KASAMA Vol. 16 No. 1 / January-February-March 2002 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network


A Symposium on Stopping the Traffic in Women for Sexual Exploitation
25 February 2002 - RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.

The following are extracts from the transcript of the keynote speech given by AURORA JAVATE DE DIOS

Introduction by Kathleen Maltzahn, Project Respect:

Aurora is someone who combines an NGO and Government life in a reasonably rare way. She is the Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Asia-Pacific and plays a very active role in NGOs in the Philippines. She is also the Chairperson of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, which is a position that is appointed by the President. She also spent four years on the CEDAW committee at the UN. Aurora brings a real mix of experience from the grass roots up to the UN level. She is going to talk today about trafficking within and from the Asia Pacific and some recent research that has been done on this issue.

Trafficking in Women and Girls for Prostitution

From the keynote speech by Aurora Javate De Dios:

Over a hundred years ago this was already a big problem in Europe and North America. That it should continue up until today tells us something about the persistence of an issue which seems to be getting bigger and bigger by the day.

Today we know that many countries are not insulated from trafficking, and countries become source countries, destination countries, transit points or all of the three. In fact there is practically no country in the world today that has not in some way been affected by the issue because trafficking happens internally as well as externally.

Our region, the Asia Pacific, is one of the most populous, and most culturally diverse in the world where poverty and prosperity co-exist side by side and where natural disasters like flooding, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are as disruptive and damaging as the man-made conflicts and wars that have plagued it for a long time.

I represent an international network called the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women which was established and organised by feminists and human rights advocates as well as survivors of prostitution and trafficking. We work in partnership with migrant groups, survivor groups, human rights groups, individual activists and hundreds of organisations that are actively address-ing trafficking in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, North America and here in Australia.

As a former expert in the UN on the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), I can tell you that of the 100 countries that I have investigated and reviewed for comments, all have mentioned some form or another of trafficking.

As I go around in my work on the international commission this problem has been so visible that I have to talk in the media every so often because the survivors are increasing by the day and includes many children.

What does globalisation mean in terms of its impacts upon women? The opening of markets and the liberalisation of global trading and investment arrange-ments have also liberalised the entry of businesses, and expanded markets, goods and services. For women this is good in the short term. Certainly it is good for consumers who can buy a mix of foreign goods at a much lower price. But globalisation has a negative side that people don't want to discuss. That is that it also induces unemployment, contractualisation, and cutbacks in social services such as health, education and housing.

Many countries, like the Philippines for example, who have paid huge sums of monies in debt repayment, are caught in a bind. Many countries would like to be investor sites and as a result they have to engage in a frenzy of a race to the bottom, each competing to offer lower wages and more attractive investment packages to investors.

To survive in this context women are turning to the informal sector such as vending, washing, domestic service and in very desperate straits, to prostitution. Women must manage dwindling resources for food, health care and education, often cutting costs on food and the education of their children.

Faced with declining incomes and sources of liveli-hood in the rural areas, the diasporas of migrants, both women and men, from rural to the already blighted urban areas, continue with hundreds of thousands venturing abroad to try their luck. In some countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, women migrant workers already outnumber men going abroad.

So the restructuring of the global economy is a powerful blow and directly affects the ability of women to survive and have decent lives. And this then is the contextual background behind the ever growing human rights crisis we now know as trafficking in women.

Nowhere is the negative impact of globalisation more evident than in the increased prostitution and trafficking of women and children in the world today. But, why has it grown to the extent to which we now know it? To answer that we need to look at what it was before.

In the past trafficking mostly involved women and children but it was limited in reach and intertwined into the trade in slaves. Nowadays it is organised, systematic and undertaken by groups and syndicates. Today it has blossomed into mega-businesses that are low risk and high profit.

While guns and arms smuggling have very clear sanctions which are in fact Draconian (i.e. severe), you don't have anything of that sort in the case of trafficking of human beings or persons. It is also low risk because not having these sanctions also means that exploitation can be very brazen and make a lot of profit because a woman and a child can be used repeatedly over a period of time. And I think a more significant difference is that in the past it was mostly for hidden brothel prostitution, but now you have a variety of forms, some of which are already main-streamed in the capitalist economies of highly developed countries.

Another important distinction here was that in the past there was no technology to facilitate the massive commodification of women. This is a very important contributing factor to the massiveness of the scale of trafficking. For instance in the Internet it is over-whelming; 70 percent of the material that we see on the Internet is about sex and sex-related information.

This has resulted not only in big sales but also in the global mass marketing of women. Sexual exploita-tion and abuse can now be perpetrated discretely in private chat lines and screens which are protected by privacy laws and women are marketed in a variety of ways. They can be packaged into eroticised nannies, brides, willing sex slaves, enduring torture and bondage. Therefore, you are looking at generations of young men and women who are now being socialised into sexual consumerism, packaged to provide instant gratification as opposed to long term sustained relationships.

I think it is also useful to see that in the past we had an absence of human rights standards to address violations of human rights. Now we have almost all of those standards which are, ironically, very hard to implement in the case of sex trafficking.

In the past you had the spread of syphilis as a public health concern, nowadays you have the HIV/AIDS pandemic as a public health issue. This impacts on the lives of the women who are trafficked who have no power to transact the conditions under which they are trafficked for prostitution and sexual exploitation.

I'd like to pause a little bit and explain that the definition of trafficking has undergone tremendous changes. The Coalition itself over the years has devel-oped various elements of the definition in our national laws. In South Asia they do it differently, but I think the one thing that we all want to see is a definition that does not criminalize the woman, or the victim; secondly, that does not problematize the 'forced' or 'consent' debate; and third, that state accountability for the provision of crimes and the punishment of perpetrators are institutionalized.

What I have put up there [on the screen] is the definition of trafficking in the Optional Protocol on the Trafficking in Women that was recently signed in Palermo. It says:
"Trafficking in persons" shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.
And in the second part it says:
Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;

How that last part came about is something of a story in itself. Let me tell you that in the two year negotiation where I was involved there was huge debate. In that two year period we had close to, I think, about 15 meetings in all. There was huge lobbying from the sex industry everywhere that tried to put a very restrictive definition that only included forced labour and no mention of sexual exploitation.

The other huge debate was around the issue of whether or not consent should be there to qualify whether or not it is a trafficking situation. The way it has been put there, it says that when the person has informed consent they may not be considered a person who had been trafficked. In the end the positioning was limited by a few countries, including Australia, who did not agree with the rest of the delegation that said, "with or without consent".

So what this means is that although Liz is very right when she says that a lot of the elements that emphasise force are there in the definition, it was something we could not avoid because everyone felt that it has to be able to be proven, it has to be hard facts.

Of course, in the end we succeeded in explaining that in the case of most survivors of trafficking, consent is something that you give initially but in the process towards your end destination and actual situation of your conditions in the destination country, you have no control. As a series of acts in a continuum where you have practically no control, consent becomes useless as a concept in that context. So I think what happened was that we agreed to put everything in there as a compromise to everyone that felt it was necessary.

But an important thing that I'd like you to take note of is the last part which is "the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability" - that makes all the difference. Because it is now possible to look at the situation of women from very poor and impoverished context; refugee and migrant women in a vulnerable position within which control and power is unacceptable.

And the other really curious addition there is that when we talk about exploitation, we mean "at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others". This is the language of the 1949 convention and again that was in recognition that some countries have legalised prostitution systems.

So, it took a whole lot of our energy and struggle to get that done. As I said, it's not a perfect definition but something that we can work on and take as a legal framework back into our countries.

I'd like to talk a little bit about the historical antecedence of trafficking. I think there's no country in the world where you don't have a culture of prostitution one way or the other. In the case of Asia where I have been doing some work, the infrastructure of prostitution around the US military installations in Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Okinawa and Korea are important elements of the pervasiveness of prostitution.

The question of who are trafficked is almost inevitable. It's inevitable because the convergence of poverty, economic dislocation, illiteracy, and lack of education are combinations of factors that in fact make them vulnerable and increase their susceptibility to trafficking. So there is actually a direct correlation between the level of desperation, militarisation and refugee situation to trafficking situations.

And of course we not only have a persistence of patriarchal attitudes but a reinforcement and reassertion of patriarchy in the face of I think, and this is very tentative, in the face of the challenge that feminism has posed all over the world.

And lastly I think the official encouragement of US military R&R and UN peacekeeping forces, and the conduct of these peace keeping forces when it comes to sexual consumerism has also been an issue in the expansion.

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