Chapter 6
Exploitative Working Conditions
and Abuses Encountered by Children Migrants


Age and sex of children migrant labourers in the subregion differ by the types of work they are trafficked into. An average age of girls trafficked into prostitution in the subregion is around 14-16 years of age which is generally the age when they complete primary education. However, the age of 13 and lower was reported to be the age particularly among girl prostitutes in Cambodia. All child prostitutes interviewed in this study are girls, although the research team realized the fact that there are a number of boys trafficked into the sex business. In contrast, for children in the begging and soliciting business, boys outnumber of girls and they are generally young at age between 5 to 13 years old because they tend to be more sympathetic to general population and are easily controlled. Among child migrants in other types of work, they are largely in the age group between 14-17 years old. But some factories and business hire children as young as 12 years old. Migrant children who live with their parents usually start supporting their family as young as they are able to work depending on the types of work undertaken. And many may have to work under risk-taking conditions.
According to several studies on child labour in the countries of this subregion, children at work in every country are subject to being taken advantage of by employers in general. The migrant children are, in particular, in the worse position as they do not hold any legal status. They are consequently taken advantage of by agents and all types of police as well. The child migrant labourers are therefore faced with endless violence. This chapter discusses the problems in further detail with in-depth focus on migrant child labour in the subregion. Not all of child migrant labourers in the following discussions are victims of child trafficking, but the emphasis will be paid to child migrants as they are prime target group of this study.
6.1 Prostitution
On one hand, the sex business could be run without an establishment place. Not only to invest less, but also to face less problems with authorities. There are 3 types of this business: call girls, freelance or occasional sex work, and renting a wife. The children usually get better paid and value the work as a ‘high class’ service since customers who take them out are somewhat better off. The girls, however, have to travel to the appointments and at risks of being mugged, physically harmed or cheated. These children are generally not reachable nor covered by public health authorities and their services.
On the other hand, there are ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ sex establishment places which are the workplaces of the majority of trafficked girls and women. Here they are divided into 3 major types: a traditional brothel or other direct establishment, sex-related entertainment places, and massage parlors. In the past decade, the number of traditional brothels in Thailand has rapidly decreased because they are ‘too direct, obvious and ugly’ for the police authorities and not in favour with the clients (Archavanitkul and Chamsanit 1995). But they are still practices in Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Work conditions and income child prostitutes gain are emphasized in this section.
An analysis of activities performed in the following six types of sex businesses are mostly drawn from the Thailand country study due to two reasons. First, girls trafficked across borders into prostitution in this subregion are most likely to be sent to the main destination country, Thailand where the largest sex trade are performed as compared to other five countries. The second most important route of girls abducted or deceived into sex trade is from Vietnam to Cambodia. Second, as a result, there is not much information related to the activities performed documented in other country studies. Nevertheless, whenever possible the situation in Cambodia is also illustrated.
(1) Call Girls or Women by Order
Call girls or women by order usually work under the supervision of an agent or leader. This agent takes care of food and accommodation and even clothing for the women. The agent also finds customers for the women by providing photographs to customers to select the women. Sometimes the agent may bring the women for customers to select right at their place or at the appointed place, usually in a hotel. The service rates vary depending on negotiation between the agent and a customer. In some arrangements, the young women earn a fixed service rate and the agent takes the extras from negotiation.

Duen’s story: Duen is a Laotian girl from suburban Vientiane.
She stayed in a brothel with friends but only took ‘orders’
from hotel customers.

In this province, Laotian girls get better paid than Thai girls. For me, temporary rate is 12.50 USD and that is divided up in half with the brothel owner. The overnight rate is 37.50 USD. People at hotels will contact us. If the customer is rich, from Bangkok or is a Chinese, he will tip on top of the service rate. Agents have our photographs but mostly the customers want them to take girls for them to view and select. If any of us doesn’t get selected, the agent will ask for some money for the loss of time. I don’t take customers who come to pick their girls here. I don’t trust them. These guys are sometimes cheating. Hotel customers don’t cheat....

(Interviewed on November 27, 1997)

(2) Freelance and Sex Work by Occasions?
The question mark remains since there is no guarantee that girls doing sex work on their own actually have the freedom desired. Selling sex by occasions could be the business operated by an individual sex worker or via assistance from facilitators, like a hotel room boy or a taxi driver. In Thai provinces along the Thai-Laos border, some Laotian women rent private rooms and live on freelance sex work. These women contact their customers via hotel staff or motorcycle-taxi drivers. Although majority of these women have experience in the sex work, there are some young inexperienced women around 16-18 years old in the business as well. The customers are mostly tourists. But in a seaport province in southern Thailand, Burman girls reported doing freelance sex work. The girls were first trafficked from Myanmar. After the brothels were closed down by police, they were freed and left with no other options but continue selling sex on their own. It was also reported that these girls hardly made any living. There were not many customers each day and some days there were none. The girls’ main clients were migrant labourers from fishery boats. Another scenario of a freelance sex worker is to sell sex for ‘the first time’ which could be 2-3 times or more. The service rate for the real first time is approximately 350-500 USD. The following ‘first time’ service rates may decrease depending on the agent’s decision. An example is that an agent procures girls from their home along the Thai-Myanmar borderline inside Myanmar and takes them to Chinese and Japanese tourists at hotels in Thailand. Agents have namelists of girls and their photographs and may have some contacts with some girls from previous time.
(3) Renting Wife or a ‘Temporary Wife’ for Foreigners
This incidence is found in some northern villages in Thailand. Foreigners such as Singaporean, Taiwanese, Japanese, Hong Kong Chinese and Middle Easterner contact girls via agents. During 1993-1994, in one village where the author conducted a village study with the Foundation for Women, it was found that many foreigners were having wedding ceremonies with girls in the village. These foreigners support their girl and her family as if they were their wife. Some foreigners may continue the support even if they have returned to their home while some may stop. The foreigners build a house for their ‘wife’ and usually stay with them 1-2 months in a year. Some girls were less than 15 years old while the husbands were in their 60s. One husband was reaching his 80th year of age at the time he got married to his young wife. The ‘temporary wife’ business is the first step leading girls into being familiar with sex work. They are later easier persuaded into prostitution. The following case reflects a selling sex for the first time and becoming a renting wife later on.

Meui’s story: Meui is a Shan masseuse from Tachilek,
Shan State, Myanmar.
She used to be a kindergarten teacher
and earned 4 USD per month.
She was contacted to ‘open virginity’ or have sex
for the first time when she was 17 years old.

I changed to work at a beauty salon in Thailand and earned 37.50 USD per month. Then I wanted to have the pink card so I could stay in Maesai. I didn’t have the money for it. A Chinese person contacted me and wanted to pay 375 USD for my virginity. I talked to my parents and the owner of the beauty salon and I accepted the offer. After that first time, I continued work at the beauty salon for another 6 months. Then a Singaporean came to me. Somebody directed him there. I could speak English just a few words. He asked me to live with him. My parents let me go. He rented a house and renovated my house for me. He spent 1,250 USD and bought a motorcycle too. He was very nice and sympathetic of me. I don’t know what he is doing. I took care of him, cooked and did laundry for him. I hired someone to clean the house. It was almost a year before he needed to go home. He said he would return again. But maybe he won’t return. I moved back to my house and gave all of his money to my mother. I didn’t have anything to do for 4-5 months and then I decided to work like this. They said it’s good money and no force to do sex work

(Interviewed many times, the latest was on November 21, 1997)

(4) A Traditional Brothel or Direct Sex Establishment
Workplace condition      In Thailand, young migrant women and girls from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam trafficked for sexual exploitation tend to be sold to direct sex establishment: traditional brothels, curtain hotels and tea houses. In the brothels, women and girls are usually seated in lines and each one of them wears a number on their shirt. They are identified and selected by their number. A low price restaurants and karaokes are an adapted form of direct brothels. In other words, some restaurants and karaokes may not have advertised services such as food and drink or singing service available but have sex service available only instead. Some of them still have ‘rooms for rent’ available behind the stores. Some customers take the girls outside. In some places, the girls have their personal rooms to service their customers. These rooms are generally, small and dark without ventilation. Some brothels offer big and ventilated space with temporary tin walls set up a little above the head level. Some brothels offer a room which 3-4 girls have to share. If one of the girls has to service their customers, the rest of them have to go outside and wait. If there are many customers waiting in queue, the girls may have to use other rooms or have their customers wait for their turn.
In Cambodia, the rooms for the girls in the brothels are very small without windows, and have just enough space for a small bed. The rooms are generally dirty and undecorated because the girls are not thinking of them as their own rooms. The girls are forced to dress, putting on a lot of make up, and sit outside the brothels to attract customers (Kim Sean and Barr 1997:9).
For curtain motels and tea houses are also considered direct brothels. The places generally have bigger space and the girls usually live out but under strictly controlled by pimps. Tea houses are traditionally a place where older Chinese come for virgin girls but they have recently been closed down or changed their form into other types of brothels. Curtain motels or ‘numbered hotels’ are a 24 hour type of business. Agents usually have women available at the hotels at all time and make profits from the service rates.
Working hours      In general, most brothels in Cambodia offer 24 hours business same as most the curtain motels i n Thailand. Other direct sex business tends to service only daytime, or only night time. The night time service places are the one most found. The service hours are around 8 hours. Brothel owners at these places usually provide a meal before work and a meal after work for the labourers. Customers can sometimes be allowed to stay overnight.
Service rate      Temporary rate is about 1-8 USD depending on each country’s price, and overnight or after midnight rate is 6-15 USD depending on the time starting to stay overnight. The girls’ income is usually 50 per cent of the service rate, or 50 per cent minus utilities and police fee. Police fee is a word refers to the money forcefully given to government authorities such as local police, commando police, and immigration police. In Thailand, the ‘police fee’ varies from province to province ranges from 5-15 USD per month per one woman.
Income       The approximate income per person is 100-200 USD per month for medium range brothels. This means servicing 3-4, 6-8, or sometimes during special events 10 customers per day. Some brothels may allow the girls to take advanced money for the purpose of supporting their family. The advance is paid back sometimes with or without interest depending on the brothel policy. Women and girls in direct sex establishments generally make less money but have to service more customers.
(5) Indirect Sex Establishments: restaurants, karaoke clubs, bars, cafes, and traditional massage place
Working condition      In Thailand, indirect sex establishment is outwardly opened for entertainment services other than sex service. But in other countries, there is an increasing number of this sex-related entertainment places as present in Kengtung and Thachilek in Myanmar, Vientiane, Ruili city in Dehong prefecture of Yunnan, Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Min City and Hanoi. The hidden sex service is usually a private arrangement between a customer and the workers who would like to offer sex service. The sex service fee is however shared with the business owner. Women and girls working in indirect places also attend tables, and sing, and make money from those jobs as they are part of the outward services available at the place. Customers may visit the place for sex service or for other services available or both. The girls at indirect sex establishment generally have more freedom but have higher self-expenses and must face high competition among themselves. They also have to put up with any requests from the customers in order to keep them satisfied and visit the place again.
Income       For restaurants, karaoke clubs, and cafes women and girls make only 60 USD including monthly salary, commission from sales of drinks and tips. This leaves the women and girls in these sex-related business with no choice but to undertake selling sex to increase their monthly income. For a traditional massage place which is the prominent type in Thailand only, girls and women, mainly from Myanmar, and Yunnan, make between 80-200 USD per month. They can generally earn 350 USD per month if they also voluntarily offers sex service. Some ‘stars’ of a traditional massage place can sometimes make between 800-1,200 USD per month. With higher costs of living, those who do not offer sex service are usually not able to support family or pay back the debt with agents.
(6) Massage Parlor
Working condition      Massage parlors, especially in Thailand, is seen as half direct and half indirect sex places due to the fact that it is opened for sales of sex service but under the name of giving massage. Almost all customers come to massage parlors with the intention to buy sex service. Massage parlors where migrant young women work at are usually medium class service establishments. New labourers at the places must be trained to gracefully bath and service their customers.
Income       The massage service rate is a course of 2 hours for 25-30 USD including sex service and oral sex service. The girls and women usually receive the actual income about 50 per cent of the service rate if her piece of cake is not again shared with ‘A’ who ‘owns’ them. Women at massage parlors usually make a salary as high as 1,250 USD per month. However, they also have a lot of daily expenses such as expensive dresses and facial make-up and hair-do for 5 USD per day.
6.2 Child Beggars and Solicitors
As mentioned earlier, this type of trafficking business is the newest one clearly seen in big cities and tourist spots in Thailand, and similar incidence has been seen in Yunnan in late 1997. The following discussions are therefore based mainly on the situation in Thailand. Migrant children from Myanmar and Cambodia who are victims of begging and soliciting business and gangs in Thailand are divided up into 2 types.
(1) Children Controlled by Beggar Gang
These children are usually at the ages between 6-10 years old and travelled to Thailand either on their own, with their family and relatives, or brought to Thailand by beggar gangs or agents. The children are controlled by a beggar gang and forced to beg for at least 7-8 USD per day from dusk to dawn. Some are forced to work from dawn to midnight. Places where the children are forced to beg include crowded communities and areas such as tourist spots, bus terminals and shopping centres. At each place, a gang member is keeping an eye on the children and collecting the begged money from the children once in a while. The children therefore do not have any money on them at all. If the goal is not succeeded, a child is beaten. Some children are forced to take amphetamines so they could beg all day and all night long. This is especially true during special events or at night entertainment places such as Patpong, Pattaya and Phuket.
Once a child is somewhat skilful and able to speak and understand a language, the child is then forced to solicit small items such as chewing gum, flower, tissue and etc. due to the fact that soliciting makes more money than begging. People generally offer big tips to the children or sometimes give the money for the items without taking them. From Coterie’s study (1996), girls in the soliciting business are often sexually harassed by the customers and paid off by big tips. The children therefore learn a quick way of earning money and are later easily persuaded to sell sex.
Income       The children may receive 0.25-0.50 USD per day as petty cash for some snack or may receive none at all. Experienced children learn to hide some money from their ‘supervisor’ and usually get serious punishment if they are caught red-handed. If the children are with their family, it is found that the family is usually linked with begging business network. In this case, the daily income is split up between the begging gang and the family and the family is responsible for finding a place to stay on their own and feed themselves. Generally, families get together and stay in the same house or in the same areas where police raided sometime during mid 1997.
(2) Children Who Live and Do Begging on their Own
These children are somewhat older than the first group and have had experience working with a begging gang or family and relatives who do begging business. The children learn that begging is a good way to make money. Some of these children ran away from begging gangs. Some have had experience begging in their previous trips and returned to Thailand with more friends who also come for their begging business as well. These children have expertise in taking cross-border trips and avoiding police’s attention. What is important is that they never want to become victims of agent-owned begging business again. On the other way around, they are also not wanted by the gangs since they could help small children flee from the gangs. Information obtained from IDC Bangkok suggests that Kkmer child beggars frequently travel back and forth between Thailand and Cambodia and have had experience being arrested many times.
Working condition      At the beginning, these children usually try to avoid conflict with local begging gangs by moving around randomly and trying to find new areas for their business. The children tend to live on a thin line between having to deal with drugs and avoiding such situation, and being persuaded or lured into sex work.
Income       The children make between 3-12 USD per day and do not have to share their actual earning with begging gangs. However, the children reported no savings. The children are homeless and take refuge at places such as public park, under a bridge or under an expressway where other smugglers and outlaws take their refuge as well. The children reported their money being stolen while they are asleep at these places. They therefore like to spend all of the daily income on toys, video games and other things instead.
Last updated: 07 June 2000 Arrowback.gif (1004 bytes) arrow.gif (1001 bytes)

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