Today's slaves - girl/women trafficking

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Today's slaves - girl/women trafficking - News

Today's Slaves

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.

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 away.

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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