Sex Slaves – The Black Triangle
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Executive Summary: (for anyone who doesn't want to read the whole piece)
America is spending its resources on easy targets where the overall numbers of child prostitutes are very low (in places like Cambodia) yet America is reluctant for political reasons to throw its weight around against Indonesia, Burma, and India where the total numbers of forced bondage child prostitutes are extremely high. America is doing a good job of protecting Vietnamese girls that attempt to work in Cambodia, yet America is ignoring Burmese girls that are being brutally kidnapped and trafficked to Thailand.
Please allow me to preface this report by saying that this is an emotional topic that blurs the distinction between man's law, morality, cultural practices, and just plain common sense and decency.
This is also meant to be a political commentary about how the West, especially America, attempts to positively influence the cultural practices of other countries. However, there is an inherent hypocrisy in how America targets weak countries, but ignores the same distasteful practices if they occur in more powerful countries.
There is always resistance whenever the West attempts to influence the culture of the East. I write this essay from an American perspective, and I can tell you that we have endured prohibition of alcohol, the war on drugs, no smoking campaigns, gun control, Brown Vs. The Board of Education, and Roe Vs. Wade. There are always several sides to every issue, and there are always mixed results caused by any campaign.
Discussion: (Presented in three parts)
Issue One: The Actual Legal Age of Consent, Local Laws, and International Laws
Before we can discuss Child Prostitution, we have to ask, "who is a child", and what is an appropriate "legal age". For example, do you know what the "legal" Age of Consent is here in Thailand? Is it 15, or 18? Or, functionally, (for a girl working in a bar), is it age 20? The confusion is not just here in Thailand. The age of consent worldwide varies significantly from one country to another, and also varies within each country for male-female, male-male, and female-female sexual relations.
Please see this resource: http://www.ageofconsent.com/ageofconsent.htm
What we Westerners understand of Thai law tells us that the legal age of consent is 15 between consenting adults, so long as no money, gifts or other inducements changes hands. On the other hand, if there is payment for sex, then the legal age is 18. Practically, this legal distinction seems to be enforced on Falang men, but not on Thai men. The age issue is further confused by Thai girls under 20 being restricted from working in bars.
International extraterritorial laws further complicate the issue of age of consent. These laws are intended to control sex tourists who seek out underage persons for sex overseas. America, with its 'Protect Act', attempts to control the behavior of its citizens who travel to places like Thailand. While the USA's 'Protect Act' is certainly well meaning, it has been inadequately applied.
Additionally, the concept of so-called 'underage prostitution' may seem curious to many native cultures, where women and children are treated as property. Consequently, in many places, (like Thailand), the local Asian men have attempted to separate 'their whores' from 'sex-tourist whores', but that separation simply does not work out. The crossover effect is two-fold: Thai law (i.e., how it is enforced) has been influenced by outside forces, and many Thai men resist the change. Secondly, foreign sex tourists that may actually be attempting to obey their own country's extraterritorial laws may inadvertently end up in the wrong sin den, and run afoul of a law that functionally affects only foreigners here in Thailand.
How does the USA's 'Protect Act' compare to the extraterritorial laws that other nations have imposed upon their sex tourist citizens?
From this resource: http://www.thefuturegroup.org/youwillbecaught/laws.html
America: Age 18
Australia: Age 16
Canada: Age 14
Germany: Age 16
Great Britain: Age 16
New Zealand: Age 16
China: Age 14
The entire list includes 23 nations that have enacted extraterritorial and/or 'double-jeopardy' laws. America is among the most conservative, with its extraterritorial age limit set at age 18. One first-world nation notably missing from the list is Singapore. Singaporean men allegedly spend their weekends on various nearby Indonesian islands, in places like Karimun Island- Tanjung Balai-Payar Labu-kilometer 14, and Kundur Island-Tanjung Batu-Batu Tujuh-kilometer 7, and Bintan Island-Tanjung Pinang-Batu Dua Puluh Empat-kilometer 24, where ECPAT (http://www.ecpat.net/eng/index.asp) reports that Singaporean men abuse barely pubescent young teens. Singapore is an important financial and technological center for this part of Asia, and America has chosen not to interfere with Singapore. Draw your own conclusions.
From an International Law Enforcement point of view, the entire "Age of Consent" and the "Protect Act" ramification is a jurisdictional and legal nightmare. Take Cambodia, as an example: Under Cambodia's 'Traditional Law', a girl is of legal age when she 'begins to mature', which is gauged by either menarche or appearance of her first pubic hair. (There are also newer written statutes) The Cambodian police, when they choose to impose any of these laws, are swayed by various external interest groups. Take this example: Would there be a quandary if an NGO reports to the Cambodian police that a sex tourist is cavorting with a 15 year old, and what if they arrest him, but what if he turns out to have dual American and Canadian citizenship? If he was traveling on his American passport, then I suppose they have him dead to rights, since 18 is the limit. But, if he was traveling on his Canadian passport, then 14 is his extraterritorial limit. Practically, there is no set procedure for law enforcement to follow in dealing with multiple interpretations of both conflicting local laws and conflicting extraterritorial laws.
One consequence of America's Protect Act is that International Law Enforcement now tends to view age 18 as a universal planet-wide "legal age", when that may in fact infringe upon local laws. For indigenous people in their home cultures, ages in the range of 14 to 16 are generally the local legal ages. However, the USA has done a good job of attempting to sell the more conservative 18-year- old limit as a universal standard.
When we look at specific age-limit examples of other countries worldwide, we see large variations. For example, there appears to be no age limit for sex with girls in Pakistan and Oman, and also none in Iran or Saudi Arabia as long as the man is married to the little girl. (The Muslim Holy Qur'an tells us that the Prophet Mohamed married one of his brides when she was only six years old, but waited until she was nine to defrock her.)
The age of consent is 12 in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Paraguay and appears to be undefined in Ecuador. It is 13 in Guyana, North Korea, Nigeria, South Korea, Spain and Syria. It is 14 in Canada and China, (the latter with the world's largest population), and 14 is also the age in many other countries. Most of the balance of the world's nations have varying statutes from age 14 up to a few more conservative countries where the legal age is 18. If we are to take India's 16 and China's 14 into account, then it appears that most of the world's people and their governments accept 12 to 16 to be an appropriate age for a female to have sex with a male, with the largest proportion being in the 14-16 acceptance group.
Issue 2: Child Prostitution, and the related issue of "Human Trafficking":
Abolition of child prostitution is a strongly held cause for westerners, and it presents an opportunity for western countries, especially America, to be seen doing good deeds while inserting their influence into other cultures. Yet, against that positive image, there are such startling and hypocritical inconsistencies. The USA seems to exhibit little interest in its own backyard, where 12-year-old prostitutes are very common in Mexico, Peru, and Argentina. On the other hand, the USA-funded NGO's have traveled halfway around the world and descended in force in Cambodia over the last five years, where very positive changes have been made.
However, in contrast to the Cambodian situation, countries like Indonesia, India, and Burma resist American influence. The USA attempts to counter that resistance by selective use of its "trade might" in an attempt to coerce certain 'Tier Two' and 'Tier Three' human-trafficking non-compliant nations into towing the line. However, since there exists political and economic realities, the needs of the indigenous children may in effect be sacrificed to business interests.
For example, the CIA Fact Sheet for Indonesia lists Indo as Tier Two non-compliant, but we still buy their oil; (please see https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/id.html)
Similarly, India is also on the shameful Tier Two watch list, but India has money, power, nukes, and the USA just made several new trade deals with Delhi. So, in spite of India's very large child prostitution brothel industry, other interests (business affairs) are more important, and India gets a pass. (please see https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/in.html)
Thailand has long been under pressure from the USA to change its cultural traditions. Some of you may remember 10 or 15 years ago, the legal squabbles, and the "Don't Buy Thai" ad campaign that was run by the American reformers. Today, as a direct result of that previous exercise of American pressure, the visible parts of that tradition are gone, and Thai men that had traditionally abused very young Thai girls in "Dek Bans" (small houses) have to sneak around to practice their own tradition in their own country.
Fifteen years ago, most of the underage girls in Thai dek bans were Thai girls, sold by their parents. Today, a growing number of those same prized young ones have been kidnapped in either Burma or Thailand (principally Burma). While America's positive influence effectively stifled debt bondage, an underground market was created that is fed predominately by an uncontrollable source, the kidnapping and trafficking of little Burmese girls.
There are cultural differences that admittedly affect the perception of when sex work is "acceptable". There are shades of grey based on age, culture, religion, and conditions of service. At one extreme, there are girls of all ages from tolerant cultures (such as Buddhist) that willingly participate in sex work. At the other extreme, there are girls from intolerant cultures, (such as Muslim and Hindu girls) who enter the sex trade involuntarily and who have very little chance to easily reassimilate if they are ever freed. One must also conclude that there are no winners, and forced sexual servitude is not an occupation of choice.
America's reform efforts have been selective, and have clearly followed a path of least resistance. At the same time that underage prostitution has been significantly impacted in Cambodia, there has been an increase in "bondage-contract" trafficking of girls within places like Indonesia. In Burma little girls are kidnapped every day. Muslim and Hindu girls are literally sold at auction in Pakistan and India. Cambodia was simply an opportunistic and helpless target for the reformers, perhaps too easy of a target. Indonesia has money, guns, oil, and natural gas. Burma is self-isolated, and India is a super-power. Those distinctions, and the conclusions that follow, should be fairly obvious to even the most closed-minded reader.
Further, I would challenge each reader to do his own research, and judge the politics that negatively influence universal reform. In almost every source cited on the Internet, virtually every NGO group accuses Thailand of being the principle destination country for little girls that are kidnapped in Burma. However, when you read the CIA 'FactBook" for each country, Cambodia has a 'Tier 2' rating, and Burma has a 'Tier 3' rating, and Thailand (an important ally for the USA in the war on terror) receives absolutely no mention by the CIA for either Child Prostitution or Human Trafficking.
Issue 3: How effective is the USA's "Protect Act"?
Selected Example: Cambodia.
For the uninitiated, K-11 ("Kilometer Eleven") is the Svay Pak sex village that is (or, was) 11 kilometers outside of Phnom Penh. Three years ago, anyone could wander into K-11, and participate in paid sex with legal age girls (15 and older) in regular brothels in the center of the village. Pedophiles also found their way to K-11 and abused young children in houses, shanties and hooch's that were on the periphery of the illegal-immigrant Vietnamese village. Svay Pak was finally shut down three years ago.
The underage sex trade has certainly been diminished in Cambodia, but an underground trade, (that probably cannot be easily eradicated), has replaced what was previously out in the open. Most of the children in the trade are Vietnamese, and they are still being sold into debt bondage by their parents. What we see in Cambodia, is that the underage sex business simply moved from K- 11 to the massage parlors, brothels, and various private houses right in downtown Phnom Penh. It is hugely fragmented, and more difficult to control.
In K-11, the kids lived a fairly normal life, at least by day, and they had their freedom to run and play. Now, the same kids are locked down in brothels 24/7 and they literally do not see daylight. The brothels and 'special houses' in Phnom Penh are universally owned and controlled by wealthy Chinese and protected by the Cambodian Police, and the houses are essentially impenetrable by foreign reformers. The Police don't hide that fact.
Svay Pak was wide open, and there were regular arrests of the serial pedophiles that repeatedly molested the really little kids. It was no mean trick for even an amateur investigator to sit at a table in the Home Away from Home Cafe', sipping a coconut drink, and surreptitiously film who came and went from the shanties that were behind the legal houses. Evidence was easier to gather back then.
Now, there are fewer arrests. Pedophiles can go in and out of locked-down brothels, and it is more difficult to obtain evidence to prove whether they engaged in boom-boom with a 20 year old on the first floor, or whether they engaged in yum-yum with a 12 year old on the fifth floor.
The prices have tripled, more money than ever stays in Cambodia, less money flows back home to Vietnam than previously, and the Cambodian police have figured out yet another way to profit from corruption and to play both sides of the game.
Certainly the reformers meant well, but they didn't change the fundamental equation, they simply drove the business underground. It almost seems that as soon as the Cambodian problem was hidden from sight, when the girls moved from K-11 to the downtown brothels, the reformers shouted "mission accomplished", and relaxed under the Banyan trees.
1. )I must conclude that there have been insufficient benefits from the Protect Act, except perhaps for the personal benefits enjoyed by the NGO's who drive around in places like Phnom Penh in their white Land Rovers, and enjoy expensive lunches at the Correspondents Club. With the half-accomplished easy target of Cambodia behind them, the reformers should set their sights on the more challenging targets of India and Burma, instead of resting on their laurels.
2. )Will the American reformers ever quit playing politics and take action against source countries such as India, Indonesia and Burma and also against destination countries like Pakistan and Thailand? It is beyond hypocritical that America targets Cambodia as a destination country for relatively willing Vietnamese sex workers, while at the same time ignoring Thailand as a destination country for kidnapped Burmese girls.
The whole issue is very sad, and the selective action limited to certain countries is just as sad.