Chinese parents show pictures of their elder daughters, who have been trafficked into prostitution.
I was sent to Asia by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as part of an initiative called the Mekong Sub-regional Project to Combat Trafficking in Children and Women. My task was to photograph the problems women and children endure on a daily basis. The assignment covered Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and China. I have been photographing this same issue since 1999, and on other assignments I’ve traveled to Bangladesh and Indonesia.
1.36 million people in Asia and the Pacific region are exploited in labor as a result of trafficking, a recent ILO study estimated. That is 55 percent of the global figure of people who are taken advantage of in this way. It is thought that 40 to 50 percent of the trafficking victims are children, many of whom end up in the sex industry. Family members often play a major role in introducing children to the commercial-sex sector. They live in such abject poverty that they think this is the only way they can survive. Young girls and boys are in very high demand in this industry and are worth most to pimps and brothel owners. Before visiting these countries, I imagined it would be difficult and at times almost impossible to get any pictures of the women and children working in the sex trade, but I was surprised by the attitude the pimps and brothel owners had. Most let me photograph what I wanted in exchange for a few cans of soft drinks for the girls or a beer for the man. Sometimes, however, I was forced to act like a customer and pay money to enter a room in a brothel and photograph the girls without permission from the pimp. I don’t think he cared as long as he had the cash. It was not something I felt good about but that was the only way to get the picture. Most girls were happy to be photographed. I think in some way they thought it might help them. I sincerely hope it does. Photographing the girl in China with the razor-blade scars and cigarette burns was the worst part of my trip. She was drugged up to the eyeballs and she had a feeling of total desperation about her. Leaving her in that room I felt sick, but at the same time I felt some good that I had got the image to show the world. Without publication of information and pictures, this form of slavery will continue to go unnoticed in the rest of the world. A lot more has to be done to stop the suffering of millions of women and children around the world. I hope, in some tiny way, that my pictures have helped these slaves of poverty.
A trafficked girl in China has turned to cutting to deal with her fragile mental state after being forced into prostitution and drug taking.