Forced into sex slavery

Published Nov 9, 2014


Durban - There have been a number of cases in the past few years in which Thai nationals were alleged to have been trafficked into greater Durban for commercial sexual exploitation, says Monique Emser.

A researcher with a special focus on human trafficking, Emser has been affiliated with the KZN human trafficking task team since 2009.

She has a PhD on the subject and is the author of LexisNexis South Africa’s two Human Trafficking Awareness Index Reports for South Africa and the African region.

“A significant percentage of Thai nationals trafficked to South Africa for commercial sexual exploitation were already engaged in some form of sex work in their home country,” she said.

“Many were aware that they were coming here to work as prostitutes, but were deceived about working conditions and being held in debt bondage.

“However, some who were not involved in sex work were duped into coming here.”

Emser said the trafficking syndicates involved were “international and sophisticated”.

“Thai recruiters are typically second-wave - women who were trafficked at some stage and worked their way up in the hierarchy to positions of mama-sans (brothel managers),” she said.

Emser said corruption was the driving force behind human trafficking and the most important factor in explaining it.

“Corruption is thought to play a role in every stage of the trafficking process, ranging from law enforcement to immigration and other departments that come into contact with victims of trafficking.

“Work by outreach organisations (NGOs) involved in prostitution ministry and sex worker exit projects have reported that police officers are often involved.

“These officers essentially collect bribes to turn a blind eye on the trade or to use their services for free,” she said.

She said the latest bust in Durban involving Thai women followed a number of similar cases.

In December 2006, a Durban “gentlemen’s club” was raided by the police. This resulted in the arrest of 26 Thai women and four men.

“It was alleged that the brothel owners would use corrupt police to scare the girls, telling them that if they refused to obey their orders they would be thrown in jail for being in the country illegally.

“And several Home Affairs officials were arrested for supplying illegal passports and fraudulent visas,” said Emser.

In 2007, after a “buy and bust” operation at a brothel in Bartle Road, Umbilo (Durban), it emerged prostitutes had been recruited from Thailand by the brothel owner’s wife to work in South Africa.

“Although they willingly entered the country to engage in sex work, they did not expect the harsh working conditions and exploitation to which they were subjected.

“They were forced to work off a R60 000 debt they had each incurred in being transported to South Africa, before they would be able to earn any money for themselves,” said Emser.

Basheer Sayed and his Thai wife, Somcharee Chulchumphorn, were subsequently charged and convicted on 19 counts relating to racketeering for the purposes of sexual exploitation, and on immigration offences.

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- Sunday Tribune

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