Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Prostitution, including child prostitution, flourishes under Burmese dictatorship

Military rulers profit from the growing sex trade in Burma amid poverty and political misrule. The sex industry includes child prostitutes. The mismanagement of the economy by the military junta has left people seeking to support themselves and their families by any means available to them.

As if this were not tragic enough, the United Nations has estimated that one in three of Burma’s sex workers were infected with HIV in 2005. HIV infects approximately 360,000 Burmese making it the site of one of the most series epidemics in Southeast Asia. According to the UN, the Burmese ministry of health’s expenditure on HIV in 2005 was around $137,000 or about$0.38 per head.

This is from the Guardian:
This is a side of life the Burmese military junta might prefer you did not see: girls who appear to be 13 and 14 years old paraded in front of customers at a nightclub where a beauty contest thinly veils child prostitution. Tottering in stiletto heels and miniskirts, young teenage girls criss-crossed the dance-floor as part of a nightly "modelling" show at the Asia Entertainment City nightclub on a recent evening in Rangoon.

Some girls stared at the floor while others tugged self-consciously on short hemlines, stretching the flimsy material a few centimetres longer as they catwalked awkwardly to the accompaniment of blasting hip-hop music.

Watching these young entertainers of the "Cherry-Sexy Girls" model groups were a few male customers, and a far larger crowd of Burmese sex workers, mostly in their late teens and early 20s, who sat at low tables in the darkness of the club.

Escorting several girls to a nearby table of young men, a waiter said the show was not so much modelling as marketing. "All the models are available," the waiter said, adding that the youngest girls ask $100 (£48.50) to spend a night with a customer, while the older girls and young women in the audience could be bargained down for a lot less.

Prostitution, particularly involving children, is a serious crime in military-ruled Burma, but girls taken from the club would have no problem with the authorities, the waiter assured the company, but did not explain why not.

It would seem that prostitution is one of the few things the Burmese military, fresh from its recent crushing of pro-democracy demonstrations by Buddhist monks, is still willing to tolerate.

Information on the Burmese sex trade is extremely limited, as NGOs and other organisations can not conduct proper research within the country, said Patchareeboon Sakulpitakphon at the Bangkok offices of the international organisation Ecpat, whose acronym stands for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes. As a result of the restrictions, what is known is limited to a "basic picture based on what victims have said, and information that leaks out," Ms Patchareeboon wrote in an email. But, she added, the information available indicates that "[child] sex tourism is emerging in Burma as well as the development of the sex industry".

Burma is already a big source country for people trafficked to the regional sex trade. "The junta's gross economic mismanagement, human rights abuses and its policy of using forced labour are the top causal factors for Burma's significant trafficking problem," the US state department noted in its 2007 trafficking report.

Disastrous economic policies pursued by the military have hobbled this resource-rich nation and hundreds of thousands have left the country to seek their fortunes elsewhere. With an estimated annual income of just $220 a head among Burma's 52 million people, fleeing the country to work elsewhere is all too common. For many, their effort to escape leads them into the hands of human traffickers and the sex trade in Thailand, China, Malaysia, Macau and elsewhere, according to the state department.

On a recent night in Rangoon, a boisterous group of sex workers trawled a hotel bar for customers. Lin Lin, 22, and Thin Thin, 24 - names commonly used by sex workers in Burma - said they did not normally work in hotel bars, but the 10pm curfew in the wake of the pro-democracy protests had shut down the late-night clubs and forced them to new venues to find customers.

With a mother, father and young brothers and sisters to support, Lin said that prostitution was not such a difficult choice. "Sometimes I can earn $40 from one customer," she explained, speaking in good English.

This was just her night job, she said, adding that she was in her second year at university, studying to become "an advocate of the law".

Thin Thin said she was a hairdresser during the day, but sleeping with men, particularly foreign tourists, paid far more than either could earn by legitimate work.

So what is shielding the trade in young girls that takes place behind the flimsy facade of "modelling" shows in Rangoon from the military regime's wrath?

The answer is as simple as it is obvious, Ms Patchareeboon said: money.

"I am sure that [the military] has officials making profit from the growing sex industry and trafficking of Burmese citizens abroad," she said. "Corruption and the institutionalisation of the sex industry is common."
You can read the entire article here.

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