October 31, 2007
Though prostitution, particularly involving children, is a serious crime in Myanmar, or Burma, the sex trade in this military-ruled country is thriving.
One recent evening in Rangoon, girls who appeared to be 13 to 14 years old paraded in stilettos and miniskirts as part of a nightly "modeling" show at the Asia Entertainment City nightclub. A waiter escorting some of the girls to a nearby table of young men assured them, "All the models are available." The price was $100 a night for the youngest ones, less for those who were older.
Information on Myanmar's sex trade is extremely limited, said Patchareeboon Sakulpitakphon of the international organization ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes). What figures are available, she said, indicate that "[child] sex tourism is emerging in Burma as well as the development of the sex industry."
Disastrous economic policies by the military junta have left Myanmar's 52 million people desperate. With an average annual income of just $220, some look to prostitution as a way to support themselves and their families. With a father, mother, and younger brothers to support, Lin Lin, 22, explained that prostitution is not a difficult choice. "Sometimes I can earn $40 from one customer," she said.
Myanmar has one of the worst HIV epidemics in Southeast Asia, with an estimated 360,000 people living with the virus at the end of 2005. According to UNAIDS, statistics showed that one in three Burmese sex workers was infected with HIV. Yet the Ministry of Health's HIV expenditure in 2005 was around $137,000, or less than half of 1 cent per person, the UN said.