BANGKOK Thailand's health chiefs barred hospitals and clinics on Wednesday from castrating would-be "ladyboys" amid growing concern about the operation being seen as a cheap and quick alternative to a full sex-change.
In a letter to 16,000 private health units, the Public Health Ministry said doctors performing the operation outside formal sex-change therapy -- which requires rigorous physical and mental evaluation of the patient -- faced up to six months in jail.
However, senior health official Tara Chinakarn admitted that policing the temporary ban might be difficult as cosmetic removal of the testicles was such a quick operation and easy to conduct in secret.
"It's hard to track them down as it takes only 15-20 minutes to have the surgery," Tara told Reuters.
Thailand is home to a large number of "ladyboys," or "katoey" in Thai, a term that covers anything from a transvestite to a man who has undergone a full sex change.
The tolerance shown towards the "third sex," as it is often referred to, has led to the country becoming a world leader in sex-change surgery.
However, at the lower end of the market, clinics have responded to demand from teenage boys to look more like girls by posting Internet advertisements offering castration for as little as 4,000 baht ($125).
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Michael Battye and Valerie Lee)