I was working in a youth centre in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur which is recognised as one of the most notorious ghettos in Southeast Asia. I walked home passing all the usual calls ‘you want massage?’, ‘you want young lady?’ Homeless people lay in the street, some had already passed away but no one seemed to notice. Adverts for adult massages and illegal loans lined the walls. Such was the dominance of organised crime that the mafia publicly stated their names and numbers on adverts for loans. They had no reason to fear the police; Chow Kit belonged to them. I was only going home to rest because my colleague and I would walk the streets beginning at midnight. We were going to look for the children.
At midnight we met and headed back to Chow Kit. For the next three hours until 3am we would be walking around the back allies and side roads. We had done extensive research on the areas and knew that they were hotspots for organised crime including sex work, human trafficking, drug use and extortion. But we wanted to know where the children were and if they were safe.
The streets were lined with young women and transgender sex workers offering themselves for increasingly low prices due to fierce competition. Some of the girls would offer themselves for RM10 (just over 2 pounds). The destitute depression was broken when we heard the sound of children’s laughter. Happy, smiling and laughing as all children do when playing with friends they seemed to epitomise the innocence that one sensed was an element all too long forgotten for many of the streets residents. With no adult supervision the children would wonder off and play where they wished. The sex workers communally kept an eye out for them when they could. The piles of rubbish and broken pavement provided imaginary castles for knights and princesses. The dark damp allies and stray animals allowed Tarzan and Jane to rule the jungle. But with such great freedom also came great risk.
Reality hit as some these little laughing angels would ‘disappear’, we would never see them again. Some of the brothels would then offer us ‘very young girls’. The princesses had been captured but sadly there were no knights in shining armour and no magical spells to set them free.
Child prostitution is an all too profitable business and needs to stop. There are countless children all over the world who are forced to have sex for money. Western sex tourists still flock to Southeast Asia in search of children. I believe strongly that this is an issue serious enough to top any political agenda and UN objective. We cannot loose our hope for change when the children’s hopes have been stolen.
Interact UK – http://interact-uk.org.uk