Burma: Driven by poverty into local prostitution, women then duped to be sold on foreign sex markets Print E-mail

 Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Burmese Women Targeted by Human Traffickers

By MOE YAN

RANGOON ­Women in the entertainment industry are being trafficked by men posing as their lovers, according to sources close to the industry.

“This type of human trafficking has existed for some time since female sex-workers easily fall victim to such men,” said a police official from Burma's Anti-Trafficking Unit (ATU).

A project manager working for a private organization that combats human trafficking said a new type of trafficker targets young girls working in the night entertainment industry such as massage parlors, karaoke rooms and pubs.

Traffickers date the girls, pretending to fall in love with them before luring them away and selling them to clients in foreign countries.

Fear marks the faces of sex workers who suspect a Chinese police raid might be imminent in border city of Jiegao, China. (Than Aung/ The Irrawaddy)

“The girls who fall for these men are pietous. They give their hearts, bodies and money to these men, thinking they really love them, only to be deceived and sold in the end,” the manager said.

A waiter working at the JJ Club in Rangoon said many girls who earn money in the sex industry like to spend it on their dates.

“In the beginning, the young men pose as regular customers until their status changes as the girls start dating them,” he said.

Another ATU official said in addition to posing as dates in order to traffick the girls, men live off the girls money.

“We have tried various means to prevent Burmese girls from being sold,” he said. “We have been unable to rescue all victims of trafficking to neighboring countries but we have managed to bring more than half of them home.”

A young woman working in a Rangoon nightclub who has been in the industry for more than six years said most girls work in the sex industry in order to survive and none wants to do that kind of work for long, hoping to find someone they can love and live with as a couple.

“We date men because we want partners just like every other woman,” she said, adding that sex workers can be particularly susceptible to believing men who they think they are in love with.

“Sex workers like us are more easily subject to deception as our occupation stigmatizes and isolates us from society, but we need care and attention like everyone else,” she said.

According to the ATU, 85 girls from Kachin and Shan States were sold between 2000 and 2004 into marriage with Chinese men or to work in the sex industry in Yunnan and eastern areas of China.

Interrogation by the ATU of a group of 64 traffickers in early 2009 found that the group had lured 49 girls for better jobs in China, finally selling them to marry Chinese men.

The ATU said two traffickers received long prison sentences in August 2006 and the organization had rescued 180 girls from Yunnan in September that same year.

A Memorandum of Understanding on the Coordinated Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking (COMMIT) was signed in Rangoon by the six countries of the Greater Mekong Sub-region­Cambodia, China, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam­in October 2004.
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 APRIL, 2010 - VOLUME 18 NO.4

A Downward Spiral in Jiegao

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPH By THAN AUNG

Drawn by dreams of jobs, many Burmese women end up selling sex and doing drugs on the Chinese border

Jiegao, a small thumb of land jutting into Burma from the Chinese side of the Sino-Burmese border, is an easy place to fall into a life of suffering.
Make-up is an Important tool of the sex trade.

There are more than 20 brothels in this otherwise unremarkable border town, and most of the sex workers are from Burma. They come to find work in factories and restaurants or as maids, but soon discover that well-paid jobs are few and far between. In order to pay off debts and support themselves, many have little choice but to take up prostitution.

The life of a migrant worker in China is precarious, and for those in the sex industry, the risks are all the greater. Although Burmese citizens can get three-month residency permits to live in Chinese towns along the border, prostitution is illegal in China, and sex workers live in constant fear of arrest.

The price of freedom, if they are caught, is typically 500 yuan (US $73)­a lot of money for a prostitute charging 14 to 28 yuan ($2-4) a trick, or 150 yuan ($22) for a night with a customer, especially when you consider that at least half of this amount goes to the brothel’s owner.

Most of the girls who work the brothels of Jiegao borrowed heavily to come here, so going back home empty-handed is not an option. Their parents expect them to send money, too. The sex workers generally come from families who can barely afford to feed their children, much less send them to school. In border areas, where armed conflict has long been a fact of life, the situation is even worse. That is why so many gamble everything they’ve got for an opportunity to go abroad.

To cope with the stress and depression that comes with such a life, or to help them find the energy to get through a night with a customer, many sex workers turn to drugs. Scoring in Jiegao is no problem, because the Sino-Burmese border is a hotspot in the global narcotics trade. Heroin is widely available, but since it costs more than 100 yuan ($14.65) a hit, the more popular choice is ya ba, or methamphetamines, which are just one-tenth the price.

Once a sex worker starts to use drugs regularly, it’s the beginning of the end. Addiction takes hold, and more and more of her income disappears in clouds of ya ba smoke. She stops sending money back to her family­her only connection to a normal life­and she becomes lost in a downward spiral.