Wooing Women Workers
covering burma and southeast asia
Friday, December 15, 2017
Magazine

COVER STORY

Wooing Women Workers


By Kevin R. Manning/Mae Sot OCTOBER, 2003 - VOLUME 11 NO.8


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Although workers whose factories are temporarily closed regularly hide in the jungle to avoid arrest, recruiters know their locations and will pay them a visit to see if any young women want to do sex work, he adds. Some women who have steady factory jobs choose to become prostitutes part-time for extra income, says Dr Cynthia Maung, who treats sex workers at her Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot. The US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, 2002, mentions "evidence of low-level police involvement in…accepting bribes and owning brothels." This claim has been corroborated by international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Asia Watch and Images Asia. Such involvement sometimes results in police officers facilitating the sex trade, say reports and social workers in Mae Sot. "Police are known to sell girls to brothels after they arrest them," says Moe Swe. In some cases, young Burmese women arrested in Bangkok have been approached by brokers and immigration officials en route to the border near Mae Sot and given the choice of becoming sex workers there instead of being deported, says Aye Aye Mar. A 1993 report by Asia Watch says, "The deportation process in many cases…becomes a revolving door back to the brothels." Burma’s declining economy and the fallout from stiffer US sanctions may also fuel an increase in young Burmese women arriving in Mae Sot and ending up in the sex trade. Although the exact number of Burmese illegally crossing the Thai border at Mae Sot is difficult to determine, both Moe Swe and Aye Aye Mar are certain the figure is rising. One factor driving the emigration of women could be the closure of garment factories throughout Burma. The government-sponsored Business Information Group journal, in Rangoon, recently reported that 123 textile and garment factories have been forced to shut their doors since US sanctions took effect in late August. US deputy assistant secretary of state, Matthew Daley, says an estimated 40,000 garment workers from Burma are now out of work, most of them young women. The Burmese business journal says laid-off workers will be employed by state-owned factories. Daley also provided written testimony to a congressional committee saying the US government has credible reports which verify claims made by non-governmental organizations that some former garment workers "have entered the flourishing illegal sex and entertainment industries." Sources in Mae Sot were not aware of any specific cases of former female factory workers now working as prostitutes along the border there. But they added that brokers inside Burma, working with brothel owners in Thailand, would surely target such a vulnerable population. For many prostitutes, the stigma of sex work offsets the monetary gain. Sandar Kyaw says many of her friends in Rangoon turned to prostitution in the Burmese capital when their families faced financial hardship. "I could not do that," she remembers. "The thought that I might be recognized was too much." Sandar Kyaw is pleased her savings are accumulating quickly. She may return home in a few months. But, she adds, "I don’t feel good about being in this business." Aung Su Shin in Mae Sot contributed to this article.


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