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Coersion the Key Element Behind Trafficking

September 1, 1999 · 


Published in Child Workers of Asia
(April – September 1999)

Internationally, there is no consensus on the term “trafficking”. In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly came near to a comprehensive definition in its stipulation that “trafficking” is the “illicit and clandestine movement of persons across national and international borders, largely from developing countries and some countries with economies in transition, with the end goal of forcing women and girl children into sexually or economically oppressive and exploitative situations for the profit of recruiters, traffickers, crime syndicates, as well as other illegal activities related to trafficking, such as forced domestic labour, false marriages, clandestine employment and false adoption.”

Yet the definition is incomplete. It does not include boys and men who are also at times victims of trafficking. Moreover, the listing of situations should not be seen as exhaustive. Trafficking arises in a variety of situations beyond the list given, including trafficking for begging and use as agents of crime. A key element behind the trafficking is coercion. However, it is possible that there are other situations where there is no coercion at the time of trafficking, but where the person arrives later in a circumstance tantamount to slavery, such as being forced to work in appalling tabour conditions. There is often a linkage with debt bondage whereby the services of the victims are pledged by parents and others in payment of the latter’s debts. One should thus be concerned with countering not only trafficking but also forced tabour and slavery-like practices.

In 1996 the European Parliament defined “trafficking in human beings” as:

the illegal action of someone who, directly or indirectly, encourages a citizen from a third country to enter or stay in another country in order to exploit that person by using deceit or any other form of coercion by abusing that person’s vulnerable situation or administrative status.

Another interesting definition is the one proposed in the preliminary report compiled for the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against Women which is clear enough and not too vague. In the report the word “trafficking in women” means:

“All acts involved in the recruitment and/or transportation of a woman (or a girl) within and across national borders for work or services by means of violence, abuse of authority or dominant position, debt bondage, deception or other forms of coercion”.

Sources: The Trafficking in Women and Children in the Mekong Sub Region by Vitit Muntarbhorn Titailan & The Situation of Traffic in Women by Wanchai Roujanavong

Indonesia appears to be attracting an ever increasing number of sex tourists. In both Bali and Java, there is clear evidence of sex tourism and child prostitution. Indonesia’s complex organised sex industry includes many young girls in brothels. A report on a hotel in Palembang that supplies prostitutes found the average age of girls was between 17 and 20. There were, however, a number between 14-16 and many of the older girls had been working there for several years (Suara Pembaruan, 2/10/94). Street children selling sex for survival is a recent development. Boys are mainly involved in selling sex to tourists, although teenage boys are among the, transvestite groups servicing local men in major cities. In Lombok, 14 year old boys from Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, and Denpasar have been found working as gigolos’ (Jawa Pos 2/9/94). More information is needed on the situation in Indonesia. An intensive study into child prostitution and tourism in Indonesia will be conducted in 1996 as a collaborative exercise between ECPAT Australia and an Indonesian NGO.

The estimated number of children in the sex industry has been estimated by ECPAT Taiwan to be in the order of 100,000. Most of the demand for child sex is from local Taiwanese and visiting Asian businessmen. Taiwan has been a sex tourist destination for Japanese for most of this century dating back to the Japanese military presence. Going to prostitutes is common among Taiwanese men. Many sexually exploited children are kept in low class brothels in very poor conditions. Rich men will pay heavily for young virgins (12-15 years old).

Taiwanese aboriginal children are disproportionately represented among sexually exploited children; they make up 20% of the total, althouch the aboriginal community constitutes only 2% of the overall population. A Taiwanese women’s eroup sug-ests the economic and cultural marginalisation of this community as important factors.

Taiwan shares with Thailand the distinction of being represented-in every aspect of the trafficking process: women and girls are brought from Thailand, Malaysia and other Asian countries into Taiwan where they face detention by Immigration if discovered. Taiwanese girls are recruited for Japan and girls from poorer areas are taken to brothels in other parts of Taiwan.

Child sexual exploitation in Sri Lanka is considered to be a recent phenomenon. It is linked with the rapid growth of tourism since the 1970s, although a local demand also exists. It does not appear to take place on the scale observed in the Philippines and Thailand. Although it is impossible to derive accurate statistics, PEACE, a non-govemment Organisation working in this area, estimates that around 10,000 children aged 6-14 are virtually enslaved in brothels and a further 5,000 aged 10- 1 8 are working independently in tourist resorts.

Sri Lanka has been targeted by Western sex tourists with an emphasis on boy prostitution, although it appears some girls are involved. Arrangements can be made from Europe allowing the paedophile to be met at the airport with a boy or boys and taken to a safe house. Boys may be driven by poverty or family breakdown to seek clients for themselves in the tourist areas.

A differing perspective on the growth of boy prostitution is that boys are entering the trade not necessarily out of poverty but because of peer pressure and to earn money to buy consumer coods. A 1993 study by the Sociology Department of The University of Colombo found in their sample of 55 boys and 32 girls involved in prostitution, that 80% had were still at school and that the majority of children involved in prostitution for tourists are not the product of an underclass or a subculture of poverty. Child pornography is also an issue in Sri Lanka. Most of the 300 hours of pornographic videos found in a raid in Stockholm have been filmed in Sri Lanka. (Daily News, 3/7/95)

The majority of India’s 400,000 child prostitutes service local clients or West Asian businessmen. The Human Rights Watch Report 1995 stated that 20% of the brothel population of Bombay, India’s financial capital, is thought to be girls under 18, at least half of whom are HIV positive…. According to a recent report by the central advisory committee on prostitution, at least 15% of prostitutes in Bombay, New Delhi, Madras, Calcutta, Hyderabad and Bangalore are children. There are reports of visitors coming from Saudi Arabia to buy child brides and take advantage of child prostitutes. More recently cases of child prostitution and child abuse rackets have surfaced in Maduri and Goa, two of India’s major beach holiday destinations.


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