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CHILD TRAFFICKING IN MALAYSIA



Lina (not her real name) is only eight years old. At her age, she should be in school, playing and studying, or
enjoying time with her friends.

But Lina is not so lucky. Her days have been dark and painful ever since her own father sold her to a syndicate that exploited her sexually. Everyday, Lina, whose hometown is Selangor, had to provide sexual favours to men who were old enough to be her brother, father or grandfather.

She was controlled by a man simply called "uncle", never knowing why she was treated the way she was. She was unaware of her rights as a child. Though most people do not realise it, such cases occur frequently around us. The reality is that Lina is but a drop in the ocean of child victims of trafficking.

If you think that child trafficking only takes place in countries, such as Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia, then you are sorely mistaken. Such sordid crimes are actually widespread in the country.

A coordinator for Tenaganita, a women and migrant workers’ rights organisation, Aegile Fernandez, said several Malaysian victims of child trafficking have been rescued from countries, such as Canada, Japan, Germany and the United States. Today, Malaysia is not only a transit route for this heinous
crime but is also actively providing victims and organising trafficking arrangements to destination countries.

According to statistics, 118 cases of child trafficking were reported in Malaysia between February 2008 and October 2010, while the rest of Asia reported 1,843 cases during the same period.

WHY CHILDREN?

Children are defined by international law as those below the age of 18. Children ranging from babies to 18 year-olds are favoured for trafficking because of the multiple ways in which they can be exploited. Indeed, the
immature physical and mental state of children makes them easier to exploit than adults.

For example, a teenager is usually exploited for sex or prostitution; children under 10, for begging, while babies are usually sold to childless couples.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that child traffickers earn a stupendous RM48 billion a year, making human trafficking the third-biggest crime after drugs and arms smuggling.

Some 2.7 million people, mostly women and children, are trafficked every year. It is a crime that crosses borders and occurs across the world, thus making it a global issue that needs to be addressed immediately by the international community.

Chow Kit Foundation Fundraising and Advocacy Specialist Dr Hartini Zainudin said that sometimes, as these children grow up, they begin to realise they are being exploited for sex. However, they are still unable to understand or realise the level of abuse or its impact on their physical and mental well-being.

Dr Hartini, who has extensive experience with victims of child trafficking, especially at Chow Kit, said that children were more likely to agree to be transported from one place to another for exploitation because of several factors.

Some are promised jobs at hotels or spas, or marriage and a happier life. However, there are also others who are sold by their own families or kidnapped by syndicates.

"Currently, baby-selling is very prominent. Those who are childless usually buy babies without knowing their (babies'') backgrounds. It is a worrying trend because there are always people willing to pay for the service.


"This will definitely continue for some time, judging by the number of babies being born out of wedlock, to women without identification documents and to women whose nationality is not known -- all of which make it tougher for them to raise their children. So, selling their babies is the easiest option for them," she said.

The situation gets even trickier as without the relevant documents, there is no way of knowing where the babies come from. However, the main focus is on children trafficked for prostitution, begging, drug-muling and other crimes.


CHILDREN TRAFFICKED FOR SEX

Just as with adult victims, syndicates entice children and the young with the help of various methods. In a world of increasingly complex crimes, it is hard to track the movements of syndicates or people involved in human trafficking.

Several female prostitutes are victims of child trafficking. In fact, 75 to 80 percent of female prostitutes are victims of childhood sex abuse, said Dr Hartini. The estimated age of children entering prostitution is as low as 13, she added. She said there were also cases of children being forced into prostitution as
early as eight, as is the case with Lina, who was dragged into the profession after being sold by her father.

"This is a true story happening right now in our society. Besides Lina, I also found two children from India and Thailand brought into the country for sexual exploitation.

"The child from India is now 15. She was brought into Malaysia when she was 13. The Thai girl is now 17 and was brought into Malaysia four years ago. Until today, all three of them were being exploited and trafficked for profit," she said.

She also pointed out that sexual exploitation is not limited to girls. In fact, the number of boys being exploited in this manner equalled the number of trafficked girls. Besides being forced into prostitution, boys were also exploited for creating pornographic material, turned into sex slaves and used in any
sexually-related activity that could generate profits.

The high demand for child prostitutes makes it a financially lucrative industry. There are clients who are even willing to pay much more for children than for adult prostitutes.

"Children are favoured by traffickers because they are worth more and can be exploited all the way into adulthood. So, it is important to stamp out demand because without demand, the industry would not exist," she noted.

MODUS OPERANDI

The Internet makes it convenient for persons or syndicates to advertise for clients. Clients can view the children on video through chat rooms set up for the purpose. They can also negotiate the price of the children directly through chat room conversations.

Dr Hartini said that since the syndicates had strict control over the children, transactions were usually conducted via the Internet, phone conversations or catalogues, never face-to-face.

"It is hard to track the perpetrators because of the various methods they use to throw authorities off the scent. Even payments are made through money orders, not through banks or in cash," she said.

She said one emerging trend that was becoming equally worrying was that some child victims of trafficking were forming their own community and selling themselves as prostitutes, without the help of syndicates or adults.

A survey conducted along Jalan Raja Laut heading towards Jalan Pahang and Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman found that this phenomenon was quite widespread. Such youngsters could be seen engaging in the activity by the roadsides, bus stops and car parks.

"I was shocked to find a 17-year-old selling herself and then offering her own sister as well. It shows how much the situation has slipped out of control," she said.

COOPERATION FROM AUTHORITIES 

Dr Hartini said it was not easy to approach the children. There were multiple challenges posed by the syndicates or even individuals running the crime ring. The children themselves feel forced to continue to submit to the abuse not just out of fear, but also for their survival. The methods to coax and convince them to leave their old lives have to be done delicately.

However, she said, agencies involved in such rescue efforts often do not have the skills to handle cases involving children. The landscape of human trafficking is filled with so many complexities that it would take a systematic and concerted effort by all government agencies, including the Immigration Department, the Royal Malaysia Police, the Customs Department, the Marines, and the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry to tackle the issue. However, to this day, no such concerted efforts have been made.

"Rescuing victims of child trafficking is not the end of the episode. It is merely the beginning. They need protection and treatment that is different from those offered to adults," she said.

She said the cooperation between non-governmental organisations and the government was still weak and more needed to be done in terms of getting information to identify the root of the problem.

"The Chow Kit Foundation has always opened its doors for cooperation and hopes for a strategic plan to handle the issue.

"It is always important to understand what is happening on the ground, especially to the children at places that are often targeted, such as Chow Kit. We are not heroes, but we are trying our best to help and find the right solutions for these unlucky children," she said.


-- BERNAMA


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