Elke Bröder
Summary of the Discussion

In her introductory talk, the Filipina political scientist Annabelle Gambe described the role played by women in the network of current development strategies: stopgaps and victims of improperly-managed development.

Production for export, like investment from abroad, had been and continued to be considered the key to growth for the developing countries. According to Gambe, women made up the lion's share of the labour force in the factories of foreign conglomerates because they were patient, productive and low-paid. Rural areas, where most people lived, were falling behind the industrial areas that received regular government subsidies, and the inhabitants were flooding the large cities in search of work. But there simply were not enough jobs.

The Marcos government in the Philippines, her native country, had feared the threat of social unrest, which had led it to kill the two birds of unemployment and of insufficient foreign exchange with one stone. In 1982 Marcos had begun preaching the benefits of working abroad. Annabelle Gambe explained that women had soon made up half of all Filipino foreign workers. For example, about 80,000 Filipinas worked as domestic helpers in Hong Kong under contracts limited to one- or two-year periods. The vast majority of exported working women not only entered service as household help, but also worked as "entertainers," a term that covered bar girls and prostitutes.

A member of the audience asked whether the government was aware that sexual services were being exported. Annabelle Gambe answered in the affirmative, saying that the women received a government license for the profession of "entertainer". Prostitution as a consequence of tourism was accepted or even encouraged in a way that is not merely indirect. For many Southern countries, income from tourism was the second most important source of foreign currency after oil. Anabelle Gambe estimated that between 500,000 and 1 million Thai women worked as prostitutes. As in most countries, commercial sex was banned in Thailand. However, many tourists travelled to Thailand primarily for the inexpensive prostitutes, who were also perceived as exotic.

Lea Ackermann, a Catholic nun and co-author of a study by the German Federal Ministry for Women and Youth, provided data to illustrate the importance of sex tourism. For example, out of five million foreign visitors to Thailand in 1990, 70 percent had been men traveling alone. According to studies, half of them had been looking for commercial sex. In the Philippines, too, men made up well over half of all foreign holiday-makers. "The typical sex tourist comes from the West and the North. He puts his money and his 'importance' on display in these countries," declared Lea Ackermann, who spent eight years working with prostitutes in African countries.

The price tourists paid for one night seemed cheap to them, but it represented a great deal to the women. A tourist prostitute in Kenya could sometimes earn more in one shift than a market woman earned in a month. However, if no customers come along for two nights, the brothel owner would sell the women's clothing, which was their operating capital. She added that rooms cost about 10 marks a day. And when the women got old they ended up in the worst slums for prostitutes serving local customers, earning only a few pennies and often falling ill.

Lea Ackermann reported that both pimps and the police earned money off the women. When prostitution is illegal, as it is in Kenya, the police has the legal means to carry out raids. Women often face a choice between six months in jail or a 200 mark bribe to the policeman. In spite of that, it is rare to find solidarity among the women, said Ackerman. Competition for customers and income prevent them from joining forces.

Even Annabelle Gambe could not report on examples of proper organizations for prostitutes in the Philippines. However, there were attempts, particularly by women church activists to influence the women. An important component of such work was providing an explanation of health risks and promoting the use of condoms. Lea Ackermann added that AIDS was a real threat to the women who earned a living providing sexual services. It had been estimated that 3 million women suffered from AIDS in Central and East Africa.

Juliane von Krause, from the Campaign Against Child Prostitution in Sex Tourism, reported that children (both boys and girls) played an increasing role in the business. Thailand, Taiwan, the Dominican Republic and Brazil were particularly popular holiday spots for paedophiles. In contrast to the benign attitude shown by many governments with regard to the prostitution of women, there was resistance to traffic with children. For example, the new government in Thailand was carrying out raids on the centres for paedophile tourists. A strict law had also come into force in the Philippines last summer, and tourists who were found with an unaccompanied Filipino child in a hotel room could be punished.

However, according to Annabelle Gambe, the dependency of the countries on foreign currency made any firm proceedings against "normal" sex tourism impossible. Moreover, the German criminal authorities did not consider a sex tourist to be a wrongdoer if he was not a paedophile.

Brigitte Adler, a member of the Bundestag [German parliament] for the Social Democratic Party, expressed her impatience with the passive position of the German government in this matter. In response to a question in the Bundestag asking for an evaluation of sex tourism by Germans in Thailand and the Philippines, the government had responded that it saw no need for action. Brigitte Adler had received an impression of prostitution by children and women during a parliamentary meeting in Thailand. She had been shocked to see 12- or 13-year-olds walking the streets and to learn that they were often sold by their parents.

Paedophiles from Germany could previously indulge their compulsive predilections in other countries without the fear of punishment. But as Friedrich-Wilhelm Schulte from the German Federal Ministry of Justice explained, a bill had been submitted to the Bundestag that would extend punishment to sexual offences committed abroad. The bill was specifically devoted to sex tourism involving children. Criminal law in the Federal Republic had previously contained loopholes in that sector, but they had now been closed, according to Schulte.

The statute of limitations for sexual abuse of children had been extended. Moreover, the German government had also strengthened the statutory provisions against child pornography. Friedrich-Wilhelm Schulte conceded that the increasing pressure in Germany could force customers for pornographic videos and picture books featuring children, as well as the people who produce them, to move to other countries. The first child sex films obviously made in Ceylon or Thailand had already appeared. Men seeking direct sexual contact with children already obtained it abroad.

Juliane von Krause expressed regret that police officials in the different countries did not actually cooperate with the German agencies. Friedrich-Wilhelm Schulte emphasized that talks were underway with Thailand in an effort to improve cooperation. But Mr. Schulte warned against excessive hopes. Even with the best possible laws in Germany, criminal prosecution could not work without records of interrogations, witness statements from the countries concerned and, in particular, without charges being brought.

Lea Ackermann complained that there were also loopholes in the law and its enforcement with regard to German marriage agencies offering women from Third World countries. These women were regularly bought and sold. Often they were prostitutes who, seduced by the wealth of tourists, had allowed themselves to be taken back to the country of those tourists or advertised there. Some of them were treated like slaves once they reached the "promised land." Lea Ackermann had heard of a man who had married a woman from Cameroon and not allowed her to leave the house, forcing her to care for his father, who was seriously ill. And a released convict had "obtained" a wife from the Dominican Republic and forced her to earn a living on the street. Most of the women did not speak German and were without friends, making them helpless and forcing them to rely on their husbands for better or for worse.

At some marriage bureaus customers paid between 7,000 and 15,000 marks to order wives from a catalogue, to try them out for three or four weeks and then send them back without charge. Women from Southern countries were particularly unprotected in such trial marriages, since they had no permanent right of residency. According to Lea Ackermann, they often became pregnant. She reported on a woman who came to her for advice because she was her husband's ninth trial wife, had become pregnant and was now being sent home.

Lea Ackermann complained that current laws discriminated against such women. When the men did not want them any more, the women often went to immigration officials, who then had them deported. They had to pay for their own return trip unless they could find an institution to assist them.

In that regard, Brigitte Adler mentioned a parliamentary question in response to which the Federal government stated that it did not consider special protective legislation for foreign wives to be necessary. Such policies were rather unconvincing, since ultimately it was German authorities abroad who issued entry permits and visas to the women, sometimes when the reason for entering Germany was obvious. For example, women from Southern countries received work permits as "folk dancers."

Folk dancing actually meant scanty clothing and working in bars and brothels. According to Lea Ackermann, in some cases where fraud was detected, the women were prosecuted instead of the pimps or bar owners. They were expelled on the spot.

Friedrich-Wilhelm Schulte defended the Federal government against charges of inactivity and referred to amendments to the Penal Code that entered into force on 22 July 1992. They made things more difficult for marriage brokers, traffickers in human beings and the forced prostitution organizations, and protected the affected women better than before. Previously it had been extremely difficult to prosecute the people who trafficked in women. In fact, a ruling by the Federal Court of Justice had led to those changes, because the judges required for conviction that the women who had been "sold" had been misled. For example, if a women had previously worked as a prostitute in her own country, it had been unclear to the Court whether she had been forced onto the streets in Germany and whether that was to her disadvantage.

Mr. Schulte explained that the term "trafficking in human beings" is used more broadly today. It included not just selling women for purposes of prostitution but also, subsequent to the changes in the Penal Code, to the organized provision of women for peep shows and as so-called candidates for marriage. He reckoned that more criminal prosecutions and sentences were now possible. However, since the law had been amended only a year ago, the Federal Ministry of Justice did not have a clear view of whether and how reform had been successful.

Reform also included provisions that were part of the set of laws to combat organized crime, which included trafficking in human beings. Witness protection had been improved, a measure aimed particularly at providing greater security to women. It had repeatedly been observed in court how young women from Southern countries had been intimidated and had remained silent out of fear.

There remained the question of who was keeping an eye on organizations that make money out of women. Josef Limbach of the North Rhine-Westphalia Economics Ministry stated that matrimonial agencies were subject to the trade supervisory authorities. In Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia officials had the authority to search the premises of marriage bureaus. The trade supervisory authorities could intervene if their activities were contrary to public welfare.

However, Mr. Limbach left little room for hope that industrial law could provide a suitable instrument against the crooks of that sector. Ultimately it was only clutching at straws. For example, he had instructed the officials below him in the hierarchy, the supervisory boards, to follow up evidence which had come to him from the Minister for Women in North Rhine-Westphalia. The list of wrongful traffickers of women turned out to be a complete waste of time for the trade supervisory authorities. His own officials had discovered nothing. That was because their authority was quite limited and could not be compared with that of the police, according to Mr. Limbach. Accounts could be audited, but nothing illegal was shown on the books. Moreover, there was not enough manpower to inspect every marriage bureau regularly. Officials already had more than enough to do ferreting out illicit employment, as instructed by the politicians. However, Mr. Limbach appealed against simply forgetting the trade supervisory authorities. He offered to provide specific instructions to the agencies so that they could take action. The most serious threat to a fraudulent marriage broker was a prohibition of trade procedure, which could go all the way to the Federal Court of Justice.

Juliane von Krause appealed for more information in any case. Talks were underway with tour organizers in an effort by the Campaign Against Child Sex Tourism to convince the major players in the industry to introduce a provision in their contracts with the hotels in other countries stating that local children could not be taken to hotel rooms.

Both male and female participants agreed at the end of the meeting that legal provisions alone could not solve the problem. But the women expressed the wish for more activity by the state to prevent trafficking in women from the South to the North.

Brigitte Adler suggested that in general tourism projects related to development aid should be evaluated according to strict criteria. And Annabelle Gambe urged that economic policies should help Southern countries instead of harming them, as had previously been done by the world economic system. Lea Ackermann stressed the close connection between long-distance tourism and prostitution in Southern countries. She particularly hoped for legal improvements for the women brought to Germany by the marriage agencies, such as a requirement that men pay a deposit to guarantee the return trip of the woman and a right of residency in Germany for the woman even if the prospective husband rejected her after a trial period.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-bibliothek | 12.1. 1998

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