Pattaya Daily News

29 May 2009 :: 22:05:00 pm 1868

NGO’s Crusade Agaist Human Trafficking

As the economic crisis deepens, many in Cambodia are turning to prostitution to make ends meet. By no means is most of this voluntary, however, as the instances of forced prostitution and human trafficking are also on the increase, with an estimated 2-4 million women and children, worldwide, likely to be sold into sex-slavery in the next year. U.N. statistics indicate that approximately 30% of the women and children victims of trafficking worldwide each year are of Asian origin.
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The statistics, all verifiable, are truly staggering:
• Sex slavery is an industry that nets in the region of US$7-12 billion annually
• Human trafficking reaps approximately US$9.5 billion every year
• Approximately 1 million children are sold annually to the sex-slavers, sometimes for as little as Bt340, some as young as 5
• Rape, torture, forced abortions, starvations and threats to family members are just some of the indignities these victims have to contend with.

Fighting valiantly against this social evil, however, is an NGO, ‘Agir pour les Femmes En Situation Precaire’ (AFESIP or Acting for Women in Distressing Situations) who are active in rescuing women from brothels in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. AFESIP was started by a 34-year-old Cambodian woman, Somaly Mam, an ex-sex-worker, who was herself subjected to sex-slavers. AFESIP is chronically short of funds, however. In order to provide refuge for the 200 women and girls who have been abused and forced into the sex trade in Cambodia and neighbouring countries, Somaly Mam, has been touring neighbouring Asian countries in a bid to raise funds.

Somaly Mam’s crusade has not gone unnoticed, however. In recognition for her sterling efforts and valiant crusade, she has been accorded some of the most prestigious honours in the world, including being one of the eight Olympic flag bearers at the 2006 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony, Glamour WOMAN OF THE YEAR, winner of the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award, and one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people, as well as several more.

Believing the oxygen of publicity is the best solution to scotch sex-slavery and human trafficking, she has used the contacts she has made to raise global awareness via the media, Internet and entertainment industries, enlisting celebrities, like Angelina Jolie, and in the US focusing around universities and around education. In Southeast Asia, AFESIP’s mission has been “to educate the public on current and recently passed human trafficking laws, consequences of contributing to the illegal criminal industry, and how to identify and report suspicious activity”.

Somaly Mam’s own first-hand experience of sex-slavery made her an ideal advocate of the cause to eradicate the scourge. Effectively an orphan, growing up in Khmer Rouge-terrorised Cambodia where 2 million were slaughtered in official genocide, she lost her virginity, being raped at 12, more than likely in payment of some of her ‘grandfather’s’ debts and then sold at 14, following which she was then married off to an abusive husband who regularly shot at her, until she shot him in the foot in retaliation when she was 15. After which, he sold her to a brothel, where she handled between five and six clients daily, including on one occasion being subjected to a 20-men gang bang, which made her murderous!

Her NGO, AFESIP, has rescued over 4000 women from brothels and other conditions of indignity in the 11 years it has been in operation. However, in her endeavours to eradicate sexual slavery and human trafficking, she has been subjected to threats and abuse herself, from pimps and the mafia, having been held at gunpoint, having her daughter kidnapped and her house burnt down. She even has the audacity to challenge official corruption. Whilst filming a police raid on a brothel, for example, she noticed some cocaine, which the prosecuting judge later tried to pass off as white flour. Another time, she was instrumental in nabbing a German paedophile, who managed to escape with only a Bt200,000 fine. Attempting to use her influence, she found however can be a double-edged sword, she had apparently alienated some influential people in a large-scale rescue attempt of 89 women and children. Afterwards, vengeful pimps re-captured the rescuees from the AFESIP shelter and vowed to return the following day with hand grenades. When Somaly attempted to recruit high-level support, she was told she had gone too far.

She is also up against the inherent superstition of Asia. In Cambodia, for instance, it is considered acceptable to kidnap a girl, some mere infants, imprison her for a week and rape her to gain good health and luck, or as an antidote to HIV. Somaly tours the streets looking for women in distress to rescue from such situations as being chained up and beaten with electric cables, or one Somaly recalls who had a nail driven into her skull because she attempted to escape. She maintains that her desperation is so great at times that on three occasions it has nearly driven her to commit suicide.

At the AFESIP shelters, the women and girls can get medical and psychological treatment, as well as tuition in English, French and vocational skills, like weaving and hairdressing and some even get the chance to go to foreign universities. The Somaly Mam Foundation with three shelters throughout Cambodia and over 250 children and young women in rehabilitation programmes at any given time, it both raises and grants funds to help feed the shelter residents, support rescue operations, employ the newly reintegrated residents, and is currently creating a child care centre for the babies and young children of the victims.

Nevertheless, Somaly Mam considers the crusade of sufficient merit that she has vowed to continue against all the odds for the sake of reintegrating her often psychologically damaged charges into society, not least by teaching them English, which is recognised as being an important step toward a successful reintegration. To this end, in collaboration with Regis University in Denver, Colorado, the Somaly Mam Foundation is helping develop a comprehensive English as a Second Language programme to be instituted in developing countries worldwide. For further details of her work and to make contributions, log on to http://www.somaly.org/

Reporter : Sirithanon   Photo : Internet   Category : Legal

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