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International Day to Abolish Slavery

03.12.2007 in Uncategorized

Saturday and Sunday were World AIDS Day and International Day to Abolish Slavery, two days to be celebrated! So on Saturday we held the inaugural ceremony of Apne Aap’s Income Generation Program. We distributed certificates to the girls who have completed their training in cutting, stitching, and/or embroidery. They were so thrilled to be given this official document, signed by the Managing Trustee and Program Officer responsible for the program.

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Freedom is Coming

03.12.2007 in Uncategorized

Friday morning started with a motorcycle ride to a small village outside of Kolkata, where Sanlaap runs their shelter home. I went with a staff member to discuss the new project of removing several girls to live outside the shelter, in a group home. The counselors had selected the girls based on their skills, motivation, and readiness to leave the shelter. They had obvious fears, such as learning to cook for themselves, and then I realized that these girls had never learned basic life skills.

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I’m thankful for Mothers

23.11.2007 in Uncategorized

Today, Thanksgiving, was the first Women In Prostitution (WIP) meeting I’ve attended. It was absolutely amazing getting to meet some of the women, who are so beautiful and show concern for their children. We explained the school sponsorship to the women, so that they understand the importance of encouraging their children to study. I tried asking for their child’s birth date, so that the sponsors could send birthday cards or gifts. Some of them remembered; one even had a birth certificate. But the majority would say things like, “She was born on a Friday,” or “It was during the rainy season.” Some of the kids have lost their mother, so I asked them what date they’d like to set as their birthday. One chose Christmas day; another chose India’s Republic Day.

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Working in Kolkata has its setbacks…

23.11.2007 in Uncategorized

In case any of you are following Kolkata news, you have probably heard about the street rioting, violence, and near state of emergency. It’s certainly an exciting time to be here. Yesterday, for example, we were in the Apne Aap Topsia center, which is a Muslim slum in central Kolkata. Around 2:00, we heard some shouting coming from the streets. A few minutes later, the car horns started, then sirens, and soon everyone in the center was frantically yelling into their cell phones. A staff member explained, “The army is coming, we need to get out now.” You can read more about the riots from this link.

 

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School Sponsorship Updates

16.11.2007 in Uncategorized

We have begun collecting the first letters from the sponsored children to their sponsors. The older girls from the Topsia slum area are able to write their own letters, with a little help from us, and talk about their family and school. They are very keen on learning business skills, as many of them want to find jobs in the coming years. The younger ones are not yet able to write, so they draw pictures and we write for them what they want to tell their sponsors. Most of them talk about their favorite subjects in school, what they want to be when they grow up (a lot of English teachers), and what they like to eat. All of the children are anxious to receive letters and photographs from their sponsors.

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Holidays and Protests

16.11.2007 in Uncategorized

The festival of lights, Diwali, or Deepawali, was this Friday. Since everything was closed and no work could be done, I spent the morning making candles with some friends before going around the neighborhood to see more pandals. At midnight, Kali Puja began. We went to the local club to see a crowd reciting mantras to Kali, the wife of Shiva. Apparently, she went on a vicious killing spree of all the demons. Shiva was summoned to stop her, and he lay down in front of her. When she stepped on him (it is a grave sin for a wife’s feet to touch her husband) she realized her mistake and stopped the killing.

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Child prostitutes available at $100 a night: the human cost of junta’s repression

05.11.2007 in Uncategorized

Military officials profiting from sex industry as sleazy trade flourishes amid poverty and misrule, say international campaigners

Kevin Doyle in Rangoon
Tuesday October 30, 2007
The Guardian

Burmese girls prepare for work at a massage parlour in the Chin
Burmese girls prepare for work at a massage parlour in the Chinese border town of Jiegao ­ part of the regional sex trade. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
 

This is a side of life the Burmese military junta might prefer you did not see: girls who appear to be 13 and 14 years old paraded in front of customers at a nightclub where a beauty contest thinly veils child prostitution. Tottering in stiletto heels and miniskirts, young teenage girls criss-crossed the dance-floor as part of a nightly "modelling" show at the Asia Entertainment City nightclub on a recent evening in Rangoon.

Some girls stared at the floor while others tugged self-consciously on short hemlines, stretching the flimsy material a few centimetres longer as they catwalked awkwardly to the accompaniment of blasting hip-hop music.

Watching these young entertainers of the "Cherry-Sexy Girls" model groups were a few male customers, and a far larger crowd of Burmese sex workers, mostly in their late teens and early 20s, who sat at low tables in the darkness of the club.

Escorting several girls to a nearby table of young men, a waiter said the show was not so much modelling as marketing. "All the models are available," the waiter said, adding that the youngest girls ask $100 (£48.50) to spend a night with a customer, while the older girls and young women in the audience could be bargained down for a lot less.

Prostitution, particularly involving children, is a serious crime in military-ruled Burma, but girls taken from the club would have no problem with the authorities, the waiter assured the company, but did not explain why not.

It would seem that prostitution is one of the few things the Burmese military, fresh from its recent crushing of pro-democracy demonstrations by Buddhist monks, is still willing to tolerate.

Information on the Burmese sex trade is extremely limited, as NGOs and other organisations can not conduct proper research within the country, said Patchareeboon Sakulpitakphon at the Bangkok offices of the international organisation Ecpat, whose acronym stands for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes. As a result of the restrictions, what is known is limited to a "basic picture based on what victims have said, and information that leaks out," Ms Patchareeboon wrote in an email. But, she added, the information available indicates that "[child] sex tourism is emerging in Burma as well as the development of the sex industry".

Rights abuses

Burma is already a big source country for people trafficked to the regional sex trade. "The junta’s gross economic mismanagement, human rights abuses and its policy of using forced labour are the top causal factors for Burma’s significant trafficking problem," the US state department noted in its 2007 trafficking report.

Disastrous economic policies pursued by the military have hobbled this resource-rich nation and hundreds of thousands have left the country to seek their fortunes elsewhere. With an estimated annual income of just $220 a head among Burma’s 52 million people, fleeing the country to work elsewhere is all too common. For many, their effort to escape leads them into the hands of human traffickers and the sex trade in Thailand, China, Malaysia, Macau and elsewhere, according to the state department.

On a recent night in Rangoon, a boisterous group of sex workers trawled a hotel bar for customers. Lin Lin, 22, and Thin Thin, 24 – names commonly used by sex workers in Burma – said they did not normally work in hotel bars, but the 10pm curfew in the wake of the pro-democracy protests had shut down the late-night clubs and forced them to new venues to find customers.

With a mother, father and young brothers and sisters to support, Lin said that prostitution was not such a difficult choice. "Sometimes I can earn $40 from one customer," she explained, speaking in good English.

This was just her night job, she said, adding that she was in her second year at university, studying to become "an advocate of the law".

Thin Thin said she was a hairdresser during the day, but sleeping with men, particularly foreign tourists, paid far more than either could earn by legitimate work.

With one of the most serious HIV epidemics in Southeast Asia – an estimated 360,000 Burmese people were living with HIV at the end of 2005, according to the UN – Thin Thin said she took no chances, and pulled several condoms from the pocket of her faded jeans to demonstrate.

According to the UN’s programme on HIV/Aids, and based on available statistics, one in three of Burma’s sex workers were infected with HIV in 2005. However, the ministry of health’s expenditure on HIV was estimated that year to be around $137,000, or less than half of $0.01 a head, the UN said.

Because of the junta’s policies, the country also received a fraction of the international aid given to its neighbours. "Overall, overseas development assistance per capita in 2004 for Myanmar [Burma] was US$2.4, compared with $22 in Vietnam, $35 in Cambodia, and $47 in Lao People’s Democratic Republic."

Now the outlook for ordinary Burmese looks decidedly gloomier in the face of the military’s crackdown. The US and EU have promised more sanctions against the junta and Japan has said it will cut humanitarian aid to the country.

New revenues

Several people spoken to in Rangoon said further sanctions would have little impact on the military elite, who have lived comfortably for decades and now have new sources of revenues from contracts with countries such as China, France, India, and Thailand to extract natural resources.

Ms Patchareeboon said that tougher sanctions "will have a direct impact on children who are already vulnerable, increasing their risk significantly".

The Burmese regime has, at least, joined the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking, she said, and the Burmese media have reported on the arrests of traffickers and the stiff jail sentences they receive.

So what is shielding the trade in young girls that takes place behind the flimsy facade of "modelling" shows in Rangoon from the military regime’s wrath?

The answer is as simple as it is obvious, Ms Patchareeboon said: money.

"I am sure that [the military] has officials making profit from the growing sex industry and trafficking of Burmese citizens abroad," she said. "Corruption and the institutionalisation of the sex industry is common."

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Sanlaap Shelter: A Chance for Real Indepedence

05.11.2007 in Uncategorized

Today I met with the Indrani, the founder and director of Sanlaap, another counter-trafficking organization working in nine districts in West Bengal. Sanlaap, which means “dialogue,” was founded in 1987 and has taken a holistic approach to fighting trafficking. Their activities include Advocacy and Sensitization of various stakeholders to the Rescue, Rehabilitation and socio-economic Reintegration of the victims and survivors.

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