Sex industry assuming massive proportions in Southeast Asia

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Melanie Orhant (mgo6@cornell.edu)
Wed, 26 Aug 1998 19:14:00 -0500


>Date: Wed, 26 Aug 1998 16:12:52 -0500
>To: stop-traffic@solar.rtd.utk.edu
>From: Melanie Orhant <morhant@igc.org>
>Subject: Sex industry assuming massive proportions in Southeast Asia
>Cc:
>Bcc:
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>Thought everybody might be interested in seeing the full press release
>from ILO
>
>
>
>
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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>ILO Home
>
> INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANIZATION
> 1998 PRESS RELEASES
>
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>
> Sex industry assuming massive proportions in Southeast Asia
>
> Economic incentives and hardships fuel the growth of the sex sector
> Migrant women, children are particularly vulnerable
> to commercial sexual exploitation
>
> Wednesday 19 August 1998
> Released simultaneously in Geneva and Manila
> ( ILO/98/31 )
>
>GENEVA (ILO News) - Prostitution in Southeast Asia has grown so rapidly in
>recent decades that the sex business has assumed the dimensions of a
>commercial sector, one that contributes substantially to employment and
>national income in the region, according to a new report * published by the
>Geneva-based International Labour Office.
>
>The report suggests that in spite of Asia's economic crisis, the economic
>and social forces driving the sex industry show no signs of slowing down,
>particularly in light of rising unemployment in the region.
>
>According to Ms. Lin Lim, the ILO official who directed the study, "If the
>evidence from the recession of the mid-1980s is any indication, then it is
>very likely that women who lose their jobs in manufacturing and other
>service sectors and whose families rely on their remittances may be driven
>to enter the sex sector." As to the prospect of a slowdown in the demand for
>commercial sex services following region-wide declines in personal income,
>the ILO report notes that "poverty has never prevented men from frequenting
>prostitutes, whose fees are geared to the purchasing power of their
>customers." Moreover, after decades of interaction with other economies, the
>sex industry in Asia is effectively internationalized: overseas demand is
>likely to be unaltered by domestic circumstances and may be even fuelled as
>exchange rate differentials make sex tourism an even cheaper thrill for
>customers from other regions.
>
>Although researched prior to the current crisis, the ILO report warns that
>the growing scale of prostitution in Asia, combined with its increasing
>economic and international significance, have serious implications relating
>to public morality, social welfare, transmission of HIV/AIDS, criminality,
>violations of the basic human rights of commercial sex workers, and
>commercial sexual exploitation especially of the child victims of
>prostitution. Yet, there is no clear legal stance nor effective public
>policies or programmes to deal with prostitution in any of the countries.
>"The sex sector is not recognized as an economic sector in official
>statistics, development plans or government budgets."
>
>Governments are constrained not only because of the sensitivity and
>complexity of the issues involved but also because the circumstances of the
>sex workers can range widely from freely chosen and remunerative employment
>to debt bondage and virtual slavery. The countries have, however, taken
>action to eliminate child prostitution, an activity the ILO report
>caracterizes as "a serious human rights violation and an intolerable form of
>child labour." Child prostitution risks growing as poverty and unemployment
>strain family income and contribute to the expanding ranks of street
>children who are an increasingly common sight on the streets of cities
>worldwide.
>
>The report, entitled The Sex Sector: The economic and social bases of
>prostitution in Southeast Asia, is based on detailed studies of prostitution
>and commercial sex work in four countries - Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines
>and Thailand. The authors of the ILO report emphasize that the scrutiny of
>the sex-sector of these four countries does not suggest that they have a
>unique prostitution problem or that their social, moral or economic values
>are especially aberrant. In fact, the national case studies in the report
>"are illustrative of the situation in many countries," and prostitution and
>its attendant problems are universal.
>
>Major Employment and Revenue Generator
>
>The report says that although the exact number of working prostitutes in
>these countries is impossible to calculate due to the illegal or clandestine
>nature of the work, anywhere between 0.25 per cent and 1.5 per cent of the
>total female population are engaged in prostitution.
>
>Estimates made in 1993/4 suggest that there were between 140,000 to 230,000
>prostitutes in Indonesia. In Malaysia, the estimated figures for working
>prostitutes range from 43,000 to 142,000, but the higher figure is more
>probable, according to the ILO analysis. In the Philippines, estimates range
>from 100,000 to 600,000, but the likelihood is that there are nearly half a
>million prostitutes in the country. In Thailand, the Ministry of Public
>Health survey recorded 65,000 prostitutes in 1997 but unofficial sources put
>the figure between 200,000 to 300,000. There are also tens of thousands of
>Thai and Filipino prostitutes working in other countries. The prostitutes
>are mainly women, but there are also male, transvestite and child
>prostitutes.
>
>If we include the owners, managers, pimps and other employees of the sex
>establishments, the related entertainment industry and some segments of the
>tourism industry, the number of workers earning a living directly or
>indirectly from prostitution would be several millions. A 1997 study by the
>Ministry of Public Health of Thailand found that of a total of 104,262
>workers in some 7,759 establishments where sexual services could be
>obtained, only 64,886 were sex workers; the rest were support staff
>including cleaners, waitresses, cashiers, parking valets and security
>guards. A Malaysian study lists occupations with links to the sex sector as
>medical practitioners (who provide regular health checks for the
>prostitutes), operators of food stalls in the vicinity of sex
>establishments, vendors of cigarettes and liquor, and property owners who
>rent premises to providers of sexual services. In the Philippines,
>establishments known to be involved in the sex sector include special
>tourist agencies, escort services, hotel room service, saunas and health
>clinics, casas or brothels, bars, beer gardens, cocktail lounges, cabarets
>and special clubs.
>
>The sex sector in the four countries is estimated to account for anywhere
>from 2 to 14 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and the revenues it
>generates are crucial to the livelihoods and earnings potential of millions
>of workers beyond the prostitutes themselves. Government authorities also
>collect substantial revenues in areas where prostitution thrives, illegally
>from bribes and corruption, but legally from licensing fees and taxes on the
>many hotels, bars, restaurants and game rooms that flourish in its wake.
>
>In Thailand, for example, close to US$300 million is transferred annually to
>rural families by women working in the sex sector in urban areas, a sum that
>in many cases exceeds the budgets of government-funded development
>programmes. For the 1993-95 period, the estimate was that prostitution
>yielded an annual income of between US$22.5 and 27 billion.
>
>In Indonesia the financial turnover of the sex sector is estimated at US$1.2
>billion to US$3.3 billion per year, or between 0.8 and 2.4 per cent of the
>country's GDP, with much of prostitutes' earnings remitted from the urban
>brothel complexes they work in to the villages their families live in. In
>the Jakarta area alone, there is an estimated annual turnover of US$91
>million from activities related to the sale of sex.
>
>Economic Incentives Drive the Industry
>
>While many current studies highlight the tragic stories of individual
>prostitutes, especially of women and children deceived or coerced into the
>practice, the ILO surveys point out that many workers entered for pragmatic
>reasons and with a general sense of awareness of the choice they were
>making. About one-half of Malaysian prostitutes interviewed for the study
>said it was "friends who showed the way to earn money easily," a pattern
>that is replicated in the other study countries.
>
>Sex work is usually better paid than most of the options available to young,
>often uneducated women, in spite of the stigma and danger attached to the
>work. In all four of the countries studied, sex work provided significantly
>higher earnings than other forms of unskilled labour.
>
>In many cases, sex work is often the only viable alternative for women in
>communities coping with poverty, unemployment, failed marriages and family
>obligations in the nearly complete absence of social welfare programmes. For
>single mothers with children, it is often a more flexible, remunerative and
>less time-consuming option than factory or service work.
>
>Surveys within sex establishments revealed that while a significant
>proportion of sex workers claimed they wanted to leave the occupation if
>they could, many expressed concern about the earnings they risked losing if
>they changed jobs.
>
>Even so, the surveys also reveal that in the experience of most of the women
>surveyed, prostitution is one of the most alienating forms of labour. Over
>50 per cent of the women surveyed in Philippine massage parlours said they
>carried out their work "with a heavy heart," and 20 per cent said they were
>"conscience stricken because they still considered sex with customers a
>sin." Interviews with Philippine bar girls revealed that more than half of
>them felt "nothing" when they had sex with a client, the remainder said the
>transactions saddened them.
>
>Surveys of women working as masseuses indicated that 34 per cent of them
>explained their choice of work as necessary to support poor parents, 8 per
>cent to support siblings and 28 per cent to support husbands or boyfriends.
>More than 20 per cent said the job was well paid, but only 2 per cent said
>it was easy work and only 2 per cent claimed to enjoy the work. Over a third
>reported that they had been subject to violence or harassment, most commonly
>from the police but also from city officials and gangsters.
>
>A survey among workers in massage parlours and brothels in Thailand revealed
>that "most of the women entered the sex industry for economic reasons."
>Brothel workers were more likely to say that they became prostitutes to earn
>money to support their children, while massage parlour women were often
>motivated by the opportunity to earn a high income to support their parents.
>Almost all of those surveyed stated that they knew the type of work they
>would be doing before taking up the job. Almost one-half of the brothel
>workers and one-quarter of the massage parlour workers had previously worked
>in agriculture. A further 17 per cent of the masseuses said they had
>previously worked in home or cottage industries and 11 per cent had been
>domestic servants.
>
>The rationale, in Thailand and elsewhere, was that in exchange for engaging
>in an occupation which is disapproved of by most of society and which
>carries known health risks, "the workers expected to obtain an income
>greater than they could earn in other occupations." In nearly all segments
>of the sex trade, that expectation was fulfilled, and remittances from the
>women working in the sex industry provide many rural families with a
>relatively high standard of living. The earnings of Thai sex workers varied
>widely according to the sector and the number of transactions engaged in,
>but surveys showed a mean income per month of US$800 for all women, with a
>mean of US$1,400 for massage parlour workers and US$240 for women in
>brothels.
>
>Studies of prostitution in Indonesia consistently show relatively high
>earnings compared with other occupations in which women with low levels of
>education are likely to find work. The personal incomes of high-range sex
>workers in large cities (for example call girls working in high-priced
>discos and nightclubs) can be as high as US$2,500 per month, a level which
>far exceeds the earnings of middle-level civil servants and other
>occupations requiring a high level of education. Average monthly earnings in
>the middle range of the sector were estimated at around US$600 monthly and
>US$100 at the low end (when the exchange rate was US$1= 2,000 rupiahs).
>
>In contrast, the earnings and working conditions are miserably low at the
>bottom end of the market: sexual transactions in cheap brothels can be as
>low as $1.50 and prices on the streets of slums or alongside market areas
>and railroad tracks are even lower, with comparatively higher risks in terms
>of personal safety and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases and
>HIV/AIDS.
>
>In Malaysia, earnings in the sex sector are higher relative to earnings in
>other types of unskilled employment. In manufacturing, for instance, average
>wages per annum in 1990 were US$2,852 for skilled workers and US$1,711 per
>annum for unskilled workers. In comparison, a part-time sex worker in the
>cheapest of hotels who received US$4 per client, seeing about ten clients
>daily and working only once a week for about 12 hours, earned US$2,080 per
>annum.
>
>One such sex worker explained "I can earn enough to look after my two young
>children. It is so difficult to get someone to look after them when you work
>elsewhere. Here I only come when I need the money and it is easy to find a
>babysitter for just one day."
>
>All four country studies point out, however, that the information was
>gathered from establishments and individual prostitutes willing to be
>surveyed. The picture is incomplete on those establishments, especially
>brothels, which virtually enslave the workers and on those women and
>children who are the victims of serious exploitation and abuse.
>
>The Child Victims of Prostitution
>
>The ILO stresses that whereas adults could choose sex work as an occupation,
>children are invariably victims of prostitution. "Child prostitution differs
>from - and should be considered a much more serious problem than - adult
>prostitution." Children, in contrast to adults, "are clearly much more
>vulnerable and helpless against the established structures and vested
>interests in the sex sector, and much more likely to be victims of debt
>bondage, trafficking, physical violence or torture. Commercial sexual
>exploitation is such a serious form of violence against children that there
>are lifelong and life-threatening consequences."
>
>As with adult prostitution, it is not possible to have precise figures on
>the extent of child prostitution. A 1997 report put the number of child
>victims of prostitution at 75,000 in the Philippines. In Thailand, a 1993
>estimate was between 30,000 to 35,000 child prostitutes. In Indonesia, a
>1992 survey found that one-tenth of the prostitutes were below 17 years and
>of those who were older, more than a fifth said they had started working
>before the age of 17. In Malaysia, more than half of those "rescued" from
>various sex establishments were under 18 years.
>
>Prostitution and the Feminization of Migration
>
>Significantly, the country studies encountered few, if any, women working as
>prostitutes in the towns or villages where they grew up. Prostitutes tend to
>be procured from rural areas or small towns for the cities or, as young,
>first-time job seekers new to urban areas, are vulnerable to being drawn
>into the sex sector.
>
>The ILO report also cites available evidence to suggest that there has been
>a rise in international trafficking of women and children for the sex
>sector. Underground syndicates operate "ruthlessly efficient" networks,
>often with official connections, to recruit, transport, sell women and
>children across national borders.
>
>An estimated 20,000-30,000 Burmese women work in the sex sector in Thailand;
>nearly all are illegal immigrants at constant risk of arrest and deportation
>and 50 per cent are estimated to be HIV positive. In India, some 100,000
>Nepalese women work as prostitutes, with an additional 5,000 Nepalese
>trafficked to the country each year. An estimated 200,000 women from
>Bangladesh have been trafficked to Pakistan over the past decade and
>thousands more to India.
>
>The report also identifies the feminization of labour migration as one of
>the major factors fuelling growth in the sex sector. It says that some 80
>per cent of the Asian female migrant workers legally entering Japan in the
>1990s were "entertainers", a common euphemism for prostitutes. Most are from
>the Philippines and Thailand. Thai women work as prostitutes throughout Asia
>as well as in Australia, Europe and the United States. Flows of prostitutes
>throughout south and southeast Asia are described as almost "commuter-like"
>in their regularity and complexity.
>
>What is to be done?
>
>The report says that "measures targeting the sex sector have to consider
>moral, religious, health, human rights and criminal issues in addressing a
>phenomenon that is mainly economic in nature." A major hurdle to the
>formulation of effective policy and programme measures to deal with
>prostitution has been "that policy makers have shied away from directly
>dealing with prostitution as an economic sector."
>
>The report states categorically that it is outside the purview of the ILO to
>take a stand on whether countries should legalize prostitution. While fully
>acknowledging the complexity of cutting through the many ambivalent,
>inconsistent and contradictory perceptions swirling around prostitution, the
>report does, however, offer some recommendations on developing a policy
>stance.
>
> * Target child prostitution for elimination: The ILO says that entirely
> separate measures need to be envisaged for adult prostitution versus
> child prostitution. Children are invariably victims of prostitution
> whereas adults could choose sex work as an occupation. "International
> conventions all treat child prostitution as an unacceptable form of
> forced labour; the goal is its total elimination." Success in
> eliminating child prostitution would also reduce the problem of adult
> prostitution, since many adult prostitutes report having entered the
> sex sector while they were still underage.
>
> * Recognize the variety of circumstances prevailing among prostitutes and
> eliminate abuses: The ILO study says that some prostitutes freely
> choose sex work, others are pressured by poverty and dire economic
> circumstances, and still others are coerced or deceived into
> prostitution." It points out that some prostitutes' incomes and working
> conditions are very good, while others labour under conditions akin to
> bondage or slavery and suffer extreme exploitation and abuse. "For
> adults who freely choose sex work, the policy concerns should focus on
> improving their working conditions and social protection so as to
> ensure that they are entitled to the same labour rights and benefits as
> other workers. For those who have been subject to force, deception or
> violence, the priority should be their rescue, rehabilitation and
> reintegration into society."
>
> * Focus on structures that sustain prostitution, nor just the prostitutes
> themselves: "Any meaningful approach to the sex sector cannot focus
> only on individual prostitutes," says the ILO report. "An effective
> response requires measures directed at the economic and social bases"
> of the phenomenon. "The stark reality is that the sex sector is a big
> business that is well entrenched in the national economies and the
> international economy," with highly organized structures and linkages
> to other types of legitimate economic activity. "Prostitution is also
> deeply rooted in a double standard of morality for men and women, as
> well as in a sense of gratitude or obligation that children feel they
> owe their parents."
>
> * Macroeconomic Analysis: The ILO suggests that official recognition of
> the activity, including maintaining records about it, would be
> extremely useful in assessing, for example, the health impacts of the
> sector, the scope and magnitude of labour market policies needed to
> deal with workers in the sector and the possibilities for extending the
> taxation net to cover many of the lucrative activities associated with
> it. It is also important to recognize that policies for the promotion
> of tourism, the export of female labour for overseas employment, the
> promotion of rural-urban migration to provide cheap labour for
> export-oriented industrialization, etc., combined with growing income
> inequalities and the lack of social safety nets, could all indirectly
> contribute to the growth of the sex sector.
>
> * The Health Aspect: The ILO warns that "the health dimensions of the sex
> sector are too serious and urgent to ignore." While awareness of the
> HIV/AIDS threat is high, state agencies may still keep their distance
> from the sex sector. "Any health programme targeting the sector cannot
> cover only the prostitutes. Measures should also be directed towards
> clients, especially since the chain of transmission from the sex sector
> to the population involves clients who also have unprotected sex with
> their spouses or others."
>
> * * * * *
>
>* The Sex Sector: The economic and social bases of prostitution in Southeast
>Asia edited by Lin Lean Lim, International Labour Office, Geneva, 1998. ISBN
>92-2-109522-3. Price: 35 Swiss francs.
>
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>For further information, please contact Bureau of Public Information
>(PRESSE) at:
>Tel: +41.22.799.7940 or Fax: +41.22.799.8577.
>
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