Article by Yuri Igarashi and Rin Wada
Did you know that there are approximately 35.8 million victims of modern day slavery today? That is equal to the population of Canada. These 35.8 million people are trafficked away from their homes and then forced to work for an ‘owner’ through mental and physical threat. They are bought and sold as ‘property’ and have no freedom of movement. More surprisingly, 70% out of the 35.8 million people are female. These women are exploited for their femininity, meaning that they are “used” because they are female. Prostitution, forced marriages, and domestic labor are some of the many forms of exploitation. These issues exist everywhere around the world including Singapore, but it’s just we, the general public who are blind and cannot see them.
It’s estimated that 250,000 women and children are trafficked into Southeast Asia every year, and they often work in the sex industry. Singapore is a final destination country for women and girls to be trafficked for labour and commercial sexual exploitation. They are often from neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Thailand who voluntarily migrated to Singapore but are eventually forced to be prostitutes. Some of them are recruited through offers of legitimate employment and are deceived about the real working situation. Others migrate to Singapore with an intention to participate in prostitution, but they are often subjected to forced prostitution under the threat of serious harm.
We interviewed a student from our school asking about her knowledge of human trafficking and what she feels about the reality. “Although I had heard issues about sexual exploitation and human trafficking in some parts of Southeast Asia before, I didn’t know that they’re also happening in Singapore. I am disgusted to hear that this is happening in the country where I live in and that Singapore is actually supporting it.” she said.
We interviewed Ms. Jacyntha England, a witness of the sex trade in Thailand to investigate more about this issue in South East Asia. “The biggest issue was through the sex trade. I saw girls as young as 12 working in brothels, often as semi-slaves (as their families had been given large sums of money when the girls were bought by the brothels, and they had to work for years to pay off that debt), often with no day off, limited medical care, and no access to school or their families. Other ways I saw girls being exploited was in working in cheap manual jobs when they should have been in school, or being forced into marriages at very young ages.”
However, the bigger problem is that women are still seen as unequal to men. Even in a developed country like Singapore, there is a still huge gap between men and women in its economic field and women tend to earn less than men do, although women have the same working hours as men. There’s a gap between gender in Singapore’s parliament as there are only 6 women minister while there are 94 male ministers, which also means that available pool of female candidates for higher position is decreasing. This shows that Singaporean women are not getting the same career opportunities as men.
Ms. England says that the inequality between male and female is an issue that means they can be exploited in many ways, such as being denied the chance to go to school, being forced to work from a very young age, or being forced to marry a stranger. She believes that the fact that women still cannot make their own choices about their bodies, their partners, education and work is what causes all forms of exploitation, and that is what has to change, that mindset.
The most important thing to remember is that women in slavery is not just something that happens in poor or developing countries, but also in the most developed countries, such as the U.S and Canada. Ms. England is also a witness of enslaved women in Canada and she says that there have been cases of women kept as slaves in homes where they were used as domestic helpers but never paid, or were forced into underground illegal sex trade situations. These women were often illegal immigrants who did not have correct paperwork or do not speak English, so they are helpless and cannot reach out for any help they have no proof they have gotten involved in crime and has been exploited.
When hearing these stories, it makes me wonder how people can do such inhumane acts to each other. It makes me question, have we lost our humanity? This issue is deeply disturbing, but what is more terrifying is that most of us do not acknowledge sexual exploitation happening in so many countries. We must find ways to empower others, raise awareness, and stand up to exploitation of women all over the world.