The Thai government has vowed to crack down on public servants giving the sexual services of young women and girls to bosses, amid a widening probe over the involvement of politicians and police in an underage sex trafficking ring.

Two Thai governors and several high-ranking provincial police officers have been linked to the ring, which investigators believe has been operating in the far northern province of Mae Hong Son since 2014.

The scandal was uncovered when a police informant saw a photograph of her own teenage daughter among a line-up of girls as young as 15 who allegedly had been forced into prostitution by a police senior sergeant-major.

All the girls were branded with tattoos of owls on their chests. Pimps arranged for the girls to provide sexual services, including to government officials and police officers, according to investigators cited by local media. Some girls allegedly were gang-raped.

Mae Hong Son governor Suebsak Iamwicharn was among those named as a customer of the sex ring. He has denied the accusations.

Boonyarit Nipawanit, chairman of the Federation of Assistant District Chiefs of Thailand, told The Bangkok Post there was an “unofficial tradition” of offering sex services to please senior officials taking up new positions in the area.

Thailand’s Social Development and Human Security Minister Adul Sangsingkeo said this week the ministry was working closely with relevant government agencies and security forces to stop the so-called liang doo poo sua society — a tradition of providing gifts to bosses on special occasions.

Royal Thai Police general Adul Watcharapol said several measures would be taken to tackle human trafficking and sex trade by state officials and within state agencies.

A unit would be created to inspect entertainment venues and an education program would help girls protect themselves from exploitation.

The Social Development ministry would also establish a program to educate officials about the impact of the tradition.

But General Adul added that laws and regulations regarding human trafficking and sex offenders needed to be more strictly enforced.

Karen Flanagan, a Southeast Asia child protection advocate with Save the Children Australia, told The Australian: “We are aware of people in positions of power trust and authority in government and police misusing that (power) and sexually exploiting young people.

“We work in partnership with the Thai government and we are very pleased that the government has made a public statement to crackdown on this and that they are taking child protection seriously.”

However, the investigation into the Mae Hong Son ring faces familiar obstacles, with many of the trafficked girls said to be too scared to give evidence.

Nocookies | The Australian