Poor Thais Sell Daughters (fwd)

Cliff Sloane (cesloane@MAROON.TC.UMN.EDU)
Sun, 13 Nov 1994 22:04:31 -0600

[ Article crossposted from clari.world.asia.southeast,clari.news.family,clari.news.sex,clari.news.features ]
[ Author was AP (C-ap@clarinet.com) ]
[ Posted on Sun, 30 Oct 94 21:20:12 PST ]

SEANJAI PATTANA, Thailand (AP) -- The snapshots of his prostitute
granddaughters at work are pasted prominently at the entrance to
the old villager's wooden shack.
The girls, in heavy makeup and miniskirts, strike suggestive
poses for the camera: lying seductively on a bed in one and
brazenly kissing older, apparently foreign men in others.
Just a few years ago, in close-knit traditional villages like
Seanjai Pattana, parents would have been ashamed that their
daughters were off in the big cities sleeping with strangers to
support their families.
But 65-year-old Acha's proud display of the photographs shows
how times have changed in his remote mountain village 460 miles
north of Bangkok, the capital.
Now when girls finish sixth grade, the last mandatory grade in
Thailand, teachers go out to try to convince parents not to sell
them into prostitution -- at age 11. Authorities send monks into the
mountains of the north, where the practice is most common, to
counsel parents it is wrong to sell their own flesh and blood.
But Chakrapand Wongburanavart, dean of the faculty of social
sciences at Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand, said the
once isolated villagers are increasingly sacrificing their
daughters to pay for the luxuries of the modern world.
``This is the shortest way to upgrade their social status,'' he
said. ``It's fashionable.''
Acha's granddaughters helped pay for the family's new ceramic
tile roof with the $1,200 they have sent home since the pair was
sold for the equivalent of $200 seven years ago at ages 15 and 16.
That is a huge sum to impoverished farmers in one-room shacks,
forced for years to live on what they grew. Now, Acha said, 10
other girls in the village of about a dozen families are working as
Acha has no idea if his granddaughters suffer in the brothel,
because the family does not ask. ``Nobody talks to them about
this,'' he said.
There are an estimated 2 million prostitutes in Thailand, a
nation of about 60 million people. But it is unclear how many were
sold by their parents to work in brothels, which are described
after police raids as horrifying.
Girls are often chained, beaten, drugged, denied food and raped
by pimps before being forced to cater to the lowest rungs of
society. Customers rarely use condoms and expose the girls to the
AIDS virus.
Some parents are ashamed to admit they sold their daughters to
work as sex slaves and insist they thought the girls were going to
work as waitresses or maids.
But in a shelter in Chiang Rai, the provincial capital 35 miles
to the south, girls rescued from the flesh trade say they believe
their parents knew they were headed for the seedy and often
dangerous brothels.
The girls are not allowed to talk to journalists. But a shelter
worker, Pannipa Phansomboon, quoted some as saying their parents
lied about where they were going.
``They trusted their parents, and they sold their own
daughters,'' Pannipa said quietly as the girls sang in the peaceful
home of the shelter. ``They don't trust their parents anymore.''
Aid workers and girls from the villages say the parents are
motivated by sheer greed.
``They want to get rich fast. They want all the luxuries, and
they want to upgrade their social status,'' Nidda Puangmang, 18,
said bitterly of the parents who sold her many friends into
prostitution. ``They don't feel anything because it has become so
One of her friends, sold at age 11, told her parents on a visit
home how much she suffered in the brothel. ``They didn't listen,''
Nidda said. ``They just wanted the money.''
Nidda is in a U.S.-financed program aimed at giving about 1,000
girls a year skills in health care, gem cutting, fashion design or
computers so they will not be forced into prostitution to support
their families.
Chakrapand, who is the director, said counselors have to
persuade parents to let their daughters learn skills that will earn
them about $200 a month. That is about one-tenth what some
prostitutes make.
The counselors first appeal to the parents' morality by showing
them a video on the horrors of Thai brothels.
Then they appeal to the parent's pocketbooks, noting the girls
might contract AIDS in the brothels and die before securing their
parent's future.
Many villagers remain unconvinced.
Leo G.M. Alting Von Geusau, a Dutch anthropologist who has
studied Akha villagers for 17 years, said they started selling
their daughters for much-needed cash to offset the loss of farmland
and to finance the rise in heroin addiction.
``Now, some parents don't care,'' said Von Geusau.
Aju Jupoh, director of the Association for Akha Education and
Culture in Thailand, said selling daughters has become so much a
part of life in some villages that mothers no longer hope for boys
when they get pregnant.
``They are very happy if they get a girl because they can sell
it,'' he said.
A 23-year-old former prostitute, who spoke on condition of
anonymity, is sickened by what happens to the region's girls.
Hiding in her wooden hut, where other villagers cannot hear her,
she recounted how a woman gained her parents' trust and then
invited her to visit a nearby city when she was 11 years old.
There, the woman sold her to a brothel, where she was beaten
into having sex with countless men and barred from leaving. ``I
nearly died,'' she said. Her father finally rescued her.
Twelve years later, the trauma of those seven months as a
prostitute are still with her. She cannot comprehend why other
parents would subject their daughters to such cruelty.
``If they knew how bad it was, they would not sell their