Traffickers Prey on Tibetan Girls, Women

2004-05-13
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Would-be refugees forced to work as escorts, prostitutes

KATHMANDU — ; Chinese police and local authorities in Tibet near the Nepal border are colluding with local Tibetan and Chinese entrepreneurs in recruiting Tibetan girls and women to work as escorts, barmaids, and prostitutes, RFA's Tibetan service reports. Most of the young women are lured with promises of a quick passage out of Tibet to India or Nepal, but many are sent home after they become pregnant or acquire communicable diseases.

"Once you get into the system, it is very difficult to get out of it," one 18-year-old Tibetan woman in Nyalam said in an interview. "All the Tibetan girls who are working in nightclubs want to escape to Nepal and India, but they cannot do so," she said, adding that many of the nightclubs were concentrated in the border town of Dram and Nyalam, also near the border.

"If we run away, we will be put in jail and life in jail is not easy," said the woman, who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity. "Therefore we had to sign a contract. A few have tried to escape, but they were caught and severely beaten. Two of us managed to escape," the woman said. Both are now in Nepal.

Women and girls interviewed by RFA's Tibetan service said they believed Chinese police and officials worked with Chinese and Tibetan entrepreneurs to procure young women for the local bar and nightclub industry.

"The local Chinese authorities are very permissive about this illegal human trafficking. In fact, the local Chinese authorities, police, and owners of bars and nightclubs collude with each other in recruiting these Tibetan sex workers," one source said.

A Tibetan police official in Dram, contacted by telephone, rejected the allegations. "There is nothing like that, and we would have taken action against such activities if we knew of them," said the official, who asked not to be named.

"We get up around 12 noon and then we have to go and clean the club," a 17-year-old Tibetan female nightclub worker said. "After cleaning, we have nothing to do until nighttime. Then at night we go to the nightclub and serve beer to the customers. They pay us," the girl said.

She said that sometimes girls were brought from Dram to work at her nightclub, where around 20 girls were working. "There are many girls in Dram too. They come to our nightclub. Many people call us prostitutes and look down on us. In this way our prospects for a normal life are destroyed."

"We are paid once every two months. On average we are paid about 800 to 1,000 yuan for two months," said another Tibetan girl working in the area. "Many girls are heavily indebted. They purchase clothes, and many must also [pay for hospital services]."

Tibetan girls and women found to carry diseases are returned to Tibet, said one girl. "A doctor visits us and checks our blood," she said. "Many of the girls were sent [away] from Dram — ; I hear they are now in Kongpo."

One businessman who regularly visits Dram as well as other parts of Tibet cited "about 45 shops dealing with girls, including about 25 bars. Most of the girls work in these bars."

"There are also girls who work in barbershops and massage parlors. The girls are usually aged between 17 or 18 to 28. Most of them are well connected with the local Chinese police," said the businessman, who asked not to be named. "Some of them are escorted to these places by deceit...Most wanted to escape to Nepal and India but were either caught while escaping or brought back from the bridge post at the border. There are also Tibetans who run hotel, bars, and restaurants, and they also lure many girls."

"The girls are placed in small partitioned rooms and they are treated as any other commodity," the businessman said. "The Tibetan girls attract fewer customers, while the Chinese girls attract more. Therefore the Tibetan girls earn less and the Chinese girls earn more. Some Tibetan girls will accept meals in exchange for their services. The Chinese girls are paid a fixed amount while Tibetan girls can be paid 20 to 50 yuan. Some will even accept clothes."

Another woman said many of the nightclub hostesses had abortions after spending time with male patrons. "There are many Tibetan girls who have had to go to hospital for abortions," one 18 year-old nightclub worker said. "If you have a baby then life is not easy... They go with male partners for two months and then they split."

The women said they were often lured into working in the clubs by promises of an escape route to India. "The agent tried to recruit me once before, but I ran away and avoided him since I wasn't sure where he would take me. Then he contacted me a second time and promised me a great life in India. He promised to take me to India," one 18-year-old woman said.

"We rented a car. When we were about to leave around 8 a.m. I tried to run, but he caught me. He told me that I should go to India. In this way I was brought to the Dram border town, where I was forced to sell beers to the customers in the nightclubs," the woman said.

In its most recent report on human rights around the world, the U.S. State Department noted that in 2003 "prostitution was a growing problem in Tibetan areas, as it was elsewhere in [China]."

"Hundreds of brothels operated semi-openly in Lhasa. Up to 10,000 commercial sex workers may have been employed in Lhasa alone. Some of the prostitution occurred at sites owned by the Party, the Government, and the military," the report said.

"Most prostitutes in the [Tibetan Autonomous Region] were Han women, mainly from Sichuan. However, some Tibetans, mainly young girls from rural or nomadic areas, also worked as prostitutes. The incidence of HIV/AIDS among prostitutes in Tibetan areas was unknown, but lack of knowledge about HIV transmission and economic pressures on prostitutes to engage in unprotected sex made an increase in the rate of HIV infection likely."

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