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From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Mon May 08 2000 - 11:24:49 EDT

Despite increased international efforts and new public-education programs
aimed at curbing the global trafficking in women and children, NORMAN
ABJORENSEN says slavery continues to flourish.

WHILE national governments and international agencies seek to grapple with
the immense problem of global trafficking in women and children, one
international organisation has stepped up its efforts on one of the major
source countries, the Philippines, to alert potential victims of the
dangers. What began as a stage play has now been turned into a video, and
the International Organisation for Migration, along with a Belgian
government agency, have provided funds for the reproduction of copies of
the video which is also being translated into several regional languages.
Called We're So Syndicated, Ma'am, the video is being distributed free in
the Philippines to community groups, schools, local government and
individuals. The play-cum-video is inspired by a book by Belgian author
Chris de Stoop, They Are So Sweet, Sir: The Cruel World of Traffickers in
Filipinos and Other Women. The play, first produced last year at a
conference of non-government organisations in Seoul, draws an analogy
between a chicken in particular, the Philippine favourite dish, lechon
manok and a woman. In the version produced by IOM official Maria
Paulin-Ballesteros, she showed parts of a chicken as she prepared lechon
manok while her colleague, Lakan Bunyi, simultaneously demonstrated on a
life-size doll how a victim of sex trafficking is groomed. It was,
according to IOM News, a graphic portrayal of the similarity between
garnishing a chicken and the grooming of a woman: in freshness, in spices,
in the value of tender limbs, breasts and legs. According to IOM News, the
underlying message of the play is that while the Filipino consumers crave
lechon manok, male customers around the world are going crazy over young
women and children. The impassioned producer of the piece, Maria
Paulin-Ballesteros, says " women are the toys, men are the actors". She
adds: " The business is syndicated and protected. We go from community to
community to warn them with our play. " The chicken business is a sure
hit. Woman business is a sure hit. The supply never runs out. " At the end,
a life is roasted." The video production has been welcomed by many
organisations working in the field, among them the International Labour
Organisation. The ILO's Alice Quedrango, who was at Seoul, is head of the
International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour.
" This is what we need to make our point more NGO involvement and such a
medium to captivate target groups," she said. The public launch of the
video in Manila touched a raw nerve. According to the Philippine Daily
Inquirer, overseas workers are a major source of revenue for the country.
" It is money that has not only kept families and communities in relative
comfort and assured them of a brighter future, but also kept the national
book accounts in a relative healthy state," the newspaper noted. " But
seldom do we, the families of the workers, or even the rest of the
citizenry who are their unintended and unwitting beneficiaries, bother to
consider the "cost' of that money the price our brothers and sisters,
fathers and mothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbours have to
pay to live abroad and earn wages in a foreign currency." The
public-education program in the Philippines has been augmented by a
proposal for another use of the mass media talk-back radio. It is a
collaboration between the IOM and the Philippine Overseas Employment
The aim of the program, according to IOM officials, is to raise the
awareness of Philippine potential migrants " to the realities of migration
and the world beyond national frontiers". In addition to its warnings, the
program will provide accurate and reliable information on existing
possibilities for overseas employment and legal immigration. The IOM says
the international sex trade is worth up to $A13.5 billion a year, and has
appealed for stronger NGO commitment to combat it. IOM director of
external relations Peter Schatzer says the sex trade, mainly to Europe,
trafficked in girls from South-East Asia, the Dominican Republic and
Nigeria in the 1980s and early 1990s, but now focuses more on women from
Europe, including impoverished parts of eastern Europe. As a result, the
IOM has begun early warning campaigns in Ukraine, the Czech Republic and
Hungary. It has also begun a campaign cautioning women and girls in
Thailand to be wary of job offers from Japan. According to researchers,
the problem is made ever more difficult by the complicity of officials and
even governments in sex-trade rackets. A human-rights organisation called
Asia Watch Women's Rights Project report has closely documented the illicit
trade in Burmese women, publishing a report entitled A Modern Form of
Slavery Trafficking of Burmese Women and Girls into Brothels in Thailand.
Based on a series of in-depth interviews, the report concludes that:
Trafficking is organised and driven by a desire to maximise profits. Agents
for brothels infiltrate remote areas of Burma seeking recruits, who are
unsuspecting and easily deceived. Virgin girls bring higher prices and less
threat of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. This leads to
greater demand for younger girls. Family members usually accompany the
girls to the Thai border, where they receive payments ranging from
$A400-$A800 from agents for brothels. The payment to the family becomes the
debt, usually doubled with interest, which must be worked off by sexual
servitude. Once a girl or woman is inside a brothel, she is virtually a
prisoner; escape is, if at all possible, very dangerous.
According to the report, nearly all the women interviewed had to be
available to work 10-14 hours a day, with a typical allowance of $1.20 a
day. One in three of the Burmese women and girls who were interviewed were
willing and able to identify police who had been involved in transporting
them to the brothels, and 50 per cent reported having police officers as
clients. Several women and girls had previously been arrested by local
police and returned to the brothel after the owner paid money to the
police. Their fines were added to their debt, furthering their bondage to
the brothel owners.
Asia Watch Women's Rights Project is critical of the United Nations, which
it says could invoke a whole series of conventions against parties to the
trafficking. For example, Article 6 of the United Nations Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979), to
which Australia and Thailand are both signatories, states, " Parties shall
take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms
of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women." In
addition, Articles 34 and 35 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
(1989) address sexual exploitation and abuse and the trafficking of
children. Then there is also the Convention for the Suppression of the
Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others,
to which Burma is a signatory.
Meanwhile, slavery continues to flourish and chickens go on being roasted.

  2000 The Canberra Times.
CANBERRA TIMES 27/03/2000 P9

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