CHILDREN FOR SALE -- Asian Childhoods Sacrificed to Prosperity's Lust
A13-year-old girl, all sparkling eyes and white teeth, her laughter washing over the grunts from a pornographic video playing a few feet away. Then the brothel owner strutted over.
The owner, a hearty, friendly woman in her late 20's who paid good money to buy the girl, named Sriy, cheerfully and explicitly recommended her anatomical features and said the $10 fee was not so great because "she only just lost her virginity."
In fact, that is a lie. Sriy was sold into prostitution two years ago.
As if to prove her point, the owner of the brothel, in this town 50 miles northwest of the capital, reached out and tugged down on the girl's dress to display her left breast. If Sriy survives to maturity. "You like?" the owner asked in broken English. "You take girl?"
Sriy endures these indignities, along with up to 10 customers a night, because she is considered the brothel owner's property. Sold by her stepfather to another brothel, which then sold her to this one, the girl must work until the debt is deemed to be repaid. Or until she gets AIDS.
If she tries to escape, she will be caught, severely beaten, perhaps starved, and locked inside her room, while still being forced to have sex with many customers a night. A neighboring brothel burned down in mid-March, and the bodies of two girls were found in the wreckage. They had been locked inside, forced to have sex with customers in their rooms, and never allowed out because they showed signs of wanting to escape.
Sriy is one of tens of thousands of children who are slaves working in the plantations of the 1990's: the brothels of Cambodia, India, China, Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan and other countries.
Americans and other Westerners helped build the child prostitution trade in Asia, and many of the brothel districts date from R&R breaks from the Vietnam War, or surround former American military bases. Now they sustain the trade with an appetite for what at home would be child molestation and rape. One result is a partnership between local people who run the brothels and Westerners like the one who posted an item on the Internet informing sex tourists that in Cambodia "a six-year-old is available for US$3."
Family Mother and Sister Pimp for Young Ones
In the seedy Maleta district of Manila, near the waterfront and virtually in the shadow of a large church, lives a family with four daughters ranging from 8 to 18. Until a few months ago, the mother and oldest daughter procured for the 8-year-old and a 12-year-old among foreigners, social workers say. When a customer was found, the oldest daughter would go to school to bring her sisters home early, telling the teachers that they had some family business.
The 8-year-old was raped by American, Australian and Japanese men. When the 12-year-old tried to resist, her sister held her arms and another pimp held her legs so the men could rape her more easily.
Three factors seem to be aggravating the problem: rising economic development, which initially seems to increase the appetite for children more quickly than it reduces the supply; the rise of capitalism, so markets emerge not just for rice and pork but also for virgin girls; and, perhaps most important, the fear of AIDS, driving customers to younger girls and boys who are regarded as more likely to be disease-free.
All three factors merge in the person of a shy 14-year-old Vietnamese girl, Miss Nguyen, who one day recently was sitting in a brothel here in Svay Pak, waiting to be sold for the very first time. Her brothel is one of dozens in Svay Pak, all nice two-story brick buildings that contrast with the rutted dirt streets and open sewers of the surrounding neighborhood.
Miss Nguyen was wearing a long purple dress, and the other girls in Svay Pak were also dressed lavishly and adorned with cosmetics and jewelry that looked out of place on their tiny figures. Miss Nguyen's story emerged slowly, because the brothel owners often beat girls for telling anyone about their backgrounds and because this brothel owner was paying particular attention to Miss Nguyen to make sure she does not escape.
The owner, a dour woman in her 30's, had bought Miss Nguyen three days earlier and was holding her off the market until she found a foreigner willing to pay $500 for her virginity. "It's not so expensive," the brothel owner said. "After all, she only loses her virginity once. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Miss Nguyen was smuggled across the border from Vietnam where, as in Cambodia, the collapse of strict Communist ideology has been accompanied by the rise of a huge flesh trade. The buyer of Miss Nguyen's virginity will probably be a foreigner, the owner said, most likely a newly prosperous ethnic Chinese from Taiwan, China or Singapore. A Chinese superstition holds that sex with a virgin helps makes a man young again, or that it can cure venereal disease.
A 15-year-old Vietnamese girl who is also new to the brothel, having been sold by her mother, piped up to say that a Singaporean man paid $500 for her virginity a few days earlier. It is eerie to hear the girls speak of these topics because, to Western eyes, they look several years younger than their ages, not like sexual beings at all, more like American 10-year-olds than teen-agers.
"It hurt a lot and I cried," the girl added. "It still hurts me, several days later. But it's not quite so bad now."
Miss Nguyen shuddered and leaned against the 15-year-old.
"I'm scared," she said softly. "I'm scared."
Fear A Deadly Game Of Sexual Roulette
In another Cambodian brothel, a 14-year-old girl also said she was scared -- of AIDS. And with good reason. The girl said she was sold by her mother to the brothel a week earlier.
In this case it was a Cambodian, not a foreigner, who purchased her virginity -- a district police commander paid $500. The man, like many customers, did not use a condom.
Now the girl, as a fresh arrival, sells for $10, but in another week she will drop to $5 and then eventually to $2 or $3. She lay down on a bench, her long pink dress flowing over her, full of anger and helplessness.
"My mother needed money, because she was sick," the girl said, staring at the ceiling. "How can I be angry with her? She's my Mom."
A decade ago, such a slight young girl would not have been in much demand. But now men throughout Asia are turning toward younger and younger children, partly because they are deemed less likely to be infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.
In fact, the children are greater risks because of their youth: their vaginas and anuses are easily torn, creating sores and bleeding that permit the AIDS virus to spread.
"Most men I know want younger girls, the younger the better, because then they can scare the hell out of us," said Tisay, a 14-year-old street-walker in Quezon City, the Philippines. "Older girls can set a price, can set conditions, but younger girls can't do that."
"I'd prefer safe sex," Tisay added. "But it's hard to insist that a man wear a condom. I'm small and I'm alone and I can't do anything about it if he doesn't want to."
Tisay has contracted gonorrhea, which increases the risk of acquiring AIDS, but she refuses to be treated. Partly she is afraid that if the other girls find out, they will tell her customers and drive them away, and partly, her behavior is simply self-destructive.
"My life's worth nothing now," a social worker quoted Tisay as telling her. "It's better for me to die."
The AIDS virus is spreading extremely rapidly among prostitutes in Asia. India had its first AIDS case in 1986, yet already some 1.6 million Indians are infected with H.I.V. Thailand may have 800,000 people infected with the virus, and Myanmar -- where condoms were banned until 1992 and are still rare -- has some 400,000 infected people. In Cambodia, one study found that 39 percent of prostitutes are infected with H.I.V.
The virus spreads rapidly from country to country in part because of trafficking of prostitutes across borders, but also because customers tend to hop from place to place. Sex tours started in Japan, allowing groups of men to visit brothels in South Korea or Taiwan, and now other countries are doing the same. Indeed, South Korean and Taiwanese men are now prosperous enough to travel on sex tours of their own to places like Bangkok or Manila.
Some Asian governments are beginning to prosecute foreigners caught having sex with minors, as Dr. Gavin A. M. Scott can attest. Dr. Scott, a tall, lean Briton who has lived in Cambodia practicing medicine since 1992, is still fuming over having to serve five months in a Phnom Penh prison last year on rape charges after paying five teen-age boys to have sex with him.
The police and the court said the boys were 14 to 16 years old, but Dr. Scott said that they were over 16 and that he simply engaged in sex with prostitutes.
"It was basically a case against homosexuality," said Dr. Scott, who is gay. "But it was misrepresented as a case about child sex, which it was not."
How do the customers regard their actions? From a conversation with Dr. Scott, who continues to practice medicine in Phnom Penh, and from materials published by pedophile organizations, it seems that customers sometimes offer two defenses.
First, they note that the age of consent in much of the world is 16 -- indeed, it is 14 in Pennsylvania and Hawaii -- and suggest that there is nothing wrong with people of such an age engaging in sexual acts. Second, they sometimes suggest that young prostitutes are at least earning substantial sums to help their families, and that the alternative would be backbreaking jobs that would be even more demeaning and dangerous.
A growing number of Westerners are, like Dr. Scott, being arrested for sexual abuse of children in Asia, although usually they are simply fined and deported. Prison sentences are very rare.
Betrayal Selling a Daughter For a Karaoke System
What kind of a mother would sell her daughters?
Leonilla Olayres is a 33-year-old mother in a slum near Manila's airport. She sat on a plastic chair in her hovel, nursing her youngest child as other children scampered around the tiny room and the dirt street outside. The stench of garbage and an open sewer wafted into the room. Although the family is poor, it is not starving. An expensive new karaoke music system, costing hundreds of dollars, sits in a place of honor in the middle of the wall.
Where did the family get the money for such a purchase? Apparently in part from Mrs. Olayres's oldest daughters, aged 10 and 12. On five occasions over the last year, by Mrs. Olayres's own count, she handed over the two girls to a Japanese man, Hisayoshi Maruyama, for cash.
The most recent time was Feb. 23 when, according to the police report, Mrs. Olayres delivered the 10-year-old to Mr. Maruyama's hotel room, accepted $60 and left.
The police say that they responded to a complaint from a relative and found Mr. Maruyama and the 10-year-old girl, both naked, in his hotel room. The police report says that Mr. Maruyama had kissed the girl, undressed her, sexually abused her, tied her up, photographed her and forced her to perform oral sex.
"I didn't know," Mrs. Olayres said matter-of-factly. She insisted that she had believed Mr. Maruyama's explanation that he wanted to take pictures for a Japanese foster-parents organization. Anyway, Mrs. Olayres added, many neighbors had also hired out their daughters to Mr. Maruyama.
The two girls were taken to a Government-run shelter where, through a social worker, they declined to be interviewed about their mother. Mr. Maruyama, a 34-year-old with a mop of black hair and a modest paunch who identifies himself as a medical doctor at a Tokyo institute that seems not to exist, insisted in an interview in the Manila jail that he had been framed by the police.
Mr. Maruyama acknowledged that he had been arrested before in Manila, in 1991, in very similar circumstances. But he said he had been framed then, too.
Police reports from that time say that he forced a 10-year-old boy and his 11-year-old sister to engage in sexual acts together, and then further abused six young boys and a 7-year-old girl so he could take pornographic videos of them.
Mr. Maruyama argued that his main legal problem is that he did not have enough cash to pay a bribe. He said that when his hotel room was raided, he was not initially arrested, and police records confirm this. According to Mr. Maruyama's account, he was taken to a police office and asked for a $4,000 bribe. Only when he could not pay, he said, was he arrested.
Despair Poisoned Cookies, Silent Fury
The way a child's fortunes can suddenly collapse was underscored by the case late last year of four Cambodian girls who tried to help a middle-aged woman who appeared to be ill on the road. According to a social worker who works, the woman offered the girls a cookie each, in a show of gratitude, but the cookie was drugged and the girls passed out.
Then the woman hired a taxi to take them to a brothel, which she entered to negotiate a sale. The taxi driver realized what was happening and felt badly because he recognized one of the unconscious girls. So he drove off and took the girls home before the woman came out. Otherwise, they very likely would have finished their lives in the brothels.
The role of fate is fully evident in the Cambodian brothel that houses Sriy, the 13-year-old whose owner pushed down the neck of her dress to show off her chest. A moment later, the owner did the same to Sriy's best friend, a 15-year-old Vietnamese who was sold to the brothel by a man who kidnapped her.
That girl's mother finally tracked her daughter down in March, and found her working in the brothel. But since the brothel owner had paid for the girl -- even if to a kidnapper -- the mother could not take the girl home. Instead the mother had to settle for signing a contract with the brothel owner, stipulating that when the girl earns back enough money, she will be returned to her family.
"If the mother tried to grab her daughter and take her out of the brothel, the owner would have them beaten up," said a Cambodian journalist who has written about the problems of child prostitution. "And if the mother takes on the brothel owner, she can't win. The brothel owner can just pay some money to the police, or give the girl to the police, and the parents will lose."
At least, Sriy seems to think, her friend eventually has a home to go back to. Sriy hates her stepfather, who used to beat her and who took the initiative in selling her to the brothel. All she has is the memory of her mother, who died recently.
What does she think of her mother for allowing her to be sold into a brothel? Sriy's eyes grew distant as her 13-year-old mind sorted through memories of her mother.
"Mom was sick and needed money," Sriy finally said hesitantly. "She had a lung disease. I don't hate her."
Sriy's peaceful expression did not change, and she seemed lost in thought. But she began to play with a piece of brittle plastic on the table, breaking it with her slender fingers, violently crushing it into smaller and smaller pieces.
What You Need to Know
Sex Trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person forced to perform such an act is under the age of 18 years.
An estimated $9.5 billion is generated in annual revenue from all trafficking activities, with at least $4 billion attributed to the worldwide brothel industry. (Ibid.)
An estimated 2 million children, the majority of them girls, are sexually exploited in the multibillion dollar commercial sex industry. (UNICEF)
An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year. (UNICEF)
Around the world between 50 and 60 percent of the children who are trafficked into sexual slavery are under age 16.
Human trafficking is the second-largest organized crime in the world.
25 percent of all child sex tourists around the world are U.S. citizens.
The largest number of people trafficked into the United States come from East Asia and the Pacific (5,000 to 7,000 victims). The next highest numbers come from Latin America and from Europe and Eurasia, with between 3,500 and 5,500 victims from each
At the peak of the transatlantic slave trade, 80,000 slaves were transported from Africa to the new world.More than 10 times as many women and girls are being forced into brothels .Child Sex Trafficking the ugliest, most preventable man-made disaster in the world. Learn how you can help end it.