From A World to Win News Service

Selling Women: The Global Trade in Human Beings

Revolutionary Worker #1272, March 27, 2005, posted at

The following article is from A World to Win News Service:

March 7, 2005. A World to Win News Service. Prostitution is one of the fastest growing components of today's world economy. Some NGOs and international agencies like to call women who engage in prostitution "sex workers" and refer to the "sex industry" as if prostitution were just another job, like working at a food stand, in a garment factory or at a call center, but in fact most of the women are youths and children and little more than modern slaves. Workers create commodities, but like old-fashioned slaves these women are commodities to be bought and sold as if they were things, and not human beings. Many hundreds of thousands of women are trafficked every year from the world's poorest areas to Western Europe, Australia, Israel, Japan, the U.S., the Arab Gulf states and other countries. This contemporary slave trade generates billions of dollars every year.

There are 400,000 to 500,000 child prostitutes in India. Many are trafficked from Nepal and Bangladesh. An estimated 200,000 women and children fall victim to human trafficking in Southeast Asia alone every year.

Many Southeast Asian villages have been emptied of their 13- to 19-year-old girls. The tourist industry in many of these countries revolves around prostitution to a large extent. Some 800,000 youth and teenagers in Thailand have been forced into prostitution. It is estimated that the "sex industry" earns 10 to 14% of the country's gross domestic product. While Thailand is the worst, according to an International Labor Organization report, the figures for the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia are similar.

Southeast Asia

The Southeast Asian countries do not openly promote prostitution, but their economies are dependent on it to some degree and their policies have to take this into account. They know what brings many of the tourists and what the young women are being sent abroad to do. The hard currency helps pay their debts to the IMF and the World Bank, who in this sense can be considered the world's biggest pimps. Governments thrive on the official and unofficial taxes (bribes) that come from issuing licenses for bars, restaurants, hotels and other centers that are covers for brothels, and the income these places earn enters into many other businesses and industries. In fact, prostitution is an integral component of the economy of these countries. Whole layers of capitalists directly engaged in this industry or indirectly benefiting from it have been created and fattened. Despite some talk about combating sex tourism by the governments in the region, they have done nothing real to limit it. In Thailand and Cambodia, senior government officials are said to be directly involved, but even if they were not, any serious attack on prostitution would undermine the economy these officials are pledged to develop.

Most women engaged in prostitution have been forced into it by poverty and the malfunctioning of the economy of their country. The economic crisis that overtook Southeast Asia in the late 1990s made the situation worse. The number of women driven to prostitution increased dramatically, and countries that earlier had not experienced large- scale prostitution were drawn in. Vietnam and Cambodia—which were largely closed to tourism just a decade ago—are now at risk of becoming established sex tourism destinations like Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

The kind of development promoted by imperialist capital in these countries produces more prostitution, not less. For example, while capitalist industries have developed enough in some parts of Thailand to make that country a "tiger" admired for its economic growth, the collapse of the economy in rural areas that has accompanied this has made life in the villages near impossible, with few opportunities for the peasants to find work that will ensure their survival. In Thailand, prostitutes send $300 million a year to their families in the villages. In Cambodia, 98% of girls in prostitution are the main providers for their families. In a survey conducted by the NGO Escape, many women reported that if they gave up prostitution their parents and/or children would starve.

Former Soviet-Bloc Countries

The collapse of the Soviet bloc produced another source of enormous profits for those who mine this human misery. Albania, Ukraine, Romania and Moldova, Europe's poorest country, are the main but not the only source of countries from which women are abducted or tricked into enslavement in the West.

Each year many women from former Soviet-bloc countries like Slovakia, Russia, Georgia, Armenia and others whose social structures have imploded are exported to Western Europe and the U.S. Trafficking has become an integral part of the economies of these countries, too—often the forward edge of the emerging market economy. The prostitution of women and children has paid for many a new concrete tower block in Tirana (Albania) or Chisinau (Moldova). "It is estimated," says a report commissioned by Unicef, "that over the past 10 years, 100,000 Albanian women and girls have been trafficked to Western Europe and other Balkan countries." Some 30,000 prostitutes from Albania are said to be currently working in Western Europe. Documents produced by Unicef and "Save the Children" found "up to 80% of those trafficked from some corners of Albania and Moldova to be children, with reports showing a decline in the average age of children/women being trafficked for prostitution."

Gangs hunt youth and teenage girls through direct contact with a relative, friend or friend of a friend, as well as by posting ads offering fake jobs as waitresses, babysitters or cooks—invariably jobs for women. Most are trafficked by criminal gangs or individual entrepreneurs promising them a better life and the chance to earn a lot of money. Once across the border, they will be auctioned and sold to their next owner. By now, they owe a vast amount of money to the trafficker for "facilitating" their journey, and will be made to work off debts by servicing up to tens of customers a day, seven days a week. Their debts can never be cleared because they have to pay half of all they earn to the brothel owner and the rest to the trafficker. They are told that if they go to the police for help, they will be arrested and their families back home will have to pay the price.

Often they are threatened with torture and death if they try to escape; for most, finding their way home again would be impossible anyway. Some who dare to escape are re-trafficked quickly.

A Worldwide Trade

While Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe are the main providers of teenage girls for Western consumers, now nearly every poor region in the world is a target for this profitable business. Some 1,000 Mozambicans aged between 14 and 24 are smuggled every year to Johannesburg, where they are forced to work in restaurants or as prostitutes. The UN estimates that in Brazil two million young people under the age of 18 are involved in prostitution. Thousands of Colombian women are lured to Japan with false job offers. The women do not know what is in store for them on arrival, but the Japanese government knows very well what will happen when it issues them special visas as "entertainers."

Even Islamic countries like Iran, Morocco and Tunisia—where keeping women covered has been the most common open expression of their oppression and domination—have recently been drawn into global prostitution in a more hidden way. Most women forced into prostitution are meant for domestic consumption but some are exported to Arab Gulf states. According to the Iranian student agency Ilna, every day an average of 54 Iranian girls 16 to 25 years old are traded in Karachi, Pakistan, mainly for re-export.

The international scale of this crime is difficult to quantify. The U.S. State Department last year said it believed between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across borders annually. Profits are estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

At an Athens conference it was revealed that up to 20,000 foreign women, the majority from the former Soviet bloc, are working as sex slaves in a billion-dollar industry servicing more than a million men across Greece.

"There are now as many as 80,000 women working as prostitutes in the UK. In London alone, an academic study found that men spend ú200 million a year on sex, almost half in massage parlors and saunas. Across the UK, the industry is believed to be worth about £770 million a year, with street prostitution accounting for only about 5%.about 600,000 people are illegally brought into the EU each year, the vast majority of them for sexual exploitation." ( Observer , April 18, 2004)

"Last year, the [London] Metropolitan police's clubs and vice unit took 300 girls and women, including 10 children, out of brothels. Only 19% were British. The rest were from Eastern Europe (25%), Southeast Asia (13%), Western Europe (12%) and Africa (2%). Country by country, the largest numbers were from Thailand, Russia, Brazil and Kosovo. Superintendent Chris Bradford said: 'It's like a slave market.'" ( Guardian , August 19, 2004)

The situation is no better in France, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, and Sweden.

Pornography is a sister to prostitution in its treatment of women, and can be considered a part of the "sex industry" in the broader sense. In the U.S. it is estimated to be worth $10 billion a year. Porn movie revenues are bigger than Hollywood's domestic box-office receipts, and the profits greater, thanks in large part to imported women from Eastern Europe. In the UK, the chief executive of one of the country's many legal pornography magazine publishers has been identified by BBC as a major contributor to Blair's Labour Party.

Globalization and International Division of Labor

This is the reality of today's world. Two characteristics stand out in these horror stories. First of all, the process of globalization that exploded after the collapse of the Soviet bloc is one of the main reasons for the new and unprecedented rise in the trafficking of women. Unemployment, poverty, a ruined economy, and a torn social fabric are part of the real outcome of an ever more market-driven global economy, especially for people in the third world. In this distorted structure the poverty and misery of the majority is a rich source for the accumulation of capital in the hands of a few. And among them women are the first victims of this new phenomenon of capitalism. Millions of children and young women have been enslaved and robbed of their lives so that investors in the sex industry based in the U.S., UK, Netherlands, Germany, France, Japan, etc. can accumulate more and more capital.

The other characteristic of world capitalism revealed in the sex industry is the international division of labor. Certain countries are assigned to provide certain commodities in the service of world finance capital. Many of those assigned to provide human material for the so-called sex industry in the world market are poor countries that lack other "natural resources," or whose other products are not enough in high demand globally, or simply ones that have been plundered into devastation by imperialists and colonialists and ruined by years of war. This isn't a matter of a conscious conspiracy; what happens is that certain countries have been assigned to supply whatever they can produce "best" (most competitively on the world market) by the objective workings of imperialist capital, and people do what they can to survive within this context.

It is undeniable that imperialism is creating global prostitution on a scale never before seen in history. The imperialists are unable to put an end to the trafficking in women, even if they wanted to—which is doubtful, though they might want to keep it more hidden—because their system is grounded in the oppression and exploitation of women. Prostitution can never be wiped out so long as this remains.

Bush's Crusade Against Women

The U.S. hijacked the recent UN conference on women's equality by insisting that it formally declare that abortion is not a right for women. Almost completely isolated, the American representative coupled this with a call for a worldwide ban on prostitution, which she called the only way to stop the trafficking of women.

The whole Bush-led crusade against abortion in the U.S. and abroad is a perfect illustration of the convergence of the rulers in the "advanced" imperialist West and the "backward" countries. Do women have the right to make their own decisions about their sexuality and reproduction, or are their bodies not really their own? Christian fascists and Islamic fundamentalists alike proclaim their "respect" for women while totally opposing the emancipation of women from male authority and the concrete measures that are necessary to change that situation.

Further, this debate at the UN and among NGOs on how to end prostitution has been fruitless. Some countries have made prostitution illegal, like the U.S. (in most states) and Sweden; and others have made it legal, like Germany and the Netherlands. But in all of these countries it continues to exist. Whenever these governments decide to crack down on the traffic in women they pass harsher immigration laws, target the prostitutes and pick up a few and deport them. Who can believe that such measures can help end this horror? Their main effect is to put more pressure on victims, who find themselves with even less hope of any acceptable way out of their situation and become more deeply enslaved to their owners.

The morality Bush and his ilk want to protect in opposing this traffic, whether hypocritically or not, seeks to preserve the oppression of women in another form. Under the slogan "family values," what their traditional morality seeks is to maintain women as the property not of many men but one, the woman's husband. People (fathers and mothers who find themselves obliged to enforce patriarchal values) in impoverished villages and other places left hopeless by the global march of capital end up considering selling their daughters because imperialism has turned them into a hot commodity that men will buy in the rich corners of those countries and the world as a whole. Sellers and buyers alike share the view of females as fated to serve men in one form or another. This idea reflects the whole organization of class society for several thousand years.

The globalization of prostitution combines the inequality of nations and the inequality of the sexes in one hideous phenomenon. What kind of world is this where the more wealth is created and the more the world is drawn into a single whole, instead of human progress the result is greater tragedy for millions? Today's explosion in the traffic in human females is driven by the catastrophic convergence of two things, one new and the other very old: the destruction wreaked by an unprecedented development of global capitalism that is reaching deep into backward countries and pre- capitalist social systems and reducing everything in the world to something to be bought and sold, and the oppression of women that goes back to the earliest development of private property and the division of society into classes.

The oppression of women has persisted under every exploiting system and been justified by every traditional morality. There is no way to end these crimes without putting an end to the imperialist system and completely revolutionizing all of the relations prevailing in today's world.