Army abuse still with us
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Army abuse still with us

The latest scandal involving salary deductions for conscripts in the Thai army is a distressing reminder of the persistent abuse and exploitation within our military ranks. What is more worrying is the response from the Ministry of Defence, which only addresses the problem superficially.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Defence officially issued guidelines on managing conscripts' salaries. The rules specify which items can be deducted and which cannot. Defence Minister Sutin Klungsang also ordered an investigation.

The move is in response to the latest scandal in Nakhon Ratchasima, where a commander was transferred pending investigation for allegedly deducting conscripts' salaries for utilities and supplies, such as for internet Wi-Fi, a 500-baht fee for septic tank pumping, and uniforms.

The alleged incident is far from an isolated case. Over the years, there have been numerous reports of conscripts being misused by their superiors for personal gain. From being forced to work on family properties to tending to commanders' chicken farms, the exploitation of conscripts has been an open secret within military circles. Some have even been subjected to physical abuse, a barbaric practice that has no place in a modern, civilised military.

Such actions not only violate the rights of these young individuals, but hamper the attempt of the armed forces to modernise the Thai military.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and Defence Minister Sutin have both condemned the recent incident. The ministry has released related codes of practice and ordered fresh probes. Such moves are welcome, but they merely scratch the surface of the problem.

The Defence Ministry must take decisive and transparent actions to address this systemic problem.

First, there must be a thorough and independent investigation into the extent of these abuses across all military units -- not only with cases that catch the media's attention. It is not enough to punish a few individuals. There needs to be a full accounting of how widespread these practices are and who within the chain of command allowed them to continue.

Second, those found guilty of exploiting conscripts should face severe consequences, not just immediate superiors but also higher-ranking officers who failed to prevent, or tacitly endorsed, these abuses.

The repeated scandals and abuses have led to growing public discontent with the current system of compulsory conscription. Many argue that a shift to a voluntary enlistment system would be more in line with contemporary human rights standards and would likely reduce such instances of exploitation. A volunteer-based system could foster a more professional and motivated military, free from the coercion and misuse that seems endemic in the conscription process.

The government's pledge to raise the minimum salary for conscripts to 10,000 baht is a positive step, but financial compensation alone will not solve the deeper issues. The military must implement strict measures to protect conscripts from exploitation and ensure that every soldier, regardless of rank, is treated with dignity and respect.

It is time for the Defence Ministry to live up to its promises and enact reforms that will end these abuses, once and for all. Only then can we hope to build a military that truly serves and protects the nation, in line with the values of justice and human rights that we aspire to uphold.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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