Monday, September 28, 2009

Rubber tappers in the day, sex workers at night

"If you promise to give me a place to stay, food to eat and opportunity to go to school, then I would gladly return home.

"I do not want to live in hardship, life here is difficult but it is much worse back in my homeland", said Cham, a 12-year-old Cambodian boy during an operation by the authorities to weed out illegal immigrants in Sabah.

Cham was among the thousands of foreign children smuggled into Malaysia, either to work or seek temporary refuge before being shipped to other countries.

Cham's case was nothing new as Malaysia has been known to be used as a transit point for human trafficking.

History had shown that Malaysia was the destination of people including traders from other countries. The foreign merchants came here to trade in almost anything including raw materials like rubber, tin and palm oil.

This is so as Malaysia is located right in the centre of Southeast Asia, on one half is the mainland countries of Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and the other half being Brunei, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia and Timor Leste.

Tenaganita Anti-Human Trafficking coordinator Aegile Fernandez (left) said due to this fact, it was no surprise that Malaysia became the haven for human traffickers who used the country as a staging point before relocating their 'merchandise' elsewhere.

Tenaganita is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which is actively involved in monitoring human trafficking activities.

She said the human traffickers also promised the syndicates' victims that Malaysia, a prosperous and peaceful country, was the 'haven' that they were looking for.

Illegal immigrants

Human trafficking is closely related to the illegal immigrants' issue.

Most of these illegal immigrants came to Malaysia after being offered 'lucrative' jobs by those who brought them into the country.

However when these foreigners, most of them who came from Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines and Indonesia, failed to get the jobs promised, they became the pawns of human trafficking.

According to Tenaganita statistics, the demand for children and women to be made workers and also for the flesh trade was on the rise.

The statistics showed that from May 1, 2004 until May this year, 117 foreign children and women were involved in modern day human slavery in this country.

"Among the victims were children as young as 12-years-old and women who were senior citizens. Some were lured by the promise of good wages and legal employment but the actual fact was that they were victims of human trafficking", said Fernandez.

Modern day slaves

It is common knowledge that some of these immigrants came to this country voluntarily to seek a better life as compared to that in their homeland.

Fernandez said for the foreign women, they needed food, accommodation and money while the modern day slaves (children) sought a shelter, education and food.

She said the immigrants were not able to obtain these basic necessities back in their home countries and that was the main reason why they had to migrate abroad to look for better life and money.

Hence, they easily became the prey of human traffickers who promised what they had dreamt of.

"The human traffickers also promised things like beautiful clothes and the likes, money that could be sent home, cars and others to camouflage their real intentions," she said.

Fernandez said the victims were then swayed by the offer of a good life in foreign land.

There were also women who followed their boyfriends for love, money and comfortable life abroad, she said.

"Unfortunately it was too late for these women when they found out later that they were tricked into white slavery," said Fernandez, adding that Malaysian women should also be aware of a similar tactic by foreign men.

Guise for human trafficking

There are several guises used by the human traffickers to deceive their victims.

They used the 'female order bride' tag for women who were smuggled into the country to work almost round-the-clock in order to pay back the money owed to the syndicates.

"In the morning the women worked as rubber tappers. In the afternoon they became part-time maids like washing clothes, cleaning up the house and cooking food. At night they were in the flesh trade," said Fernandez.

The term 'cash and carry' refers to full-time prostitutes.. Locals and tourists would pick the women of their choice from catalogues provided by cab drivers.

The clients would then be brought to the rendezvous with the prostitutes and paid after 'services rendered'.
As for 'fisherman stowes', these are men from Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia who were forced to work on fishing trawlers off the coast of Kelantan, Terengganu, Sabah and Sarawak.

Fernandez said most of these modern day slaves were given only three days leave within a month. They worked round-the-clock and if they fell sick, they were deprived of adequate medical attention.

Those who got badly sick and died were simply thrown overboard, she said.

Severe mental trauma

Due to the severe mental trauma that they faced, many of the victims of human trafficking resorted to committing suicide.

Fernandez said most of the victims that were mentally traumatised were women and children and they were difficult to be treated.

"There was one case, where a woman was forced into white slavery. She experienced severe mental trauma and had tried to escape. As a result she felt dirty and bathed herself often. She also kept away from others and the outside world," said Fernandez.

"Her ordeal began when she was 12 years old when she came from Cambodia to Malaysia and later moved to England.

"She had attempted to escape from the clutches of the syndicate but failed. As punishment, she was stripped naked and hung upside down while her fingers were inserted into live electric sockets," said Fernandez.

Tenaganita managed to rescue her when she was 16 years old. But then she had already contracted HIV and now she is in a shelter home.

Fernandez said the victim was so traumatised and had contemplated suicide. She also refused to meet her parents and undergo medical examination. She became a recluse..

According to Fernandez, victims of the syndicates were forced to consume heroin or cocaine during the day to make them asleep. At night they were forced to take ecstasy to entertain clients.

She said neighbours should not simply ignore anything suspicious that happened within their surroundings.

"They should instead be inquisitive and nosey apart from calling in the authorities if they witnessed anything suspicious," she added.

Kenneth Stephen Perkins
Mobile Phone 0164161782


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