07 February 2009

The sex industry is growing in East Timor, as traffickers lure women in

Mark Dodd 7 February 2009 Article from: The Australian ORGANISED crime is involved in a boutique but thriving sex industry in East Timor, where people-traffickers are increasingly luring local women under false pretences to work outside the impoverished country and Southeast Asian sex workers are being brought in.

The revelation comes as Dili's dysfunctional courts have been unable to record a single people-trafficking conviction despite arrests by UN and East Timorese police of suspected offenders.

Heather Komenda, Dili-based counter-trafficking officer for the International Organisation for Migration, said that, as the Gusmao Government was yet to ratify anti-trafficking legislation, the scale of the illicit enterprise involving Timorese and foreign nationals continued to thrive.

While Dili's sex industry was not comparable in scale to those of Eastern Europe, Bangkok or Jakarta, it had gained a toehold over the past five years and was firmly established in the capital, she said.

Demand was being fed by both local Timorese and a large expatriate population in Dili.

Estimates of sex worker numbers vary but according to the Alola Foundation, an NGO founded by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's Australian wife, Kirsty Sword Gusmao, the current figure is close to 550. The IOM thinks this is probably conservative.

The Alola Foundation has identified more than 100 cases of East Timorese women being trafficked out of the country to work in Indonesia, Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries.

Alola's Francisco Belo told UN news agency IRIN: "A bigger problem is the number of people being trafficked into the country. Timor has become a destination for human traffickers. We have found people from Thailand, Indonesia, China and The Philippines, most of them working in the sex industry."

Revelations of a growing sex industry raise serious concerns about customs and immigration compliance along East Timor's land border with Indonesian West Timor. A weak, ineffective legal system has also contributed to the problem.

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