Public hearing on huge changes proposed for military service

The Thai parliament has opened an online public hearing on a new Military Service Act which abolishes conscription, standardizes welfare and training and penalizes officers who exploit subordinates.

A photo of the military drafting process

Since 1 June, the Thai parliament website has hosted an online public hearing on the Military Service Bill. The draft was submitted by Rangsiman Rome, MP for the Move Forward Party which has been campaigning for military reform and the abolition of conscription abolishment since it was the Future Forward Party. Out of 31 amendments, 7 important points are open in the public hearing. 

From Duty to Right

The draft changes the status of military service from a duty into a right, making it voluntary instead of obligatory. 

As of now, all Thai men of 21 years old are required to serve as soldiers. They can postpone conscription if they are still studying.

Eligibility: from age to education

As recruitment will become voluntary, the criteria for eligibility will change from the age of 21 to at least a 12th grade education. Recruits will be selected by testing rather than the current drawing of lots. The Ministry of Defence is responsible for setting qualification procedures.

The term of service for those who are qualified is 5 years which can be renewed. After the first 5 years, recruits will be allowed to compete for promotion to commissioned and non-commissioned officers. Soldiers will retire at the age of 46.

The current military draft is for a 2-year term for draftees who draw a red card. This is reduced to 1 year for volunteers. Both periods are reduced by half if the recruit has a bachelor degree.

Standardized training, organized welfare, penalties for having personal servants

The training will follow one standard. Democracy, human rights, international military custom and international law must be included in the curriculum. The Ministry of Defence is responsible for the safety, welfare, human rights and dignity of trainees.

Soldiers will be provided with a monthly salary, welfare, scholarships, life insurance, health insurance that also covers families and other benefits as allowed by the Defence Ministry. There will also be an employment allowance for those who finish their term. Those who resign before finishing their term will not receive any benefit.

The bill includes punishments for officers who use privates for their personal benefit such as servants. Those found guilty will be recognized as seriously violating the disciplinary code.

As of now, there are many complaints from time to time about the harassment in the drills. Exploitation from the superiors are presented in news as many conscripts were taken to become personal servant at superiors' domain.

Military conscripts face rampant harassment, beatings and sexual abuse

Half of military conscripts end up as servants: former MP

More flexible recruitment

As of now, Thai men at age 17 register their name and address with a provincial military office where they will have to return to be drafted. The bill allows recruitment in accordance with the house registration address, which is more convenient for  those who have changed their address after relocating for work or study.

Conscription if war is imminent

The bill allows the Cabinet to pass a Conscription Decree if it perceives that war is imminent . Conscription will be for up to 1 year.

Veterans form reserves

Soldiers who finish their term will be transferred to the reserves. There are 3 levels of reserves depending on age (less than 30, 30-40 and 40-46 years old). Reserves, like soldiers, will retire at the age of 46.