Published: Tuesday April 10, 2012 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday May 26, 2013 MYT 12:35:15 AM

NGOs to stage show against human trafficking

Human trafficking will be the subject of an upcoming, hard-hitting stage production by NGOs that have first-hand experience in the matter.

ONCE a drug is sold, it’s gone, but a girl can be sold and used over and over before she collapses, has gone mad, commits suicide or dies of disease,” a British Columbian man convicted of trafficking, once said.

This confession, crude and heinous, reveals the ruthless logic that drives human trafficking. Non-profit organisation Tenaganita programme director, Glorene A. Das, says she vividly remembers this disclosure.

“Let’s say the price is put at RM300 per customer per night. Can you imagine the amount of money the girl could generate if she’s used and trapped for the next 20 years?

“That’s just one girl. What about the many others who have been abducted and duped into sex slavery to make money? The lucrative ‘reapings’ from this crime is just alarming!” she exclaims.

What’s most disturbing to Glorene is the number of young girls who have gone missing from year to year.

“Have we ever wondered what exactly has happened to our children who have disappeared? Nowadays, even young boys are recruited by these culprits to lure young girls before they are eventually led to the traffickers. In the past three years, we have not received statistics from the authorities on the number of missing girls.”

Sex trafficking continues to be a serious problem despite concerted efforts by the government to combat the crime. Five years ago, it implemented the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2007 to ensure stiffer penalties for traffickers. The Anti-Trafficking in Persons (Amendment) Act 2010 now also includes the smuggling of migrants, and the Council for Anti-Trafficking in Persons (MAPO) – first established under the 2007 Act – is now known as the Council for Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Wira Abu Seman Yusop has said the government has been carrying out lots of initiatives and also engaged with NGOs, the US Embassy and other international bodies to better equip and train enforcement agencies especially during raids and detention.

According to him, trafficking activities can be difficult to monitor due to the country’s geographical factors and migration. Wira reasons that migration leads to labour exploitation by unscrupulous individuals and syndicates, but to counter this, the government is looking at the pattern of migration and monitoring the influx of migrants into the country.

“Since the Act came into force, we have managed to expose several trafficking syndicates involving sexual exploitation and human smuggling, transiting Malaysia to a third country,” he notes.

According to Glorene, sex trafficking no longer takes place only in brothels, as the “ante has been upped” to exclusive five-star hotels and karaoke joints. What is disappointing to her is that, more often than not, operating licenses continue to be issued for these places.

“There’s so much corruption involved that it’s ridiculous. Right now, though, the state government is fervently pursuing this issue, and we have conducted training for people in authority that are at the front-line.

“In fact, the Selangor task force for human trafficking is led by our executive director Dr Irene (Fernandez),” says Glorene.

But sex trafficking is just one part of an entire circle of trangression and violation.

“There are so many types of trafficking these days – from organs and labour, fishermen and refugees waiting to be deported, only sold over and over again, to the sale of foreign brides.

“Female human brides are being transacted as a commodity in what is labelled as a 3-in-1, cash-and-carry trade.

“You could actually walk into a shop and choose your bride from the display of ladies. The fairer they are, the more expensive.

“In most cases, these are Vietnamese brides. So the man pays cash and walks off with his chosen lady. She has to duly fulfil her obligations as a domestic worker in the mornings, before following him out to work in his business in the afternoons. Come night time, she is made a sex slave. It’s therefore termed a 3-in-1 package with ‘benefits’,” explains Glorene.

Tenaganita has handled a total 106 files consisting of 253 victims – all within a six-month period from July to Dec 2011. They include migrant and domestic workers and refugees. The top violations recorded between June and October last year were unpaid wages, arrest, detention and deportation, no rest day, not paid for work performed overtime, and the absence of a contract between employer and employee.

“All these constitute both labour rights violations and workers being in a forced labour situation.

“Various forms of violence are present in most cases, with 56% of the domestic workers suffering physical abuse and 35% of the workers being sexually abused. In a country blessed with abundant food (like Malaysia), 30% of the domestic workers rescued were badly malnourished,” she says.

Today’s definition of trafficking is no longer only about humans being bought and sold illegally by syndicates or seasoned traffickers. Under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2007, forcing someone to work without pay, or without being given proper food and due rest, is considered a violation of human rights and thus, you have a trafficked victim.

Most of us have heard about human trafficking but what many fail to realise is that we too may – inadvertently or otherwise – be advocating or participating in it.

Hence an upcoming production, called Life Sdn Bhd 8: Human Trafficking, presented by The Actors Studio and directed by Datuk Faridah Merican, where Glorene and her NGO counterparts take their crusade to the next level.

Faridah says this production will feature a collective of courageous individuals standing on stage and telling stories from the victim’s perspectives.

“The straight-forward, story-telling approach will be very impactful from its simplicity. People need to know the gory details of what happened, and these are real, unfabricated accounts.

“While we are unable to get the victims involved to come on stage due to the difficulty of the issue, we have got something close to it via the NGO representatives who have been in close contact with the victims,” says Faridah.

The production is the eighth instalment of her Life Sdn Bhd series first started in 2004. She recalls creating Life Sdn Bhd as a recovery process after the trauma of the floods that wrecked her original studio base in 2003.

“During that period, we gathered some friends in the theatre circle who helped moot the idea of Life Sdn Bhd, and it sparked off with the first three shows revolving around themes of what it meant to be Malaysian.”

While those shows took off well, devastating news surfaced – their patron Tun Endon Mahmood tragically succumbed to cancer. Struck by how this random disease could wreck one’s life emotionally and physically, they took their cue by bringing breast cancer survivors to talk about their experiences on stage. From there on, the series became a springboard to highlight social issues – it was HIV/AIDS in 2010, and abuse and refugees after that.

“We need brave souls who will come forward to tell us their stories. We would definitely consider it for our future production series. With human trafficking, it’s disgusting to know how humans can be trafficked by other humans.

“What we hope, though, is that each listener will come away not feeling depressed and disappointed, but absolutely grateful to have had the chance to hear these stories and be moved to a small degree to make a difference,” she says.

Glorene says we can put a halt to human trafficking by being aware, for a start.

“The issue is among us, and it can happen to our children. This is why we need to educate them, because traffickers are finding ways to befriend young kids. Trafficking does not just happen to foreigners, but locals too.”

The 24-hour hotline of Tenaganita is often ‘bombarded’ with calls for help, from either customers of sex workers (who realise the girl has been forced into slavery) or the police who rescued the victims.

Glorene says a case can be settled in under a week or take up to seven years. The complexity of the issue, the changes in investigation officers and, sometimes, priority that is given to trafficked local people are factors for a case to drag on.

“It becomes traumatic for victims when they have to wait a long time to see justice being served, especially when they are required to revisit those memories over and over again. What’s more, the perpetrator sometimes pays a small price by being briefly imprisoned or settling it with fines,” she says.

The survivors may be eventually repatriated, only if they are deemed safe to return to their homeland. Some 80% of them usually request to go home, although some choose to stay on.

“At the end of the day, it is the survivor’s decision. What drives us to do this is knowing the lives that we have saved,” she says.

> Life Sdn Bhd 8: Human Trafficking will be shown from April 12-15 at The Actors Studio @ Lot 10. (Show times are 8.30pm from April 12-14 and at 3pm on April 15). Call 03-21422009 / 2143200 / 4097 9000 for ticket purchases and enquiries. An enhanced version of this article can be downloaded from The Star iPad app, April 5 issue.

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