We must stop disregarding the severity of sex trafficking in the country and instead respond to this scourge, says Syerleena Abdul Rashid.
Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery.
It is a lucrative trade that exploits people and, according to the United Nations, the industry alone generates roughly US$32bn (RM103bn) each year and has been identified as the second fastest growing criminal enterprise – trailing closely behind drug trafficking.
Reports also highlight that around 20.9m people worldwide are being bought and sold to fill the demands of labour.
Men and boys are usually trafficked for various positions within the construction sector, agriculture, textile or fishing industries, while women and girls are often trafficked for the purpose of meeting the demands of the commercial sex industry.
It is also reported (by the UN) that about two million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade every year.
Global statistics indicated that 56 per cent trafficked cases occur in Asia, and out of 192 countries, 161 countries are guilty of directly or indirectly being involved in this illicit trade of flesh. Unfortunately, this includes Malaysia.
According to a study conducted by Suhakam in 2003, the organisation interviewed 54 women in the Kajang Women’s Prison and discovered that 27 were trafficked into Malaysia.
The interview also established the nationalities of those incarcerated: five out of eight Indonesians, one out of four Chinese and about 15 Thai women were trafficked into the sex trade in Malaysia.
The study also reported that of the more than 1,480 foreign women, 275 were younger than 18 and were identified as potential victims of trafficking. Although this study is more than a decade old, one can safely assume that present figures are much higher, especially unreported cases.
What makes sex trafficking repulsive and abhorrent are the degrading and humiliating acts traffickers subject their victims to.
In order to prevent them from escaping, traffickers threaten to cause harm or kill their families if they try to escape.
The physical and mental torture is increased ten-fold when the victims are kept malnourished and deprived of sleep.
Worse, the language barrier is another contributing factor that may add to a victim’s psychological anxiety. About 12,000 foreign women were incarcerated in 2010 and 2011, based on Suhakam’s report.
Earlier this year, the Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign organised an anti-sex trafficking seminar in Penang and reported that a simple internet search over two hours was able to yield results that indicated 200 “hot spots” where sex-based activities were offered.
Needless to say, the authorities were unhappy and downplayed the existence of such activities in Penang.
So, when the video “Trapped – The underage sex industry in Malaysia” made headlines, the authorities were once again quick to deny and downplay sex trafficking in our country.
Denial will not make this depravity go away. Sex trafficking is a grave concern for everyone as the horrors of trafficking are too real, and it happens, whether you believe it or not, in our backyard.
Although some of these ‘activities’ are quite noticeable (street prostitution) most of these activities remain hidden from public scrutiny and are offered in unmarked brothels, spas, massage parlours and karaoke clubs.
Some of these dens might be located in seedy areas and some in unsuspecting suburban neighbourhoods.
The parallels drawn by Bukit Aman’s secret societies, gambling and vice division principal assistant director SAC Datuk Roslee Chik in comparing Malaysia’s with Thailand’s sex tourism displays the mindset most Malaysians have regarding this issue.
Many remain unaware and uneducated about the horrors of trafficking. Some continue to live in denial and ignore the fact that many lives have been destroyed by the unwillingness to acknowledge that this problem does exist.
Please understand that sex trafficking is not a minor problem and it is not similar to prostitution.
It is therefore highly important that we, as a society, must stop disregarding the severity of issues relating to sex trafficking.
Creating awareness of this matter is a crucial step in combating the ills of trafficking. We need to respond proactively even if some believe that this industry is “not so big”. Apathy will only permit such awfulness to escalate.
A well-coordinated approach is needed. Setting up a task force consisting of the authorities, the immigration department, civil society and representatives from migrant communities and translators will allow us to ascertain important information that can be used to identify the real criminals – the traffickers.