Wednesday, 18 June 2008 By Ofelia Vilanova and Rosita Sonet CJITL reporters - Five months after highly publicized police raids on Dili bars and brothels, people familiar with the bars say the prostitution business is still booming. Just ask the woman who sells cigarettes every day outside a bar in the Mandarin section of Dili.
“I see old men with Indonesian girls and Timorese girls, going in and out of the bar (every day),” she says. “Some of them are hugging each other right in the front gate.”
Last January, police conducted several raids on Dili establishments. On Jan. 3, the Dili District Drugs Task Force of the National Police of Timor-Leste, in cooperation with the United Nations Police, arrested 10 women and seven men at the Monalisa Bar and Moon Bar in Bairro dos Grilos.
Several week s later, the task force arrested 73 men and women from five bars, according to a report published in the newspaper Suara Timor Lorosae. The report said 20 of those arrested were Timorese, while the rest were foreigners.
Police Commander Pedro Belo of the Dili district said in February that the evidence obtained in the arrests has been forwarded to the Immigration Police and the Public Prosecutor.
Carlos Jeronimo, the chief of Immigration Police, said that some visitors from Indonesia, China and the Philippines arrive in Timor-Leste on tourist visas but then go to work as prostitutes.
He says his office tries to crack down on people who violate the terms of their visas. Violators will be deported and fined, he says.
Aderito Tilman, chief of the Dili district prosecutor’s office, says prostitution is not illegal in Timor-Leste but says those who organize the business can be prosecuted under laws dating from Indonesian time.
However, he said prosecutors face problems with the January cases because “the police officers who conducted the raids did not have warrants.”
Despite the police efforts, officials say prostitution continues to be big business in Dili. Domingos Guterres, chief of the Business Licensing Department at the Ministry of Tourism and Industry, says there are 32 bars and restaurants in Timor-Leste, and many employ foreign women.
Police say suspected drugs were confiscated in the bar raids. Those substances are now being tested in laboratories in Australia, they say.
Says Guterres, “The government will not allow any company that runs bars or restaurants to promote prostitution and drugs. Once we get solid information from police about such practices, we will close them down.”
Organizations dedicated to protecting women say the government should do more to help people stay away from prostitution.
Adelaide Guterres, an advocate at FOKUPERS, notes that women generally turn to prostitution because they are poor and have no other way to earn money. She says the government should develop jobs to provide them with other options.
The government is trying to do just that, officials say. Bendito dos Santos Freitas, Secretary of State for Professional Training, said this year it will provide job training for nearly 500 youths.
Member of Parliament Maria Rose da Camara said the issue is especially urgent because prostitution can spread HIV/AIDS, a fatal illness that can be treated but not cured. According to the Church World Service, Timor-Leste currently has 49 infected citizens and 6 have died.
Ubalda Filipe Alves, the director of the Rede Feto (Women’s Network) non-governmental organization, says parents can help by protecting their children from pornographic CDs, which can expose them to the prostitution underworld.
But none of this matters to”AM”, a 25-year-old from Suai district, Kovalima. She works as a prostitute every night from her home, sneaking customers into her room without her grandmother’s knowledge.
“They pay me from $1 to $5, “ she says. “Sometimes they don’t pay anything, because they don’t have any money.” She says her husband divorced her because she was not faithful to him, and that she does not mind being a prostitute, although she doesn’t want her grandmother to know.
Her roommate, “C”, said that at first she knew nothing about prostitution. She came to live with “AM” after she discovered her husband was having an affair.
Now, she says, she works as a prostitute too. “C” is now pregnant, but says she does not know who the baby’s father is.