A worldwide trend
- ‘Sugar daddy’ websites – which match young women with older men in financial arrangements that often involve sex – are targeting cash-strapped students.
According to The New York Times, the websites are using internet search-based advertising to promote their sites to people who use search phrases that suggest they are struggling to pay their university bills.
- That number of students working within the sex industry has risen by 50 percent over the past seven years according to research conducted by Kingston University, London.
- In a 2009 inquiry, Thailand’s Ministry of Culture found more than 1,000 websites claiming to be by university students selling sex, according to the Bangkok Post. Sompong Chitradub of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said: “Thai politicians, higher officials and merchants are the people who use student prostitutes,” and he estimated that 1 to 3 percent of university students would turn to prostitution over the next two years.
- For a RM10 (US$3.30) top-up for their handphones, some Malaysian schoolgirls are willing to sell their bodies, Harian Metro reported in 2007. These so-called “top up” girls first get to know the men through internet chat rooms and then go out on dates with them.
- Hong Kong
- An increasing number of Hong Kong teenagers are selling sex to earn money for designer clothes, in a trend called “compensated dating”, a survey released in 2009 indicated. One in 10 students questioned said they believed schoolgirls were involved in the practice and 6.6 percent said they knew fellow students who had done it.
PROSTITUTION has a strange place in Cambodian society. It is strictly against the morality of the conservative country, yet the existence of prostitutes, and men who pay for them, is common knowledge. In fact, 60 percent to 70 percent of Cambodian men procure women for sexual services, according to a United States Agency for International Development study.
While this demand is partly met by women who are victims of sex slavery and human trafficking, 90 percent of women surveyed said they became prostitutes because it was the best option available to them in times of economic hardship, according to a 2008 report from the Cambodian Alliance for Combating HIV/AIDS.
There are more than 55,000 women in Cambodia working as prostitutes, according to UNICEF reports, and the majority of them chose the profession because it offered financial potential that they couldn’t find elsewhere. These are the women who fill karaoke bars and beer gardens and late-night clubs, but there is another group of young women, significantly smaller and less visible, who are also selling themselves for sex.
Some young women in Cambodia, often still in school, don’t sell sex because they need the money; they want the money, and are willing to offer their bodies so they can satiate their material desires. As has been reported in countries around the world, a demand among men for school-age girls has intersected with the demand among school-age girls for money to facilitate a consensual exchange driven by greed on either side.
It is difficult to track this form of prostitution, since it occurs through informal and highly secretive agreements. But recent reports in the media suggest that the practice has attracted at least small number of materially minded schoolgirls with its promise of personal wealth.
In July, Voice of America radio broadcast a story about four high school and university students who had turned to prostitution to pad their wallets.
Their motivations ranged from cheating boyfriends to scornful parents, but they were all characterised as stylish and modern students who enjoyed going to clubs and entertainment venues.
According to the report, they were introduced to the idea by more experienced friends who set them up with older, wealthy men who gave them US$50 to $300 to spend the night together. The four middle-class girls – one said her parents were well-off government officials – said they needed money to buy stuff and beautify themselves.
Keo Sichan, coordinator of the women’s health and HIV/AIDS programme at the Cambodian Women’s Development Association, said these young women are probably dealing with emotional trauma from their family or past romantic relationships and “consider life meaningless”.
She said that their lack of self worth and resulting inability to find the motivation to study or engage in other productive activities has led them to be tempted by the idea of prostitution.
Tia Phalla, secretary general at the National AIDS Authority, said that students selling sex likely lack warmth and caring from their family, especially if they are living far from their relatives in the provinces. He said that these women have greater freedom from parental control and are also more susceptible to giving in to friends extolling the potential profits of selling sex.
“This job might become permanent since they have no other professional knowledge and they become used to it,” said Tia Phalla in an interview with Lift. “They risk becoming addicted to drugs and are more susceptible to HIV/AIDS.”
While young women might think this exchange will only affect them, Nom Bophary, director of the Department of Women and Education at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, said the ramifications can be much wider.
“[Engaging in prostitution] can potentially damage the reputations of their family, community and the country as a whole,” she said, adding that parents, teachers and politicians must all take part in educating young women against the ills of such acts.
Keo Sichan said that, regardless of its legality, young women should think carefully about the ramifications of prostitution. Cambodian law prohibits setting up a place for the exchange of sex or buying sex from anyone younger than 15, but doesn’t categorically outlaw prostitution.
Im Samrithy, the executive director of the Education/NGO partnership, said that students who prostitute themselves are part of a larger population of female students who don’t value education, and will pay the price down the road.
“They will become a burden for the country in the future,” he said, adding to Cambodia’s “lack of human resources and contribution from women”.
He suggested that parents should maintain closer relations with their daughters and communicate the potential impacts these decisions, while school principals should keep parents updated on the behaviour of their children.
Prostitution is often seen as a worst-case scenario for women in Cambodia’s poorest populations, and the solution often proposed is to present them with other, equally profitable employment opportunities.
For this new type of sex-worker, willing to sell their body for spending money, the answer seems to be better education and the understanding that a one-night stand can lead to a lifetime of regret.