Sex-slave industry is said to grow Asians hope to stem bondage

April 05, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

MANILA, Philippines -- Kidnapped or lured to foreign lands by promises of jobs, more and more young women are becoming sex slaves, charged the delegates to a conference on modern-day slavery practices in Asia.

Ninety-four delegates from 17 Asian countries met at the Coalition against the Traffic of Women conference, a three-day meeting designed to heighten awareness of the sex trade and to stem the sale of humans into bondage.

Delegates estimated that millions of women and children have been sold into the sex industry or duped into it, believing that they would work as domestic helpers, factory hands or entertainers in Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, China and the Middle East.

The trade is estimated to be a multibillion-dollar industry, fulfilling a variety of requests.

A $3,500 German mail-bride package promises: "You get a wife, warm clothing for your wife and the chance to exchange her if you're not satisfied."

Cash-strapped governments such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), India and Bangladesh often indirectly sponsor slavery and bonded labor by encouraging migrant labor, which earns hard foreign currency and lightens the burden of unemployment at home.

It also generates incomes for bureaucrats who illegally sell documents, passports, visas and often false birth certificates.

Since Kuwait was liberated, 2,000 Asian maids have fled employers, charging they were raped, assaulted or maltreated, according to the human rights group Middle East Watch. Only in rare cases are the employers brought to justice, according to the group's report.

One victim was Sonia Panama, a 23-year-old maid from the Philippines who died last month. She allegedly was tortured by her Kuwaiti employer and his wife.

Delegates told chilling stories.

According to one social worker, 25 Burmese women who had worked in Thailand were fatally injected with cyanide by Burmese health officials to prevent the women from spreading the AIDS virus at home.

Thai social worker Christine Mahoney said the women had been liberated from a sex den by Thai police. All had been deported back to Myanmar after they tested HIV positive.

There was no Burmese response to the allegations at the conference. But Ms. Mahoney said the women were among tens of thousands of young Burmese females lured into prostitution in Thailand by agents offering them jobs.

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