Behind bars: Thai women pay high price for drugs

Behind bars: Thai women pay high price for drugs

THAILAND - Lured by easy money, an escape from poverty or family pressure, thousands of women are locked up for drug offences in Thailand, which has one of the world's highest rates of female imprisonment.

Mai, 27, was sentenced to three years in jail after she was caught with 20 "yaba" pills - a slang term for methamphetamine known locally as "crazy medicine" - used by tens of thousands of Thais from taxi drivers to students.

"The amount of yaba was more than was considered for personal use so I was charged with selling," said Mai, whose boyfriend is also in prison for dealing methamphetamine.

She is serving her second stint behind bars in a prison in Ayutthaya north of Bangkok where she lives with her baby boy, and has no hope of early release in a country with one of the world's strictest anti-drugs policies.

A three-year jail sentence for meth possession is routine in Thailand, where use of the illegal stimulant is rife.

Within Asia, the kingdom is second only to China in terms of methamphetamine seizures.

More than 95 million meth tablets were seized in Thailand in 2012, up almost five-fold from 2008, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Much of the region's meth is produced in strife-torn border areas in neighbouring Myanmar and smuggled across the border.

Thailand saw nearly 196,000 methamphetamine-related arrests in 2012, the most in Asia, according to UNODC.

Sixty-nine Thai women were also arrested for drug smuggling overseas in the same year, compared with just three men, the UN agency said.

At the prison in Ayutthaya, the walls of the children's room are covered with drawings.

But despite the flower beds that welcome visitors and the hair salon, life is no picnic with prisoners required to carry out cleaning and other tasks, said Mai, dressed in the same light blue uniform as the 650 other inmates.

The prisoners sew beads on T-shirts for a salary of just 100 baht (S$3.90) a month, with the proceeds of the sales going towards the operating budget of the prison.

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