A team of undercover agents has been dispatched by Thailand's parliament to investigate reports of rampant prostitution at Bangkok's universities.
Claims by two campus newspapers at Thammasat University in Bangkok and Chiang Mai University in the north that students are selling themselves to pay for mobile phones, designer clothes and accessories has shocked academic circles.
Politicians and businessmen are said to be among those using their services, preferring students in their black-and-white uniforms to working-class prostitutes and masseurs. They are also thought less likely to carry HIV.
The university affairs ministry has set up a hotline to allow students to report pimps. Parents and educators are angered at the grip materialism has on Thai youth and the erosion of traditional values.
MPs and lecturers have urged the government to spend more time instilling moral values into students and organising extra-
Bangkok's students are poorly catered for and spend hours window shopping or watching television soaps that feature the latest fashions.
Student prostitution relies on an elaborate network of go-
betweens making phone calls to students or arranging meetings. Students can even be picked up on campus. Wearing a university badge upside down or positioning a cigarette lighter in a certain way identifies prostitutes.
The student sex business is not just restricted to females, who sell themselves for up to Pounds 80 a night. Male students are also involved, typically working in gay bars after class.
Associate professor Sompong Chitradub, of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University faculty of education, said: "Thai politicians, higher officials and merchants - these are the people who use student prostitutes. I meet with politicians to follow up education projects and sometimes local politicians offer a special service - local students. I am sick of it."
Dr Chitradub estimates that
1 to 3 per cent of university students will turn to prostitution over the next two years, during which time 12 million students will pass through the school system.