A Thai tradition involves welcoming local officials with teenage girls, who are referred to as ‘dessert’. The tradition is known by the phrase — ‘treat to food, lay down the mat’ — and it is expected that underage teenage girls will be presented.

The practice grabbed world attention after local official Boonyarit Nipavanit’s description of how it thrives in the district of Mae Hong Soon, and impoverished province in the northern part of Thailand. He spoke out after detectives opened 41 cases of the prostitution network in the province.

The probe started after the mother of a victim managed to tell the media about how her daughter was forced to entertain the police and officials. She also said that some of the girls were tattooed with owl stamps, signifying ownership.

Boonyarit says that this tradition became popular a long time ago. Whenever senior officials used to visit, there was a custom of treating them with girls, he says. 

“Sometimes we received information about what type of girls they liked … sometimes officials had to prepare five to ten women for a senior to chose from,” he said.

Thai columnist Lakkana Punwichai says that this practice comes from seeing girls as objects. “She is a present. She is the same as food, as beautiful clothes — something that has a price,” she says.

Thailand’s sex trade is worth an estimated $6.4 billion. Prostitution was made illegal in the 1960s, but it has still grown unchecked.

Also Read: Sex Work and Prostitution: Empowerment or Oppression?