BANGKOK – Authorities on Wednesday promised improvement to safety measures for train passengers, following public outcry over the rape and murder of a child on a train traveling from Nakhon Si Thammarat to Bangkok.
Police General Ek Angsananon, deputy commissioner of the Royal Thai Police, has told the Railway Police Division to immediately implement measures against crime on board trains. He also ordered an investigation into the absence of a Railway Police patrol on the train where the crime took place.
State Railway of Thailand Governor Praphat Chongsa-nguan said the State Railway will take responsibility for what has occurred. He disclosed that a committee has been set up to investigate how the perpetrator of the crime managed to be hired by the State Railway despite his criminal record related to drug abuse. He promised scrutiny into the history of all temporary employees currently working for the SRT. Mr. Praphat also said closed circuit cameras will be installed on trains and the SRT will request additional policemen to be deployed on trains.
Meanwhile, Soithip Traisut, the permanent secretary to the Ministry of Transport, said she was working to bring into use new ministerial regulations that would ban the sale and consumption of alcohol on trains and at all train and bus stations. The new regulations, once finalized, will be immediately proposed to the National Council for Peace and Order for enforcement.
The Prachuap Khirikhan Provincial Police, which have jurisdiction over the area where the 13-year-old victim’s body was found, have promised to quickly prosecute the perpetrator due to the serious nature of the crime. The perpetrator, an employee of the State Railway of Thailand, confessed on Wednesday to the girl’s rape and murder, as well as two prior rapes he committed earlier this year on two State Railway employees who also worked on board trains.
A group calling itself the “We want to change the rape law to make it death penalty only” movement said it plans a weekend rally at Bangkok’s Siam Paragon shopping center.
Thailand’s military took power in a coup in May after six months of sometimes violent street protests. Under martial law, public gatherings of more than five people are banned.
“The country is in a sensitive moment so we really don’t want people to gather in public but it depends on the cause and how they demonstrate,” said Winthai Suvaree, a spokesman for the military government’s National Council for Peace and Order.
Police have charged a 22-year-old train cleaner with rape and murder. A police spokesman said in a televised statement the accused had confessed to taking drugs before committing the crimes and throwing the girl’s body out of the train.
Penalties for rape in Thailand range from a fine of up to 40,000 baht ($1,200) to life imprisonment or the death penalty but rape laws are rarely enforced.
“Probably more Thais see harsher punishment as the only answer to rape but a strong minority are challenging this view. Good exchanges,” said a Thai twitter user who goes by the handle Kaewmala.
More than 31,000 cases of sexual violence were recorded in Thailand last year, according to the public health ministry.
The actual figure is likely to be far higher, said Naiyana Supapueng, the head of the Teeranat Kanjanauaksorn Foundation which works on human rights and gender equality. Nayana is a former commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission.
“The figure for sexual violence is probably ten times higher than official figures,” Nayana said. “This latest case is special because it happened on state-run public transport in a sleeper train where many people could have seen or tried to prevent the crime.”
Rape is rarely reported in the Southeast Asian nation due to a lack of faith in the justice system and the stigma attached to victims of sexual violence.