Thailand has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in South-east Asia and faces HIV infection rates among its gay population comparable to those in Africa’s Aids hotspots.
The 14 February celebrations are a popular western import in tourist-friendly Thailand, but the Bangkok metropolitan administration is worried about teenagers engaging in sex.
Surveys suggest most Thai teenagers pick Valentine’s Day to lose their virginity.
“If kids really love each other, it’s better for them to go and free birds and fish or go to the temple,” said official Pirapong Saicheua.
In a bid to educate teenagers, a new Twitter hashtag has been launched, aimed at discouraging premarital sex.
The culture ministry’s moral promotion centre has launched a campaign called “Just a Meal for Valentine’s Day” that urges teenagers to go home after their dinner dates. It also asks them to back the campaign by tweeting #DinnerOnly, in Thai. However, a Twitter search yesterday found many postings of the Thai equivalent to LOL (laugh out loud).
Despite its well-earned reputation as a freewheeling destination for sex tourism, Thailand’s socially conservative authorities are on a constant mission to uphold its Buddhist values. Hollywood movies are censored, with sex scenes and cigarette smoking pixellated out, and Thai soap operas cannot show anyone drinking alcohol. Authorities annually warn youths to avoid “inappropriate activities” on Valentine’s.
“Parents and teachers should create correct understanding about Valentine’s Day with children,” director of the moral promotion centre, Narathip Pumsap, said. He suggested that instead of engaging in sex, teenagers “show love to their family, society, themselves and the country”.
This year’s campaign comes amid a morality overhaul initiated by Thailand’s military government, which took power from an elected administration following a coup last May.
The ministry of culture said it conducted a recent survey that found 83 per cent of Thai teenagers planned to have sex on Valentine’s Day, according to The Nation and several other Thai newspapers.
The National Police Force has asked parents and teachers to inform children of the “dangers” of Valentine’s Day and to avoid “risky behaviour,” said police Major General Patipat Suban Na Ayuuthaya.
Police have also warned nightclubs not to admit underage customers. Maj-Gen Patipat said all police units would be on alert until tomorrow and would “increase vigilance in risky areas” such as nightclubs. He urged entertainment venues to call police hotlines to reports cases of youths trying to enter.
One Bangkok all-girls school took the extra step of holding a Valentine’s self-defence class. Media showed policewomen on the auditorium stage of Sainampeung School throwing a man off his feet before an assembly of hundreds of students.
“I think sex can’t be prohibited,” said Khemaphat Santong, a 21-year-old student at the city’s Chulalongkorn University. “I mean, in some public places, yes, but stopping someone from doing it entirely is impossible.”
The health ministry also plans to install condom vending machines in schools.