Women, poverty and sex trafficking

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The burden of caring for the family often rests more heavily on the mother. She likely works longer hours and may well be the only provider. In some rural areas of Africa, nearly half the families are headed by women. In some localities in the Western world, a significant proportion of families are headed by the female.

Furthermore, especially in developing countries, women traditionally handle some of the most laborious jobs, such as fetching water and firewood. Deforestation and overgrazing have made these tasks much more difficult. In some drought-plagued countries, women spend three or more hours every day searching for firewood and four hours a day fetching water. Only when this drudgery is done can they begin to do the work that is expected of them in the home or on the land.

Obviously, both men and women suffer in countries where poverty, hunger, or strife is the daily fare. But women suffer disproportionately. Will this situation ever change? Are there any real prospects that one day women everywhere will be treated with respect and consideration? Is there anything women can do now to improve their lot?

Every year an estimated one million children—mostly girls—are forced or sold into prostitution. Araya, who comes from Southeast Asia, recalls what happened to some of her classmates. “Kulvadee became a prostitute when she was only 13. She was a nice girl, but her mother often got drunk and used to play poker, so she had no time to care for her daughter. Kulvadee’s mother encouraged her to earn money by going out with men, and before long, she was working as a prostitute. Sivun, another pupil in my class, came from the north of the country. She was just 12 when her parents sent her to the capital to work as a prostitute. She had to work for two years to pay off the contract signed by her parents. Sivun and Kulvadee are not unusual—5 out of the 15 girls in my class became prostitutes.”

There are millions of youngsters like Sivun and Kulvadee. “The sex industry is a huge market with its own momentum,” laments Wassyla Tamzali, of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). “Selling a 14-year-old girl has become so commonplace, it is banal.” And once these girls are sold into sexual slavery, paying off their purchase price may prove almost impossible. Manju, whose father sold her when she was 12, still owed $300 (U.S.) after seven years of prostitution. “There was nothing I could do—I was trapped,” she explains.

Escaping AIDS may be nearly as difficult for the girls as escaping the pimps who enslave them. A survey conducted in Southeast Asia indicated that 33% of these child prostitutes were infected with AIDS. As long as the five-billion-dollar prostitution industry flourishes, it is likely that these girls will continue to suffer.

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