from IPS News
By Baradan Kuppusamy
KUALA LUMPUR, - An emerging trend in the trafficking of tribal people, mostly young girls, is raising concern among government officials, rights organisations, migration experts and human rights lawyers.
Increasingly, tribal girls in the region are duped and trafficked from their villages to regional capitals like Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to work in brothels and massage parlours that attract well-heeled locals as well as tourists.
‘’The trafficking of tribal people is on the rise across the South-east Asian region,’’ said Irene Fernandez, executive director of Tenaganita, a leading Malaysian NGO that tracks trafficking of women to Malaysia from across the Asia Pacific region.
‘’It is a most heinous crime because tribal girls are duped into believing they are getting high-paid office and home jobs, but are forced into prostitution,’’ she told IPS.
Not only are tribal people from the region trafficked to Malaysia, the country’s own Penan, from the interiors of Sarawak state, and the Orang Asli tribal groups in peninsular Malaysia are trafficked internally and exploited.
Outsiders, including workers, miners and others, also visit the villages to sexually exploit young tribal women, researchers told IPS.
‘’It is their poverty, dislocation and vulnerability that makes the tribal easily exploited,’’ said a Malaysian researcher with the Penan people who declined to be named. ‘’The government is totally unresponsive...it is total neglect of indigenous people.’’
‘’They give lip-service whenever the issue makes the headlines, but after that the indigenous people are left to the mercy of the traffickers,’’ Fernandez said.
The case of five young Naga tribal women from India’s north-east, who were trafficked from their village to Singapore and later moved to Malaysia and forced to work as sex slaves, has highlighted the plight of tribal women uprooted from their villages and trapped in Malaysia, a country generally hostile to migrants.
The five women are now housed in a half-way centre and the Indian High Commission here is making arrangements to send them home.
Commission counselor Sudhir Kumar Mehrotra told ‘The New Straits Times’ daily on Sep. 29 that the women from the Zeliangrong Naga tribe were promised lucrative jobs but were duped and forced to work as bar girls and prostitutes in nightclubs in Singapore and Malaysia.
‘’We have information that as many as 150 women from Manipur, Assam and Nagaland have been duped and forced to work immorally in this region,’’ he said. According to Mehrotra, the Indian government is concerned and investigating the people involved and the routes taken to curb the emerging trend in the trafficking of tribal people.
Poverty among the tribal people in places like Manipur state’s backward Tamenglong district, where parents place their hopes on agents to secure jobs for their daughters, is fueling the trade, human rights lawyers said.
According to migration experts, trafficking of tribal girls is widespread within India but because of the great demand in South East Asian capitals traffickers are beginning to traffic them outside India in the hope of making a fortune.
‘’Tribal people are rare in these capitals and there is a rising demand for them in many brothels and massage parlours in the region because of their rarity,’’ said a migration and HIV expert with a regional NGO.
‘’The flesh trade is always looking out for new victims,’’ he said, declining to be identified so as not to annoy regional governments. ‘’Trafficking of tribal people is common in India and blatantly carried out despite all the laws against it. But with the heightened push and pull factor the victims are surfacing outside India.’’
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