A landmark victory for animal rights

opinion November 13, 2014 01:00

By Pornpimol Kanchanalak
Special

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For 20 long years, the Thai Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (TSPCA) fought an unrelentingly uphill, at times bloody, and usually lonely battle for animal rights and welfare. It was the powerful fuel of compassion that kept them pounding t



Finally, the spirit, hard work and forbearance of the TSPCA are beginning to bear fruit. On Wednesday, the draft bill on animal cruelty prevention was passed by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), with 188 votes for, one against and four abstentions. For those who fought incredibly hard for its passage, a deep sigh of relief and tears of joy are permissible.

For the first time in Thailand, animal welfare will be legally recognised and protected. Lives that have been ignored now have a voice.

To arrive at this milestone, the TSPCA has collaborated with more than 90 organisations that include like-minded non-government bodies, the Department of Livestock Development, animal rights experts, the Lawyers Council of Thailand, and more. It also paid due respect to the country’s cultural context to ensure that once the law goes into effect, it is enforceable and does not induce corruption and bribery that would render it toothless and ultimately a joke.

Thailand generally has a poor reputation in the area of animal welfare. Up until now, we had no legislation that deals directly with the issue, except for a provision in the Criminal Code that states that it is illegal to commit an act of cruelty towards an animal, with a maximum one month in prison and/or Bt1,000 fine for offenders. However, there is little or no evidence that this clause is enforced, and it doesn’t clarify what constitutes cruelty.

The new legislation passed by the NLA will change all that and more. It will have the effect of raising public awareness and sensitivity towards animals’ plight, and towards the abuse inflicted upon them – sometimes unwittingly, sometimes intentionally, sometimes viciously, sometimes for “fun” and recreation, and often selfishly in a misguided quest for human virility and longevity. The country’s precious wildlife will be better protected as poachers are prosecuted and loopholes that allow them to get away with murder are closed.

There has been much debate regarding how wide the scope of the law should be on animal welfare. Some proposals are sensible, some are not. Debates have turned ugly as people resorted to ad hominem argument and personal abuse and deployed fabricated negative campaigns against detractors. Given all the unnecessary and unwarranted headaches and heartaches these wrangles have caused, those whose true concern is for animal rights, rather than for soliciting funding or fame, have remained unwavering in their convictions and kept their eye on the ball.

The bill that was passed yesterday is Thailand’s first legislation to impose punishment on people who neglect, torture or fail to adequately take care of animals. It defines cruelty according to the international standard. That is, any action or absence of action that causes an animal agony, disability or death. It will make pet owners more conscientious of their responsibilities to provide proper care for their animals. The legislation seeks to impose harsh punishments on animal rights violators, with a one-year jail term, and fine of up to Bt20,000, or both.

It also calls for the establishment of a multi-departmental official committee tasked with preventing animal cruelty and promoting animal welfare. There are exemption provisions under the legislation that cover farm animals and sick animals that pose a danger to human health, etc. For animal rights advocates, this legislation is a first step in the right direction, but this remains a work in progress.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” notes the Tao Te Ching. Twenty years ago, that single step was taken, deliberately, yet unceremoniously. Year in and year out, those feet have trod, unyieldingly, defiantly and courageously. We may be a thousand miles on, but there are thousands more to go. At the start we were all heart but we were driven forward by the head. It was quite a fight, through slings and arrows fired from many fronts. But as the voice of animals is finally heard, it was a fight well worth it.

“If I can stop one heart from

breaking,

I shall not live in vain;

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.”

– Emily Dickinson |(1830-1886)