In Taiwan, slave trade of preteen prostitutes





Every evening, groups of foreign tourists walk through Taipei’s carnival-like Snake Alley, watching meals being prepared at little stands. Not shown on these tours, however, is the brothel area a few blocks away, where prostitutes stand in dim, red-lit doorways.

A visitor to one of the dozens of small alleys in the area soon notices that many of the girls are just teen-agers, and that some girls are no older than 11.

No one knows exactly how many child prostitutes there are in Taiwan, but one survey of 122 prostitutes found that 67 percent of them started before they were 16 and 29 percent had not yet reached 13.

According to a survey by the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, several hundred of the more than 4,000 prostitutes in the area are from the island’s aborigine tribes., and an estimated 60 percent are under 18.

The girls are confined to darkened brothels with no protection from abusive brothel owners and customers. The situation is the same in other cities around the island.

Bypassed by the miracle

While the problem of child and teen-age prostitution is not confined to aborigines, many prostitutes are recruited from their villages. One reason is that the island’s economic miracle, which has brought prosperity to Taiwan over the past 10 years, has not filtered down to the 310,000 aborigines who make up less than 2 percent of the island’s 19.5 million people and who lag far behind the ethnic Chinese economically.

The majority of the aborigines working as prostitutes have been sold into servitude, officials say.

“If disaster comes to a family, if someone is sick or needs an operation, apparently the easiest way to get money is to sell the daughter,” said Liao Pi-ying, director of the Rainbow Project, a Presbyterian organization that provides assistance to aborigine youths.

Even if there is no problem in the family, parents are still tempted to sell their daughters because there are few jobs in hilly areas and girls are considered surplus population.

The middlemen

Often, the local agent or contact person is a prominent village figure, such as an elected official, a teacher, or even a policeman’s wife, all of whom have a civic status that may protect them from authorities would their activities be found out.

These middlemen receive up to 25 percent of the $7,000 generally paid for the girls, a huge sum in a country with a yearly per-capita income of $5,000.

The physical abuse is severe.

Huang Hua-tse was 14 when her mother sent her to Kaohsiung to work as a “servant.” The teenager was injected with hormones and soon found herself working in a brothel outside a military base. Her only pay, aside from the initial money given to her family, was a gold ring that was taken back when she returned home several years later.

“It was worse than hell,” said Huang, now 34 and married. She is working with the Rainbow Project to halt the trade.

While many girls may contemplate running away, escape is difficult. the girls are under the watchful eye of employees 24 hours a day, and even when they go tot he doctor’s office for check-ups, they are escorted.

And for those lucky enough to escape or those who are arrested, there are only two rehabilitation centers on the island. The girls spend six months in the rehabilitation houses, but once their confinement is over there are only two places for them to go: back home, where they may not be wanted, or back to the brothel. Officials estimate that 95 percent of the girls who have been in the centers return to prostitution.

In March 1987, the government launched a campaign to crack down on prostitution of girls under 16, but there has been little indication that the problem has been reduced.

Without formal accusations, suspects cannot be taken to court. Furthermore, when someone is convicted, the sentence is often a light fine or probation.


© 2013 Paul J. Mooney