BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Thailand’s national rail operator has introduced train carriages for women and children only following the murder and rape of a 13-year-old girl on an overnight train that sparked public outrage and calls for rapists to face the death penalty.
The State Railways of Thailand decked out one carriage per train - on its routes to Chiang Mai in the north, Sungai Kolok in the south, and Ubon Ratchathani and Nong Khai in the northeast – with dark pink curtains, instead of the standard light blue, and flower-decorated pink and white signs that read “Ladies and children only”.
The special carriages permit women and girls, as well as boys 10 years old or younger and no taller than 150 cm, and are staffed exclusively by women train employees and police.
“The railway is trying to boost confidence. If we did nothing, it would look like we were insensitive or didn’t care. We already have women staff, so why not do this and give women a choice? This way, women can travel without worrying,” said Kanya Maneesri, a railway employee who converts sitting areas to beds.
One female passenger said she felt reassured aboard the women-only car on a southbound train.
“I feel a lot safer now because before, the bogeys (carriages) were mixed with male passengers, and there were no protection measures for our safety. There were only curtains separating us,” said 18-year-old Katthaleeya Aroon, a university student on her way to Yala province near the border with Malaysia. “Now I feel more confident in travelling, and my family can allow me to travel by train with my friends.”
A railway employee since 2001, Kanya had previously worked on special carriages for women and children for four years until they were discontinued about seven years ago.
“We had to stop the service because most people come as entire families, as couples, or in entire tour groups. There are very few women who travel alone,” Kanya told Thomson Reuters Foundation amid the roar of train engines on the platform at Bangkok’s Hualamphong station, as she waited for customers to board the overnight train to Chiang Mai on Friday evening.
The rape and murder of the 13-year-old girl took place last month on a busy commuter route. Police charged a 22-year-old train cleaner with rape and murder, and say he confessed to taking drugs before committing the crimes and throwing the girl's body out of the train.
“There have been cases of people being rude on the trains, but nothing to the extent of rape or anything like that. Most often, it’s just cases of drunkenness and rowdy behaviour,” Kanya said.
Thai media report almost daily cases of rape, murder and violence against women and girls, but reports of molestation and attacks on trains are rare.
The public health ministry recorded more than 31,000 cases of sexual violence in Thailand last year, though rights experts say the figure is likely much higher.
(Additional reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa, Reuters. Editing by Katie Nguyen; firstname.lastname@example.org)