The draft bill has other troubling aspects. The police, known for ignoring and trivializing domestic violence in Thailand, are vested with near total power over complaints and judges have the authority to decide on measures they think will keep the family together. Reconciliation and out of court settlements are encouraged.

Psychiatrists and some police have joined women’s groups in criticizing the bill. They say it doesn’t address the problem of marital rape and may not apply to gay couples. Further, an “accident” provision could provide a loophole that would allow abusers to avoid prosecution. A three month statute of limitations is considered too short, and weak sentencing is a concern. Critics allege that the emphasis on family over victim’s rights is detrimental, and worry that the police, the courts, and victims’ relatives have too much say in deciding the victims’ futures. They are also advocating for the training of police and judges.

First introduced in 2002, the bill has been approved by the Cabinet and its details are now under scrutiny by the Council of State, the government’s legal arm. Once it passes the council’s review, it will go to Parliament for debate and voting. Public hearings are scheduled to take place around the country; they are likely to be watched closely in view of remarks made recently by Watana Muangsook, head of the sponsoring Social Development and Human Security Ministry, who called for women to be subservient to their husbands.

The WHO report, based on interviews with more than 24,000 women in 11 countries, reveals that domestic violence is more widespread than formerly acknowledged. Intimate partner violence is the most prevalent form in women’s lives, far exceeding assault or rape by strangers or acquaintances. “The study shows how important it is to shine a spotlight on domestic violence globally and treat it as a major public health issue,” said Dr. Lee Jong-wook, director general of WHO when the study was released in Geneva, Switzerland, on Nov 24.

The study recommends a range of interventions aimed at changing attitudes and challenging social norms that perpetuate abuse. It promotes the idea of integrating violence prevention programming into ongoing initiatives targeting children, youth, HIV/AIDS, and sexual and reproductive health. Training health care providers and strengthening support systems are also among the recommendations.

“Domestic violence can be prevented and governments and communities need to mobilize to fight this widespread problem,” said Dr. Claudia Garcia Moreno, the WHO study’s coordinator. “We need to stop the violence from happening in the first place, and to provide help and support to women who are in abusive relationships.”

According to WHO, domestic violence affects women’s sexual and reproductive health and can increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Pregnancy, often viewed as a time to protect women, can make women more vulnerable to violence. In some countries, between four and 12 percent of women report being beaten while pregnant, more than 90 percent of them by the father of the unborn baby.

“For policymakers, the greatest challenge is that abuse remains hidden,” the report states. But Thailand now has an opportunity to accept that challenge and ensure a strong and relevant legal environment in which to combat the growing problem.


Elayne Clift writes about women, health, and development. She is spending a year teaching and writing in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This article was originally published in The Vermont Guardian, (www.VermontGuardian.com)