Love… Dating… Marriage… Sex… These things may not be on everyone’s to-do list when traveling. But it’s not unheard of for people to fall in love, date, or even get married to someone when they are visiting a foreign country.
While it is perfectly normal, it is also important to understand the different laws and regulations surrounding these situations. Especially if minors are involved, as the laws in foreign countries may be different from the laws you are accustomed to back home.
This article covers the important facts you should know about Thailand age of consent; including explanations about Thailand sex laws and how old one needs to be considered an adult or of legal age in Thailand.
What is Considered a ‘Minor’ in Thailand?
First, let’s take a deeper look at the definition of a ‘minor’. A minor is “a person who is not yet old enough to have the rights of an adult” (1). According to law, minors are persons below adulthood or the legal age of majority. Different countries have different variations for the age of majority. The age of majority can also differ based on different jurisdictions within the same country.
Whatsmore, the definition of the age of the majority can differ according to the type of activity concerned. For instance, there can be different ages of majority defined for marriage, consuming alcohol, or driving an automobile (2).
Likewise, in Thailand, the age of majority differs according to the type of issue involved. The legal age for marriage, the legal age to consume alcohol, and the legal age of consent are all different. Therefore, it is important to know the different age types so that there will be no unwanted legal problems.
Although it has not been explicitly defined, it is generally considered that any person who is over the age of 15 (but not yet reached the age of 18) is referred to as a minor in Thailand (3). For the legal definition of a ‘child’ in Thailand, according to Child Protection Act 2003, Section 4, ‘child’ refers to a person who is below the age of 18 years old. But this does not include the ones who have attained majority through marriage (3).
What Is ‘Age of Consent’?
As the legal age of the majority is different according to the type of activity concerned, it is necessary not to confuse the ‘age of consent’ with other types of legal age of the majority.
The “age of consent” has been defined as the minimum age for a person to be considered legally competent to give consent to involve in sexual acts. It has been said that a person younger than the age of consent (or an underaged person), cannot legally prove that a sexual act they participated in was consensual. In other words, they are not old enough to consent to sex legally (4).
So, what will happen if a person younger than the age of consent participates in a sexual act? If a person who is over the age of consent engages in any sexual act with a person who is not yet at the age of consent, such act would be considered ‘statutory rape’ and the person who is over the age of consent will be charged. In some jurisdictions, any sexual act in which all participants are underage is considered statutory rape (4).
Age Of Consent Laws In Thailand
Different countries have different laws regarding the age of consent. In most countries, the age of consent required for young people to have sex is at least 14 years old.
Some countries are exceptions to this though – countries like the Philippines and Angola both set 12 years old as the age of consent, making them one of the countries with the lowest age of consent in the world (4). The country with the highest age of consent is Bahrain – 21 years, and the country with the lowest age of consent is Nigeria – 11 years (5).
What is the legal age of consent in Thailand?
In Thailand, the age of consent for sexual acts is 15 years old (3). Therefore, it means that if one is to have sex with anyone who is under the age of 15 will be punished by law, no matter if the underaged party consent to the sexual act or not.
To explain further, let’s take a more concrete definition of ‘sexual assault’. As the underaged person (who is not yet at the age of consent) cannot legally give consent to sexual acts, sexual acts involving such a person would be considered ‘sexual assault’.
Before 2007, Thailand sex laws had defined the term ‘sexual assault’ as the intrusion of the sexual organ of one person into another person’s sexual organ. This definition was changed in 2007 so that it will cover the contact or intrusion of a sexual organ or an object into any other body part of another person, including the mouth and the anus (6).
And the punishments for sexual assault cases involving underaged persons are as stated below:
According to Thailand’s Criminal Code Section 2777, anyone who has sexual intercourse with an underage girl (i.e., a person who is not yet over 15 years of age and also not being his own legally wedded wife) shall be punished with imprisonment of 4 to 20 years and pay for the fine of 8,000 to 40,000 Thai Baht. Also, this punishment will be carried out whether such an underaged person consented or not, as he or she has not reached the legal age of consent according to Thailand laws (3).
To break down the charges, it has been stated that anyone who commits an indecent act toward a child who is under the age of 15 will be charged with imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine of 20,000 Thai Baht. If the act of indecency was committed through fraud or by threatening the victim, the offender will be charged with imprisonment of up to 15 years.
If any physical harm was inflicted on the child, then the offender can get charged with the possible imprisonment of up to 20 years. Life imprisonment can also be given to the offender if the child dies (7). The same punishment is given to sexual offenders who sexually assault a person over the age of 15 (6).
For sexual assault cases where the victim involved is younger than 13 years old, the punishments are more severe. If the commission of the offense is committed against a person who is not yet over the age of 13 years old, the offender shall be charged with imprisonment of 7 to 20 years and have to pay a fine of 14,000 to 40,000 Thai Baht (3). And this is for the cases where the offender confesses, cooperates during the investigation process, and doesn’t have an extensive history of prior criminal offenses. Otherwise, the sentence will be life imprisonment (6).
According to Thai sex laws, the settlement between the parties involved in sexual assault cases is possible. Except for the cases that occur in a public area, or when the victim is critically injured or killed, or when the assault is committed by a guardian of the victim – such as in cases where the assault of a student was committed by a teacher or a child by a parent (6).
Also, although the age of consent in Thailand is 15 years or older, sexual acts with a minor who is under the age of 18 may be considered a ‘compoundable offense’, even if the act was committed with a person who is over 15 and the said person has given their explicit consent (8).
A unique part of Thailand sex law is that parental consent is necessary if a sexual encounter between two individuals between the age of 15 to 18 is to have occurred outside the home. This seems to be due to the legal assumption that if the sexual act was to happen in the minor’s home, the parents have consented to that (9).
No ‘Romeo and Juliet law’
While the laws and possible punishments for having sex with an underage person who is younger than 14 years old have been explained above, the cases involving minors who are between the ages of 15 years old and 17 years old can be more confusing. These cases are much less clear than the cases involving people who are under the Thailand age of consent, especially if both parties are minors or similar in ages.
Can an 18-Year-Old Date a 16-Year-Old in Thailand?
One might wonder what will be the case if an 18-year-old is to date a 16-year-old in Thailand. Can it pose problems? Well, let’s dive into that:
As stated above, sex involving a minor who is under the age of 18 can be considered a compoundable offense, regardless of the consent. Therefore, 18 years old having sex with a minor who is aged 15, 16, or 17, can be prosecuted for this “compoundable offense” if one of the involving parties (more often than not, from the girls‘ side or the parents) regretted what they had done and later decided to file charges against the other party (10).
Thailand also has no close-in-age exemption. ‘Close-in-age exemption’ or commonly known as ‘Romeo and Juliet laws’ in Western countries (such as the United States). These laws help prevent the prosecution of two young individuals who engaged in consensual sexual acts when both parties are significantly close in age to one another, and also one or both parties are not yet at the age of consent (8).
These kinds of exemptions are common in countries where ‘Romeo and Juliet laws’ exist. However, in Thailand, there is no such exemption. Therefore, it is a possibility for the two young individuals who are both under the age of consent in Thailand to both be charged with statutory rape. Although such kinds of cases are rare (8).
Also, there are no protections reserved for sexual relations in which one individual is 16 years old and another participant is 14 years old – the older one in such cases may be prosecuted for statutory rape (10). So, to answer the question about 18 years old dating a 16 years old, it is possible to date but they also need to be aware of these laws as any mishaps and there will be no exemption in Thailand.
Can Minors Get Legally Married In Thailand?
Unlike the Thailand age of consent, the legal age for marriage in Thailand is 17 years old (3). According to Thailand Commercial and Civil Code – Book V – Family Section. 1435, a betrothal can be only affected if the man and the woman involved have reached the age of 17 years old (3).
But it doesn’t mean that minors cannot get married at all. Section 1436 stated that if a minor is to be concluded in a betrothal, the consents of the following persons are necessary:
- In the case in which both his or her father and mother are still alive, the consent from his or her parents.
- In the case in which his or her father or mother has passed away, or is in a condition of state not being able to give consent, or is under circumstances that make the minor unable to request consent, the consent from his or her parent.
- In the case in which the minor involved is an adopted child, the consent from his or her adopter.
- In the case in which there is no person to give consent under 1, 2, and 3, or the minor involved is deprived of parental authority, the consent from his or her guardian.
Without these consents stated here, a betrothal concluded by a minor is voidable. Also, according to Section 1448, although marriage can only be carried out when the man and the woman have reached the legal age of marriage (17 years old), the court may allow them to marry before reaching 17 years old, in the cases of having appropriate reasons to do so (3).
Is Prostitution Legal In Thailand?
With Thailand being infamous for sex tourism, the laws and charges for sexual businesses and their consumers are unclear and mostly in the ‘grey area’, as the reality is different from what has been stated in the law.
In Thailand, all the sex-oriented businesses such as go-go bars, bathing clubs, and body “non-traditional massage” parlors are open secrets that everyone knows. And even though these go-go bars and bathing clubs are not illegal, the sale of sexual services is considered illegal in Thailand.
According to the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act of 1996, the term prostitution has been defined as any act “in order to gratify the sexual desire of another person in a promiscuous manner in return for money or other benefit” (7). And the punishments for anyone who solicits, introduces, or induces themselves in a public place for the purpose of prostitution can be charged a fine of up to 1,000 Thai Baht.
While anyone who is associated with another person in a prostitution establishment can be liable for imprisonment of up to 1 month or a fine up to 1,000 Thai Baht too (7). Anyone who is the owner, manager, or supervisor of a prostitution establishment can be charged for imprisonment within the range of 3 to 20 years and also a fine of 80,000 to 400,00 Thai Baht. And anyone who advertises documents or printed material of prostitution is also liable for imprisonment of up to 6 months and a fine of 10,000 to 40,000 Thai Baht (7).
For prostitution involving minors, the charges are more serious. It has been stated that anyone who gratifies their sexual desire with an individual who is over the age of 15 but not yet over the age of 18 years old shall be charged with an imprisonment of 1 to 3 years, and a fine of 20,000 to 60,000 Thai Baht (7). Not only the charges are more severe for child prostitution, but it is also morally and ethically wrong.
As stated above, the laws and the various definitions for legal age depending on the issues concerned can be confusing, especially for foreigners. However, it is important to be at least aware of the basic facts such as Thailand age of consent, the legal age for marriage, and the possible penalties involving sex crimes.
A lot of people who violate these laws of Thailand are opening themselves up to be arrested and charged with heavy punishments; no matter if they violate the laws knowingly or unknowingly. And learning these laws and charges may not be on one’s travel checklist but it is necessary. Especially if you want to have fun in a safe and perfectly legal way!
1. Merriam-Webster. minor. Merriam-Webster. [Online] [Cited: January 28, 2022.] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/minor/.
2. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. minor. Encyclopedia Britannica. [Online] [Cited: January 28, 2022.] https://www.britannica.com/topic/minor.
3. Children, International Centre for Missing & Exploited. Thailand National Child Protection Legislation. ICMEC Education Portal. [Online] April 2018. [Cited: January 28, 2022.] https://www.icmec.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/ICMEC-Thailand-National-Legislation-updated.pdf/.
4. Review, World Population. Age of Consent by Country 2021. World Population Review. [Online] [Cited: January 28, 2022.] https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/age-of-consent-by-country/.
5. Age Of Consent. Highest and Lowest Ages of Consent. Age Of Consent. [Online] [Cited: January 28, 2022.] https://www.ageofconsent.net/highest-and-lowest/.
6. Tantiphanwadee, Chestavit. Consensual sex in Thailand. Thaiger. [Online] December 10, 2011. https://thethaiger.com/issues-answers/asked/consensual-sex-in-thailand/.
7. Siam Legal International. Sex Crimes in Thailand. Siam Legal. [Online] [Cited: January 28, 2022.] https://www.siam-legal.com/thailand-law/sex-crimes-in-thailand/.
8. Age Of Consent. Age of Consent in Thailand. Age Of Consent. [Online] [Cited: January 28, 2022.] https://www.ageofconsent.net/world/thailand./
9. McEvily, Thatchakorn. Love, Marraige And The Law. Bangkok Post. [Online] May 31, 2015. https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/special-reports/577511/love-marriage-and-the-law/.
10. Lanna International School. Keeping Our Teenage Children Safe. Lanna International School Thailand. [Online] January 31, 2020. https://www.lannaist.ac.th/keeping-our-teenage-children-safe/.