August 15, 2007
A glimpse into the lives of Burmese sex workers in Thailand
By Christopher Smith
Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com)
Though originally released almost a decade ago, "Sacrifice", a film documenting the plight of Shan State girls working in the Thai sex industry, proves no less poignant a saga for today's world. Read more about Ellen Bruno's documentary "Sacrifice: The Story of Child Prostitutes from Burma" HERE
Set predominantly in the northern Thai border town of Mae Sai, opposite Burma, the film chronicles the factors that force girls from Burma's Shan State to seek employment in the sex industry across the border, and the trials and hardships that follow as a result of their trade.
Though the subject matter of the film is the prostitution of young girls from Shan State, the underlying message is one of social, cultural and economic forces back home that seemingly leave the girls with little choice but to accept their fate in the brothels of Mae Sai.
Socially and culturally, the girls relate how they must find a means of repaying their debt to their parents for bringing them into the world. While sons are said to provide for the life beyond, girls understand themselves to be the providers in this life.
While some of the interviewees said they and their families were tricked into the resulting lifestyle by Thai businessmen with promises of jobs in other economic areas combined with a forward on the girl's wages, many alluded to the economic reality of their situation as forcing their hand.
The girls related how they could hope to earn no more than $8 a month in wages back in Shan State, while there were no doctors or existing social net to provide for the daily needs of life.
The selling of their bodies then became a choice of crude economic necessity, even if it still remained a time-consuming process just to make enough money to pay off their debts to the brothel while earning enough money for meager remittances.
"To be with a man takes minutes, to plant rice takes hours in the beating sun," relates one girl.
The girl, having slept with, in her estimate, over six thousand men in six years, died shortly after filming of AIDS-related complications.
Overall the stories that come across the screen tell the lives of girls whose horizon for life focuses very much on the here and now, an approach to life necessitated by a combination of social and economic factors.
As one girl in the film says, "A little time with something is more than a lifetime with nothing."
Shortly before the release of the film, estimated numbers of Burmese girls and women working in the sex industry in Thailand ranged anywhere from 30,000 to 60,000.
But the issue of Shan State girls seeking to eke out a living as sex workers is not limited to the Thai side of the border. The trade is just as pronounced, and even more visible, on the Burmese side in the town of Tachileik.
Here, literally dozens of brothels exist down the side streets and alleyways of the former heart of the Golden Triangle. Touts on the street are never far between in their offers of introducing prospective clients to the throngs of girls.
In a question and answer session following the screening, Hseng Noung of the Shan Women's Action Network (SWAN) said that although awareness of the potential lives that befall Shan girls who make the journey to Thailand has improved since the movie was first aired, the traffic of persons coming from Burma to Thailand has only increased as a result of continued and worsening economic hardship and repression.
"Sacrifice" was originally released in 1998 and is the work of United States-based filmmaker Ellen Bruno. The film was screened Tuesday night in Chiang Mai, Thailand, by the Informal Northern Thai Group.