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close this bookReducing Girls' Vulnerability to HIV/AIDS: The Thai Approach (UNAIDS, 1999, 56 p.)
close this folderImplementing the strategies
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View the documentSema Pattana Cheewit (Sema Life Development) Project
View the documentThe Thai Women of Tomorrow Project
View the documentEducation Loan Fund Project

Sema Pattana Cheewit (Sema Life Development) Project

The Sema Pattana Cheewit Project is the most broadly implemented of the strategies for carrying out the child prostitute eradication policy. In 1993, the Ministry of Education (MOE) conducted a survey of Thai SWs both in Thailand and abroad to uncover information about their hometown, age, education, reasons for becoming a SW, the channels used to find work abroad, and so forth. This information, along with data on villages with high HIV/AIDS rates as well as the number of students who finished Grade 6 but did not continue their education, were used as the basis for planning the intervention.

Eight provinces in the North (Chiang Rai, Lampang, Phayao, Chiang Mat, Prae, Mae Hong Song, Lampoon and Nan) were identified as the target area, since they were the highest risk areas for girls entering the sex trade. These provinces also had high HIV/AIDS rates, as well as a high percentage of girls (43 per cent) who stopped their education after finishing Grade 6. After the target provinces were selected, the MOE organized a seminar to determine the causes of the problem by focusing on what factors encouraged girls to become SWs. From the seminar, five main factors were identified and later used as guidelines for selecting girls for participation in the project.

1. Poverty. Agricultural areas that are not suitable for cultivation lead families living in them into a cycle of poverty and debt.

2. Materialistic attitudes. There was competition among households to own a nice house and possess expensive material goods as signs of social status. Households who had their daughter(s) working in the sex industry and sending back income to buy goods and build new houses were accepted and recognized as successful families.

3. Lack of education. Survey data revealed that the majority of SWs had very little education. Over 95 per cent of SWs had only six years of education or less, while others had no education at all due to poor family economic circumstances. Even though the government provided free education, the families still had to pay for food, books, travel costs and other education-related expenses not covered by the government.

4. Agent persuasion. Agents for brothels who seek out young, good-looking girls have several techniques to persuade girls and their parents that sex work is desirable. They may use either direct or indirect methods, depending on the attitude of the particular family. For those families who are not willing to send their daughter(s) to work in the sex industry, agents may initially promise to find the girls well paying jobs in restaurants or factories, but later force the girls into prostitution.

5. Family difficulties. Girls who live with a single parent, with other relatives or step-parents or in families with economic or drug addiction problems are at high risk of becoming prostitutes.

In May 1994, the Cabinet approved the implementation of the Sema Pattana Cheewit Project and provided 4,000 scholarships to day students at 2,400 baht per year (about US$ 61) and 500 scholarships for boarding school students at 9,000 baht (about US$ 230) per year.

Objectives and Targets

The Sema Pattana Cheewit Project aims to provide an education for girls in difficult circumstances so that they can develop in maturity, knowledge, and experience so as to be able to protect themselves from being deceived and so as to have a means of finding a socially acceptable job. The project’s targets are these.

1. To prevent girls at high risk from becoming SWs, at least 500 girls are provided scholarships for boarding school.

2. To provide 4,000 scholarships for day students to further their education in schools located in their communities.

3. To prepare scholarships for students who finish Grades 9 and 12 so that they can attend vocational training.

4. To establish 94 Sema Pattana Cheewit centres in 94 districts in eight northern provinces. These centres will provide information and conduct campaigns to prevent girls from becoming SWs.

5. To establish a collaborative system for working with other concerned organizations.

Duration and Target Areas

The Sema Pattana Cheewit Project has three distinct phases. Phase I was implemented from 1994 to 1996 in the eight targeted northern provinces. Phase II (1997-1999) expands the project to other northern provinces as well as to Bangkok and Phase III (2000-2002) will cover high risk areas in the Northeast and the South of Thailand.


Students participate in the Sema Pattana Cheewit Project in three ways: in boarding school, in day school and receiving vocational training.

Boarding School

Primary school teachers select students who meet the following criteria for boarding school participation in the project:

1. girls who are currently in Grade 6, residents of the eight target provinces in the North, who do not and will not receive other scholarships, and

2. whose families have one or more of these characteristics:

· Father or mother is deceased, disabled or in prison and unable to take care of their children;

· A broken family, where children have to live with either a stepfather or a stepmother or other relatives;

· Family members or relatives are or have formerly been in the sex industry, or the community of residence has a number of persons in the sex industry;

· Father or mother is a drug addict;

· Family is otherwise in a situation that places the child at high risk of becoming a SW.

Day School

The selection criteria for day students are the same as for boarding school students except that the family is felt to be in a situation where girls can safely live with them, and the family will allow their children to go to school if they receive financial assistance.

The selection process consists of three steps. First, primary school teachers select candidates according to the guidelines provided by the MOE. Thereafter, each school sends the list of students to the district education office for screening. The district office forms a committee to select the number of girls according to a quota provided by the provincial education office. The district office list will then be sent to the provincial education office for finalization.

After the final list of students from each province is completed, it is sent to the MOE for approval. The MOE should take approximately 45 days for approval, after which scholarships are distributed to each province.

After receiving a scholarship, each student opens a savings account under her name and sends the account number to the district office. The provincial education office then transfers the scholarship funds to the girls’ accounts. In order for a student to withdraw the money, at least two out of three persons (homeroom teacher, principal and student) must sign the withdrawal form.

For boarding school scholarships, the money is transferred to the bank account of that particular school. The money covers the cost of three meals a day, tuition fees, books, school uniforms and other education-related expenses.

Scholarship disbursement

The process of implementing the programme begins in early February, when the Ministry of Education announces the number of scholarships to be provided to each province, and each province determines the allocation of scholarships to each district and notifies the districts of that allocation. The district education office instructs each school to select girls to participate in the project under the conditions and characteristics specified by the MOE. A committee in each school selects eligible girls and sends the prioritized list, including a waiting list, to the district education office.

The district level committee considers the list of students from every school and prioritizes it according to need. If the number of girls selected by the schools is greater than the number of scholarships offered, girls who are not in urgent need, that is, whose family environment does not put them at particular risk (according to the criteria described above under Boarding School participation), are put on the waiting list. The final list is then sent to the provincial education office. A provincial level committee reviews and revises (if necessary) the list and announces the names of the girls who are to receive scholarships. The final list is then sent to the MOE for recording.

By mid-April, the district education office must inform the schools the girls will enter about the process of receiving their scholarships. For three weeks in April, girls who receive scholarships for boarding school attend an orientation and training workshop to prepare them for the life in boarding school.

In mid-May, school begins. Girls open their bank accounts and send the account numbers to the district education office, which checks all of the account numbers and names of girls and sends them to the provincial education office. After the provincial office receives the funds from MOE, the money will be transferred to the account of each girl. The time between receipt of the account number and the transfer of the money is more than one month.

If students drop out or change schools, the school in which the student was originally enrolled must inform the district and provincial education offices. Girls on the waiting list will then be selected as replacements. School transfers are possible only for day students.

Vocational Training

Girls who do not want to study in the regular school system but who do want to train in specific areas are placed in suitable vocational training programmes. At present, three areas of training are offered.

· Agriculture training

Starting in 1995, an operational centre for agriculture accepted 106 students (boys and girls) who had finished Grade 6 for vocational training as part of a rural development project. Students are also enrolled in an out-of-school programme, and will graduate with a Grade 9 certificate after receiving agriculture training over a period of 18 to 24 months.

In 1996, the Ministry of Education assisted approximately 40,000 needy ninth grade students to continue their education to a higher level (Certificate of Vocational Education). The MOE subsidized tuition fees and provided free housing. Another 5,000 baht (about US$ 128) per student per year was provided for raising cattle and growing vegetables for the duration of their study. Students could sell the training products for profit, to give them experience in making a living after graduation.

· Nurses’ training

Mahidol University in Bangkok provides 40 seats each year for girls who have finished Grade 9 in the North to train as assistant nurses for one year. After training, these students work in Siriraj Hospital and Ramathibodi Hospital, Mahidol University, for at least two years. They are then encouraged to go back to work in rural areas.

The Ministry of Public Health also offered seats for 50 students who finished Grade 12 in 1995 to train in nursing colleges under the Ministry, and another 80 seats in 1996. After training, they will work in public health centres or hospitals.

· Working while studying

At the beginning of 1996, UNICEF, in collaboration with the Dusit Thani Hotel (one of the leading hotel chains in Thailand), joined with the Sema Pattana Cheewit Project to organize a training programme for 60 students who had graduated from Grade 9 at hotels in Phetchaburi and Chiang Rai Provinces. There are plans to expand the project to other hotels in the Dusit Thani Kempinsky group in Thailand and in Europe. During their two years of training, students study general subjects via non-formal education through Thailand’s distance education system. Students receive a salary of 2,000 baht (about US$ 51) per month. Graduates of this project are then recruited as staff for hotels within the Dusit Thani group at a salary of 5,000-6,000 baht (roughly US$ 128-153) per month. It is planned that this project will be expanded to other companies.


Public Sector

The Thai government provides a budget to cover scholarships for girls in Grades 7 to 9. The amount spent for both day students and boarding students grew from about 21 million baht (about US$ 537,000) in 1994 to just over 41 million baht (about US$ 1,048,000) in 1997.

Private Sector

Several private businesses donate money to be used as a revolving fund for students attending nursing school and for personal expenditures for boarding school students. The total amount donated by mid-1998 was 8 million baht (about US$ 204,600).

Evaluation of the Sema Pattana Cheewit Project


Girls who are currently being supported by the project report that their scholarships are very important for their study. Most of the girls interviewed from three provinces (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Phayao) have a positive attitude towards education and report that they will continue their education regardless of whether they receive a scholarship or not. The money needed for their education could come from family support or from loans, or they may decide to work and be self-supporting. In any case, receiving a project scholarship helps to lessen the family’s financial burden for education, thus reducing the amount of debt the families might have incurred. Teachers who have selected girls for this project noted that some girls had already been sold to an agent. The teachers had to convince the girls’ parents or guardians to change their minds prior to offering the girls their scholarships. It is not too dramatic to suggest that this project may save the Lives of many girls and provide them an opportunity for a decent future.


Screening Process

Selecting the right girls is the most important step, to make sure that scholarships will reach the neediest children. In order for every school to use the same criteria, the project set standard selection criteria for each teacher to follow. From interviews with teachers in nine schools in three provinces, it was learned that 90 per cent of the girls selected conformed to the criteria set by the MOE. Data collected from 86 girls in these three provinces revealed that the majority were selected because of poverty (63 per cent), because their parents did not live together (19 per cent) or because they did not live with either parent (14 per cent). Other reported reasons, such as that the girls had good grades or their parents knew teachers in school, accounted for fewer than 5 per cent of the girls chosen.

Approval Process

The Provincial Education Office holds final approval of girls eligible to receive scholarships. Every province has established a provincial committee to make decisions based on the criteria and the quota allocated to the province. However, the provincial level makes only very small changes to the list submitted by the district education office. Thus, the district level plays a crucial decision-making role. Since they have all of the detailed information about each of the girls selected from each school, district education authorities can more suitably prioritize the list by selecting the neediest girls first, regardless of the quota for each school. Keeping the decision-making power at the district level is important; at the district level, officials have greater information and greater access to each school. If necessary, district officials can visit the girls’ families to observe actual conditions. Decisions can thus be based on more immediate and accurate information.

Scholarship Disbursement Process

At the project’s beginning, provincial authorities transferred scholarships to the district education office, which then paid each student by cheque made payable to the girl’s name. Students then opened a bank account and deposited the money. This process, however, was very slow: it took several months for the girls to receive the money. In some districts, girls received the first semester scholarship at the beginning of the second semester, which meant they had to use their own money for educational expenses during the first semester.

The MOE recognized the problem and changed the disbursement process, having new students open a bank account and transferring the money directly to each student account. This streamlines the payment process.

Overall, the students feel that the current disbursement system is satisfactory. About one-quarter of the girls said they had problems in receiving their scholarships, while about three-quarters said they were satisfied with the money allocation. Of 22 students who reported having problems, just over half said that the money provided is inadequate for one year of schooling, while the rest said that the money allocation was delayed. No student reported problems in withdrawing the money.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The project’s monitoring and evaluation process is implemented at every level. The Ministry of Education conducts a national survey on a yearly basis by sending questionnaires to every project province asking about dropout rates, implementation problems, and follow-up information on those girls who have finished Grade 9. Moreover, the monitoring team visits each province to help solve problems at the provincial level. Information collected is used to adjust and revise the project as needed.

At the provincial level, officials responsible for this project visit district offices for follow-up and monitoring. Likewise, district officials visit schools in their districts to collect information and provide guidelines for implementation and for addressing problems that may arise. Moreover, a reporting system set by the MOE helps the education office keep track of required information.

Table 1.
Sema Pattana Cheewit boarding school students finishing Grade 9 in 1996

What student did next

Number of students


Study in academic programme



Study in vocational programme



Study in out-of-school programme



Study in the public-private cooperation programme



Work and study in out-of-school programme



Drop out before finishing Grade 9



Short-course training programme






Got married






Lost contact






Source: Special Education Division, Ministry of Education


In the first three years of implementation, 1994 to 1996, 1,395 girls received scholarships for boarding school and 11,500 girls for day school. Data were collected by the Ministry of Education about what the students who completed Grade 9 did after finishing their education (for the first group of girls receiving scholarships in 1994). However, only data pertaining to boarding school girls are available. This information shows that of 395 girls who finished Grade 9 in 1996, 320 (81 per cent) continued their education in some form, two students took short training courses, 47 girls (12 percent) began working, and 4 (1 per cent) dropped out of school. Table 1 gives a breakdown of these figures.

The high percentage of girls pursuing an education after finishing Grade 9 indicates the measure of success of this project. As noted, girls recruited to be in boarding schools are those who have problems in the family and whose risk of being sold to an agent is very high. Boarding schools, which are located in provinces different from the girls’ hometowns, take the girls away from home and their difficult family circumstances. From focus group discussions with girls who are currently holding scholarships in boarding schools, it appears that the girls want to study when they have a chance. The three-week orientation programme to prepare girls before entering boarding school helps them to adjust to life in school. Moreover, three years in school is long enough to provide knowledge of the dangers of getting HIV from becoming a SW, as well as to provide other means of making a living.


This project is funded by the government. Since project initiation in 1994, every Thai government has made a commitment to allocate a budget for it. The private sector and UNICEF participate by providing financial support for the training of students who want to work and study at the same time. Moreover, the Ministry of Education, together with the State Lottery Office, used lottery proceeds to set up a vocational training fund for girls who finish Grade 9. They set a target of 600 million baht (roughly US$ 15,340,000), and use the interest from this fund to support short-course vocational training for 10,000 students per year. This part of the project is therefore potentially self-sustaining through the use of national support mechanisms from both government and the private sector.

Lessons Learned

After four years of implementation, the project processes have been adjusted in various ways to make them more efficient. Some of the lessons learned from project implementation are summarized here.

Student Selection and Scholarship Disbursement

The most important aspect of student selection is choosing the girls most in need to participate in the project. Teachers who have worked in their schools for a long enough time know the girls’ family backgrounds and select the neediest or the girls who have problems at home. Yet for those teachers who are new to communities, or who may have little contact with them (such as teachers who commute to work and do not live in the communities), a mechanism should be developed whereby they can objectively assess the needs and educational desires of students. This could, for example, take the form of collecting family background profiles containing such information as family size, structure, income, migration history of family members, etc., for each child. Community members could be enlisted to assist schools in collecting information on each girl.

This information, along with the students’ academic records, could be used to identify those girls who could best benefit from scholarships, for either school or vocational training, in line with the project’s objectives. Selection should begin before the school year ends so that there is enough time for teachers to screen and nominate girls. If the time allowed for selection is too short, the school may make an announcement that anyone who is interested can apply. As a result, the objective of helping particularly high risk girls may not be achieved.

The disbursement procedure of transferring money to each girl’s bank account has been found to be the most appropriate method. It cuts out unnecessary steps and shortens the time between approval and transfer of the money. However, the financial system at the provincial level must be made flexible enough to facilitate and speed up the disbursement process.


Based on school interviews, it appears that the quality of data from the MOE’s monitoring questionnaire may be problematic, since several schools did not understand questions and provided incorrect information. For example, concerning the number of girls who drop out, many schools reported no dropouts because they had immediately replaced girls who had dropped out with those on the waiting list. Their understanding was that “dropout” referred to an unfilled position rather than to a girl who had left school. As a result, a very low number of dropouts appears in the official statistics, which in turn Leads to insufficient attention to the issue of dropouts, the causes and the ramifications for the girls who leave school.

Data collected from nine schools in the three provinces found that 11 girls had dropped out, of a total of 346 students (about 3 per cent). Even though the percentage of dropouts is very small (and questionable), this group of girls needs greater attention. Based on information from the girls’ friends provided during a focus group discussion on the reasons for their dropping out, the girls who left school did so voluntarily since they wanted to go to work. Their work of choice was in the entertainment business: massage parlours, restaurants, etc., which places them at risk of becoming sex workers. Little has been done to follow this group of girls and help them to find other career alternatives in line with the Sema Pattana Cheewit Project’s aims.

In addition, the curriculum offered in school should provide more alternatives. Girls from poorer families may be at a disadvantage in terms of their educational ability, and they may not do well in a strict academic environment. Students report that their friends who drop out do so because they were bored with studying and unable to follow classes. If the school offered alternative programmes - such as vocational training in school and especially opportunities to acquire important life skills - these might help motivate girls to stay in school. Since the schools have no strategy to cope with girls who want to quit, it falls to each individual teacher to solve the problem. Some teachers may take it seriously and try to convince a girl to stay, but others may ignore the problem and simply replace one who wants to leave with the next girl on the waiting list. It is thus important to have clear strategy for dealing with this issue, including guidelines for teachers to follow.

The district education office should serve as a centre of information about the girls’ current situation both during their study and after they finish. Follow-up information about what the girls do afterwards is important, since it serves as an indicator of project success or the need for improved planning and implementation.

Information about the Education Loan Project (see page 38) or other available scholarships should be distributed to Sema Pattana Cheewit girls before they finish Grade 9, so that they can make plans to continue their education.