India's massage parlour boom drives demand for Thai sex slaves

This article is more than 12 months old

MUMBAI The booming spa and massage parlour business in India has led to demand for women from Thailand, many of whom are being duped and trafficked into slavery in the country's sex industry, police, diplomats and activists said yesterday.

At least 40 Thai women have been rescued this year during police raids on massage parlours acting as fronts for prostitution in cities like Mumbai and Pune.

"Demand for Thai masseuses is high in India as girls from Thailand are considered high-profile for their fair skin," Save the Children India programme director Jyoti Nale told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Last month, for example, 10 Thai women were rescued from a parlour in an affluent residential area in Pune, a car manufacturing and tech hub 150km south of India's financial capital Mumbai.

There are an estimated 40 million sex workers globally, according to French charity Fondation Scelles.

Activists say most have been lured, duped or forced into sexual slavery by pimps and traffickers, largely due to poverty and lack of opportunities.

Girls from countries like Nepal and Bangladesh have long been trafficked into sex work in India. But police and campaigners say there is a rising demand among Indian men and foreign tourists for "more exotic" women from other countries such as Thailand.

The Thai women, some of them sex workers from Bangkok and other cities, are lured by the prospect of earning more money in India, said police. On average they earn 305 baht (S$13) a day in Thailand, while they can make double that amount in India.