Appendix G


The Case of Yunnan Province, China

 

I. Introduction
Studies of child prostitution and trafficking in women and children have been done in many other parts of Southeast Asia, especially along the Maekong Basin, but very few studies were done in Yunnan and other areas with similar situations. This was because these were considered to be fairly sensitive issues, both politically and economically, by both the local and central government. In some prefectures, the trafficking of women and children into the other countries to engage in the flesh trade and other businesses is still regarded as a big scandal and loss of face, apart from the political sensitivity, thus some government agencies bluntly rejected the existence of this phenomenon in their areas and refused to cooperate in the study but some showed great enthusiasm.
Yunnan province is located in the south-western part of China and shares a 4,060 kilometre border with Myanmar , Laos, and Vietnam. It has a population of over 40 million consisting of 26 ethnic groups. Beginning in the 1990s, China has adopted a market economy which caused a great number social and economic changes, A particularly important consequence was the polarisation of the minority rich and majority poor which was unprecedentedly and unavoidably widened. Another consequence was the undermining of traditional norms and forms of survival, which encouraged those who had been living under utter poverty for generations to seek new forms of income generation by all means in the market economy. Most of those from the poorest areas had little education or knowledge which was needed to earn income in the new economy. Since the early 1980s the border trade between Yunnan and the neighbouring countries increased dramatically as did the undocumented migration from Yunnan to other parts of China and to Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar , and Thailand through Myanmar . The uneducated and unskilled poor rural migrants found themselves alienated by the societies which now greatly value consumption and information. As a result, they were very likely to be forced into slavery-like practices and working conditions, including the sex industry, which both feeds into the developing economy, catering to tourists and local consumers, and provides an avenue for poor, uneducated women to improve their economic situation. Under this situation the trafficking of women and children began to emerge as a highly profitable business.
II. Research Methodology
Before the actual research began, the research team held discussions with the government institutions at the provincial level concerned with women and children affairs. One purpose of the discussions was to convince the officials of the urgency related to the problem of trafficking in women and children that both the international and domestic societies have been greatly affected by the outflow of a large number of people, mostly girls and young women. Six counties were finally selected for study which altogether share a border of over 1,200 kilometres with Myanmar along the western and south-western parts of Yunnan Province. The six counties include a vast territory, so focus was concentrated on the border regions where migration is more prominent. Great effort was made to obtain the full support and cooperation of the local government agencies and especially the women's federations. Through them, the local government, including the public security departments, anti-epidemic stations, health departments, agricultural bureau, employment administrations, and other related agencies were well-informed about the project. For primary data collection, face-to-face interviews, field observations, as well as plenty of casual talks with border peoples were conducted. Data collection was generally difficult to obtain due to the great sensitivity of the issue, the very hidden nature of the trafficking at the present time, as well as the unwillingness of those who have been trafficked and repatriated to share their stories and experiences in the alien countries.
Trafficking in women is defined in this research project as: All acts involved in the recruitment and/or transportation of a woman within and across national borders for work or services by means of violence or threat of violence, abuse of authority or dominant position, debt bondage, or other forms of coercion.
III. Current Situation of Trafficking in Women and Children
Trafficking in women and children in Yunnan first began in the early 1980s when economic change and mechanisation caused an unavailability of land and surplus of labour in rural areas. This caused a huge wave of migration from the poor rural areas to the urban cities, from the interior parts to the coastal areas, and some crossed the border to other countries. At the beginning, trafficking took place mostly in the remote mountainous areas and a great need of women in the interior parts of China. Young women were deceived and cheated by agents into marriage to those whom they would never willingly marry in their hometowns. The birth control policy also created a demand for labour and, since child labour required no payment, trafficking in boys became prominent. The children were ‘adopted’ and put to work in slavery-like conditions which did great harm to their physical and psychological development.
In the mid 1980s the pattern of migration began to change abruptly. Trafficking in women and children began to arouse great concern of the government during this period. Unlike before, the trafficked women did not all get married in the receiving regions and some were forced into prostitution. This was caused by the sudden boom of the underground sex trade in the advanced regions along the coastal provinces, which badly needed young women to cater to businessmen and tourists. The problem was so great that some communities became ‘bachelor villages’ which consisted mostly of the elders, poor husbands and their abandoned children.
Government authorities at different levels became greatly alarmed at this situation and took a number of measures to address the problem. Very punitive regulations were passed against the trafficking in women and children which could usually include the death penalty. The Office for Combating the Trafficking in Women and Children was established at several levels and involved numerous existing governmental organisations. Despite these measures, the enormous profit of trafficking in women and children was incentive to cause the trade to flourish, even though many intermediaries were caught and sentenced. From the late 1980s to the early 1990s trafficking in women and children surged to its peak in Yunnan. During this time it was not uncommon for parents to sell their children, husbands to sell their wives, or others to sell their women and children relatives as a way to earn money. The uneven economic development allowed those who earned well to patronise young women and children who were either forced into prostitution or who were willing to earn a high salary without performing difficult labour.
But in recent years, trafficking seems to be disappearing and fewer complaints are filed at the various government agencies. Now people talk about voluntary migration rather than forced. The Office for Combating the Trafficking in Women and Children has been out of existence since the mid 1990s because it is considered to have successfully fulfilled its historical task. The armed police at the border check points are now instructed to check for drug and weapons smuggling, not the trafficking in human beings. The government agencies give highest priority to economic development and consider many other issues minor. But, findings of the study indicate that trafficking of women and children along the border is still a grave concern, especially for Yunnan Province, because of the accompanying spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic since the late 1980s.
Presently there is still much movement of young women and children from the impoverished mountains and rural areas into the prosperous urban areas within and outside of China, but now the movement is different. It is as if the girls themselves are voluntarily trafficked and make their own decisions to become commercial sex workers in the receiving countries in the region. The agents no longer approach the victims in a secret way, now they just bluntly inform them of the kind of work they will be doing and let them decide for themselves. Usually the agents are those once trafficked themselves who return to their home villages. Rather than deception or coercion, the motivation seems to be numerous social and economic factors. Even the communities and families of the women and children have come to appreciate the money sent back by the women and children who have moved to economically prosperous areas and many have adjusted their norms and values to accept the behaviour. Whether or not the movement of women and children is considered as trafficking, illegal migration, migration, or some other definition seems difficult to determine.
IV. Results of Case Studies
The results derived from case studies reveal that there is a tremendous amount of temporary migration in both directions along the Yunnan-Myanmar border. Huge numbers of people cross the border daily in both directions for purposes of employment, trade, social visit, and a large number of legal and illegal activities. Some schools in Myanmar along the border region have accepted quite a few Chinese children from poverty stricken mountainous regions attempting to get a better education which they can afford. People from the poorest regions of Myanmar migrate to the better-off regions of Yunnan and vice versa. Burmese street prostitutes can be found in the towns and cities of Yunnan shyly bargaining for lower prices than their Chinese counterparts. Burmese women and girls frequently marry Chinese men and travel to live in China a short time afterwards. A great many women and children from Yunnan travel through Myanmar into Thailand or further beyond to work in the sex industry or become ‘wives’ of wealthy businessmen. The journey is difficult for the inexperienced so agents reportedly earned 600 US dollars or more for each person they ‘helped’ cross into Myanmar, more if they help them to go further. Many women and children accumulate a huge debt to pay for their travel, a debt which may take years to pay off if they ever can. This debt is a significant factor which may force women into prostitution or keep them in the profession for a long time.
The specific routes of travel into and out of different provinces and villages are found but this covert activity is intermixed with a far greater amount of acceptable travel. The names and locations of the specific routes are too numerous for a reader unfamiliar with the area to comprehend so they will not be reported here. Needless to say, there are innumerable routes to be used by those who are highly motivated to travel and the concealed nature of the travel makes it impossible to determine or restrict the most popular routes.
The general root cause of the trafficking and migration was poverty and the income gap between the poor and the better off, a problem which has grown with economic development. Very poor women and children who have little education or skills can earn more money with less physical labour by moving to areas where richer men will pay them for sexual services. A shortage of land and surplus of labour in some of their home areas creates an even larger disadvantage for some women and children. In some areas of Yunnan, drug addiction was reported to be another factor pushing the women and children away. Drug addicted husbands and fathers would abuse or stop caring for their women and children which gave them another incentive to leave. Similarly, as will be described later, the cultural norms of some ethnic groups seemed to make the lives of the women extremely demanding and abusive which gave them a motivation to leave in search of better lives. Education is also a factor as the uneducated have few skills to obtain other jobs and their naiveté makes it difficult for them to judge truth from deception and thus become easy targets for traffickers. Curiosity about stories they hear about the big cities and the desire for a less demanding means of earning a living are also motivations to migrate. More recently, consumerism and the demand for more products and nicer things has become a motivation that encourages even the better educated and more informed women and children to migrate and seek high paying jobs like sex work.
The study discussed one particular ethnic group in Yunnan, the Dai (known both as Tai Yai and Tai Leu in Northern Thailand), which was by far the most common ethnicity of women and children who travelled from Yunnan to become sex workers due to a number of reasons. One reason was that girls of the Dai ethnicity became physically mature as early as 13 or 14 so they married and bore children at a young age but they retained their shape and figure. Their cultural norm was also that they should get married and have children as soon as they were physically able. With these characteristics, young Dai women could migrate and be valuable as sex workers even after many years of marriage and giving birth to several children. It was also traditionally expected for the Dai women to do all of the housework and most of the work in the fields while the Dai men often ‘overindulged’ in hunting and drinking and it was said to be ‘natural’ for them to show little concern for the needs of their wives. Usually the men would beat their wives if they were unhappy which would become intolerable for many women. Although not directly connected to these types of situations, there were discussions in the study that women abandoning their husbands and children unwillingly, due to trafficking or migration, leaving the husbands or grandparents to raise the children alone.
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