Due to its proximity to the infamous Golden Triangle area of drugs and refugees and because it is the largest northern Thai city, Chiang Mai attracts people of diverse ethnicities, situations, and needs.
Northern Thai youth encounter HIV/AIDS, prostitution, STDs, pregnancy, violence, and a wide range of other issues discussed infrequently in their modest society. Thailand is also facing a new rise of HIV and STI infections especially among young people with 70% of all STI cases in Thailand occur among this group. In the “Thailand Social Monitor on Youth 2008” report by the World Bank it has been suggested that road accidents, HIV and suicide are the three leading causes of Youth death. Also stated in the report is that Youth (15-24) account for 50% of all new cases of HIV in Thailand. Premarital sex has become more common among young Thais, but only 20-30% of sexually active young people are using condoms consistently.
Furthermore, Thai adults do not talk with youth about sex; there is no sex education in schools, only information on biology, and parents do not talk to their children about sex. In their villages, Thai youth are taught not to have sex before marriage, and girls are usually kept in their house almost all of the time in order to protect them. However this is not a reality in their daily lives; most girls in urban areas consider premarital sex as a common behavior nowadays. Also, many teenagers will leave their homes to study at colleges and universities in the larger cities. Feeling the sense of independency for the first time and getting in contact with the “urban lifestyle” many youth participate in risky behaviors, while lacking appropriate information.
Withouth a source to turn to for sexual education, young people educate themselves through the internet, movies, magazines, and other forms of media. However, there is a lack of understanding of the misrepresentation, manipulation and role of the mass media in constructing views of reality. Thai youth are not critical of the information, which is not always positive, that they receive in their daily lives. Furthermore, Thai youth do not discuss their city lives with their families in their villages and communities, and they keep one life hidden from the other. Thus, there is a lack of support and guidance for Thai young people.
Moreover, youth nowadays do not associate themselves as being vulnerable to getting infected with HIV; they consider AIDS to be a disease of adults and high-risk groups, such as sex workers and drug users it has been suggested that 85% of youth feel this way. They also believe that the condom represents an unfaithful lifestyle; it is related to promiscuity, sex work and involvement in drug use. Therefore most girls will not carry condoms as they fear being considered a “bad girl” or even a prostitute. Girls as well as boys feel embarrassed to buy condoms in retail or drug stores.
Compounding the lack of support for youth in general, is non-existent support for LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, intersex) youth. There are only two support groups in Chiang Mai City for gay men, and no support groups for lesbian women. There is also very little to no support for street youth and none for refugee youth, who cannot legally get a diploma or work in Thailand. With a lack of structure in their lives, some Thai youth have turned to gangs and violence as a source of community, expression and/or survival.
Instead of fitting prevention efforts to the present behaviors of youth, the government and the general public refuses to accept the way of life chosen by young people. Thai society is based on a hierarchy system in which youth are supposed to obey the adults. This makes it very hard for young people to stand for their own points of view; if they try to address social and political issues they will not be taken seriously. Youth who speak up are considered as trouble makers. Therefore, there is a lack of a well-developed youth culture in Thailand. Without an avenue to address their issues of concern, youth are kept on the margins of Thai society, making them vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, violence, abuse, discrimination, STIs, unwanted pregnancy, and drugs.