More scolding and shaming of countries with
major sex trafficking problems, like Cambodia and Malaysia would go a long way
to get them to clean up their act. It's mostly a question of priorities. No
politician defends sex trafficking, but until recently, no one really opposed it
When I decided sex trafficking as, at its
worst, a 21st century version of slavery, I’m sure plenty of readers roll their
eyes and assume that’s hyperbole.
It’s true that many of the girls who are trafficked around the world go
voluntarily or under coercion too modest to be fairly called slavery. But then
there are girls like Srey Rath.
A couple of years ago, at age 15 or 16 (she’s unsure of her birth date), Srey
Rath decided to go work in Thailand for two months, so that she could give her
mother a present for the Cambodian new year.
But the traffickers who were supposed to get her and four female friends jobs as
dishwashers smuggled them instead to Kaula Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.
There, three of the girls, including Srey Rath, were locked up in a karaoke
lounge that operated as a brothel and ordered to have sex with customers. Srey
Rath indignantly resisted.
“So the boss got angry and hit me in the face, first with one hand and then with
the other,” she remembers. “The marks stayed on my face for two weeks.”
That was the beginning of a hell. The girls were forced to work in the brothel
15 hours a day, seven days a week, and they were never paid or allowed outside.
Nor were they allowed to insist that customers use condoms.
“They just gave us food to eat, but they didn’t give us much because the
customers didn’t like fat girls,” Srey Rath said.
The girls had been warned that if they tried to escape they could be murdered.
But they were so desperate that late one night, after they had locked up in the
10th floor apartment where they were housed, they pried a strong board off a
rack used for drying clothes. Then they balanced the board, which was just 5
inches wide, from their window to a ledge in the next building, a dozen feet
Srey Rath and four other girls inched across, 10 floors above the pavement.
“We thought that even if we died, it would be better than staying behind,” Srey
Rath said. “If we stayed we would die as well.” (I talked to another of the
Cambodians, Srey Hay, and she confirmed the entire account.)
Once on the other side, they took the elevator down and fled to a police
station. But the police weren’t interested and tried to shoo them away at first
– and then arrested them for illegal immigration. Srey Rath spent a year in a
Malaysian prison, and when she was released, a Malaysian policeman drove her
away – and sold her to taxi driver, who sold her to a Thai Policeman, who sold
her to a Thai brothel.
Finally, after two more months, Srey Rath fled again and made it home this time
to the embraces of her joyful family. An aid group, American Assistance for
Cambodia, stepped in to help Srey Rath, out fitting her with a street cart and
an assortment of belts and key chains to sell. That cost only $400, and now
she’s thrilled to be earning more money for her family. Over the last five
years, the United States has begun to combat sex trafficking, with President
George W. Bush’s State Department taking the lead. But there’s so much more that
could be done, particularly if the White House became involved. More scolding
and shaming of countries with major sex trafficking problems, like Cambodia and
Malaysia, would go a long way to get them to clean up their act.
It’s mostly a question of priorities. No politician defends sex trafficking, but
until recently, no one really opposed it much either. It just wasn’t on the
agenda. If, say, 100 people in each congressional district demanded that their
representatives push this issue, sex trafficking would end up much higher on the
American foreign policy agenda – and the resulting ripple of concern around the
globe would emancipate tens of thousands of girls.
You’ll understand the stakes if you ever cross the border from Thailand to
Cambodia at Poipet: Look for a cart with a load of belts. You’ll see a beaming
teenage girl who will try to sell you a souvenir, and you’ll realize that talks
about sex “slavery” is not hyperbole – and that the shame lies not with the
girls but with our own failure to respond as firmly to slavery today as our
ancestors did in the 1860s.
Source: Kathmandu Post - 28-1-2005
keyterms: trafficking, girls, slaves
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