PETALING JAYA: So Malaysia is a multi-religious nation with a morally forthright citizenry. This is what we like to portray to others but deep inside us, many of us know that we are hypocrites.
Let’s take a real hard look at Malaysian men and ask them to search their conscience. Are they not responsible for the flourishing prostitution trade in the country?
The guilty ones will probably bow their heads in shame. The not guilty will not bother to respond while there are others who will put the blame on foreigners and immigrants too.
While it is probably true that non-Malaysian men could also be patronising prostitutes, local men form the bulk of customers.
Lately, the authorities have been conducting raids on many illegal “massage parlours” and other sleazy entertainment outlets in several cities which have been offering extra services to their customers.
Malay tabloid Harian Metro had given extensive coverage on such police raids over the past several months. There is one consensus – it is so easy for locals to satisfy their sexual urges because prostitutes are aplenty.
Scantily dressed women caught in the act are often from China, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, many without valid documents.
But what is not known to customers are the sad tales of many of these foreign women who have been forced into prostitution.
Many of them are victims of cheating by labour agencies. Left with no choice, they are forced to ply the flesh trade to pay off the “debts” to the agencies.
Malaysia is also a “popular” transit point for human trafficking because of the “stigma” attached to prostitutes – they are considered people who do not deserve any help or sympathy.
This is probably one reason why the authorities do not pay serious attention to their plight. Even though the women could be victims of human trafficking and are forced into prostitution, it is not easy to detect such cases unless the victims lodge a report.
Tenaganita executive director Irene Fernandez said a lot of arrests were made lately and it is also common knowledge that massage parlours are fronts for sexual activities.
She told theantdaily it was upsetting that there have been very little proactive solutions to stop the sex trade from blooming.
“Women are also constantly made to look like culprits; most come here to work but end up getting cheated into prostitution. Why can’t there be a comprehensive plan? Why is there such weak prosecution?” Fernandez asked.
She lamented that the authorities have failed to conduct proper investigations into the human trafficking trade and asked the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to look at reports made on all kinds of human trade, whether it’s prostitution or labour trafficking.
“They should have a dialogue with civil societies but they choose the non-governmental organisation (NGOs) they want to work with.”
“As long as women are not seen as victims, the authorities have failed miserably. They cannot use the moral argument that the women pulled themselves into the trade and nothing much could be done,” she added.
According to an unclassified 2006 cable from the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur, released by Wikileaks, Malaysia topped the list in Southeast Asia for human trafficking.
In another report, former US ambassador to Malaysia Christopher LaFleur in a memo to the US Department of State dated March 3, 2006 reported that the country was a destination and transit country for men and women forced into labour.
“Anecdotal evidence indicates that numbers of victims coming from neighbouring Asean countries have remained relatively constant over the last few years. The number and patterns of victims coming from source countries tend to reflect the Malaysian government immigration and visa policies,” LaFleur said.
The majority of those plying the flesh trade in Malaysia are Chinese women who make up 40 per cent, followed by Indonesian women at 25 per cent, Thailand 17 per cent and the Philippines 10 per cent.
Although the government encourages victims to testify in court against unscrupulous labour agencies, most are reluctant to do so for fear of being harmed by the pimps and traffickers.
Herein lies the problems with our system – the enforcement agencies and those who are supposed to protect victims of human trafficking.
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