Is There Really A Global Fight Against Sex Slavery?


Economic impulses and commercial forces drive globalization, but its impact goes far beyond the economy to affect all facets of social and political life. Powerful commercial interests have given rise to a commercial and commercializing global culture that, it is quite apparent, will not be satisfied until it reaches into the deepest recess of social life. Most recently the commercial global culture has generated a new form of slavery, more brutal and degrading than any form of slavery known thus far.

Millions of vulnerable women and unsuspecting children throughout the world, some as young as ten years old, are trapped into a vicious and ugly world of exploitation, disease, and abuse. These children are sold, traded, prostituted, and trafficked under the watching eyes of a world community that has decided to ignore their plight.

Most of these sex slaves are kept by their masters until their commercial value deteriorates as a result of their deteriorating health conditions with the advancement of the many sexual diseases they are exposed to, including HIV and AIDS. Sadly, the end of their conditions of slavery does not signal the end of their miseries, but the beginning of a life of poverty, illness, and shame.

Scope Of The Problem

Although most governments, particularly governments of countries where sex slaves originate, do not provide information and statistics on trafficking in women, and seem to be oblivious to the plight of these vulnerable children, studies conducted by NGOs and research institutions reveal a human tragedy of great proportions. The figures given by NGOs and individual researchers are often rough estimations, as accurate data are scarce. The difficulty of coming up with hard figures stems from two interrelated factors: (1) trafficking in women is conducted by organized criminals who use deception and intimidation to maintain a wall of silence and secrecy around their international trade, and (2) the criminal syndicates involved in this ugly trade are often backed by corrupt politicians and law enforcement agents who use all means at their disposal to provide cover up for crimes that provide lucrative income.

There is hardly any region in the world that escapes the activities of sex slavery syndicates. Trafficking in women is reported in Africa, Europe, North America, South Asia, and East and Southeast Asia.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), a European Union agency, estimates that some 500,000 women were trafficked to Europe in 1995. A large number of the women and girls involved came from the impoverished East European countries of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.

Many of the women involved in the sex trade are underage girls who have been duped into their state of slavery by an elaborate network of organized criminals. The nonprofit organization End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and the Traffic in Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) provided the following figures on the number of children involved in the sex industry in 1994: Brazil 500,000, India 400,000, Thailand 200,000-850,000, Taiwan 100,000, Nepal 200,000, North America 100,000-300,000. The Political Economy Center at Chulalungkhorn University of Thailand estimated that the world sex industry generated in 1993-95 around $20-23 billion. (ECPAT Development Manual, Melbourne, Australia, 1994, pp. 21-37.)

Intimidation And DeceptionThe sex slaves who are bought and sold in red light districts around the globe come from impoverished communities. A significant number of them are underage girls. Shrewd slave traffickers who offer their parents tempting sums of money dupe these young and unassuming girls into sex slavery. The parents are deceived into believing that the money is given in exchange for employment or marriage.

The trafficking of Nepalese girls into India is a case in point. Every year 5,000 to 7,000 Nepalese girls are trafficked into red light districts in Indian cities. The girls are sold by poor Nepalese families, tricked into fraudulent marriages, or promised employment in towns only to find themselves in Indian brothels. Their kidnapers use brutal means of starvation, intimidation, and outright torture to initiate the defenseless children into prostitution.

The wicked methods of slave traffickers are well documented in numerous cases. One such case is that of Mira, a 13-year-old from Nepal. Mira was offered a job as a domestic worker in Bombay, India\'s largest commercial center, but ended up in the one of the city\'s numerous brothels. When she refused to submit to the sexual demands of her new masters, she was sent to a windowless room, stripped naked, and was left for three days without food or drink. On the fourth day, she was gang raped. In the end, Mira\'s will was broken and she joined Bombay\'s sex slaves. (Robert I Friedman, India\'s Shame: Sexual Slavery and Political Corruption are Leading an AIDS Catastrophe, The Nation, 8 April 1996).

Child-Sex Tourism

In the nineties, a new tourism industry, thriving on child exploitation and abuse, emerged in South and Southeast Asia, concentrating mainly in India, Thailand, and the Philippines. Sex tourists come mainly from high-income countries, particularly North America, Europe, and Japan.

Of 160 foreign pedophiles arrested on child sex-abuse charges in Southeast Asia between 1992 and 1994, 25% were American, 18% German, 14% Australian, and 12% English. (End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism, Lambiet, 17 May 1998)

In 1990 an orphanage owner in Goa, India, was arrested for allegedly supplying children to British, French, German, Swiss, and Scandinavian sex tourists. He was freed on bail. Seven years later, the case was still not filed with the court. (Rahul Bedi, Bid to Protect Children as Sex Tourism Spreads, London\'s Daily Telegraph, 1997).

Cultural Hedonism

Sexual slavery and sex tourism described above are fueled by an increasingly hedonistic culture glorifying pleasure, promoting promiscuous attitudes and behavior, and presenting pornography as another form of entertainment. Children at a young age are bombarded with sexual images and gestures. This clumsy promiscuous attitude has invaded all corners of the world. Pornographic material is becoming more accessible by the day to wider segments of humanity. Porno-producing companies use the Internet very effectively to publicize and promote even the most extreme forms of sexuality. Ron O\'Grady, chairman of ECPAT, estimated that in 1998 around 40,000 pornographic photographs of children, many from Southeast Asian countries, were displayed on the Internet. The demand for children in the sex trade is great. Every year, people from all over the world travel to Asia to have sex with children, taking photographs and videos, he noted. (Poona Antaseeda, Expert urges global law to end child pornography on the Internet, Bangkok Post, June 3, 1998).

The attitude of youngsters influenced by the rising hedonistic culture is a cause of concern. Friedman reported that 70% of students surveyed at a wealthy high school in India were interested in a career in organized crimes, citing good money and good fun as their reasons for making the choice. (Robert Friedman, India\'s Shame, The Nation, April 8, 1996.)

In Japan, pornography is so pervasive, even schoolchildren have access to comic books with pornographic contents. Sex magazines can be bought at vending machines. In 1998, Japan was the world\'s biggest producer of child pornography, and the Japanese parliament refused to pass a law banning the production of child pornography, citing business reasons. (Poona Antaseeda, Expert urges global law to end child pornography on the Internet, Bangkok Post, June 3, 1998).

Stopping The Abuse

Sexual slavery is a serious crime of global proportion, and should be viewed as such. To combat it, we must view it not simply as a legal problem, but as a moral issue as well. As long as pornography, promiscuity, and violence are glorified in movies produced by entertainment centers, most notably Hollywood and Bombay, the problem is likely to persist and intensify. The problem must be confronted on the legal, political, and cultural levels. This requires international cooperation by both government agencies and nongovernmental organizations.

Will the world hear the silent cry of sex slaves and end this human tragedy? Will the world reject the excesses of the entertainment industry riddled with sexual abuse and violence? Will the world reject the excesses of economic disparity and economic greed? The freedom and dignity of millions of children now and in the future hinge on how the above questions are answered.

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