Agency protecting kids on net gains foothold
Forging links here and overseas as it notches up convictions in court
The US State Department recently announced that America's registered child sex offenders will have to use passports identifying them for their crimes when traveling overseas.
Although Thailand has not advanced to issuing such a law, a task force working in this area has gained more confidence as it steps up efforts to crack down on sexual abuse against children.
Tamasak Wicharaya, head of Thailand Internet Crimes Against Children (TICAC) led by the Royal Thai Police, said the agency is taking on a bigger workload and receiving more cooperation from related bodies.
The agency worked on 24 cases last year and 32 cases as of Oct 31 this year, compared with two cases related to internet crimes against children. The probes have resulted from cases tip-offs for 183 incidents, including 124 which came from abroad. At least 57 suspects have been identified, said Pol Gen Tamasak, who is also an acting deputy commissioner-general of the Royal Thai Police.
Not all tip-offs could be developed into legal cases. However, all cases taken to court by the TICAC have succeeded so far. All the suspects identified were convicted, he said. TICAC was opened on Jan 8, 2016 to investigate crimes against children on the internet.
Its scope of work includes child sexual abuse, human trafficking and possession of child pornography. On Dec 8, 2015, Thailand amended the Criminal Law stipulating penalties for the possession of child pornography as well as transferring or disseminating such material.
"Some media can arouse the demand for child sex abuse," he said, adding that preventive measures are also important. "We also try to stop child sexual abuse even before it happens. Otherwise, the impact over the victim's life can be huge."
Social media and internet use in Thailand has been monitored. If porn media is uploaded or downloaded, the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), based in the US, will be notified, with TICAC will also getting such notifications when the content is opened in Thailand.
The NCMEC reached an agreement with the TICAC to share the information. Other agencies such as the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) as well as the embassies of foreign countries also receive such alerts.
Digital forensic experts, digital intelligence analysts and psychologists are on the task force, which also collaborates with NGOs such as Hope, Understanding and Grace (HUG) project in Chiang Mai which opened the ACT (Advocacy Centre For Children Thailand) House, the first such centre in Southeast Asia, which also has branches in Pattaya and Phuket.
Thakoon Nimsomboon, head of TICAC operations, said the centre had gained trust from collaborating international and domestic organisations as it observes international standards in the field. "We do not work just to get a conviction. We consult NGOs and experts to make sure we do no harm to victims, who are children. That's why we do not contact the media during the operations. We care how a child will fare if his father, for example, is arrested," said Pol Col Thakoon.
Both Pol Gen Tamasak and Pol Col Thakoon said it is important to raise awareness among parents and caretakers of children that the risks of child sexual abuse are high and exist around them in their daily life. The TICAC receives at least 5,000 tip-offs each month from the NCMEC alone, said Pol Col Thakoon.
"Although we don't want to reveal much of what we are doing, we warned the locals to watch out, for example, if there a Caucasian is trying to contact children via the internet or might drop in to see their kids at school," he said.
TICAC hotline number is 1599. With the support of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, the TICAC received an annual budget of 8.6 million baht over the past two years, with TICAC staff increasing from 80 last year to 130 this year.