Albion Monitor /News
[Editor's note: According to a recent report in Health Action Information Network (HAIN) newsletter, the fear of AIDS has increased the demands for younger prostitutes in countries like Japan.

The newsletter cites a paper entitled "Trafficking in Women to Japan for Sexual Exploitation: A Survey of the Case of Filipino Women," which claims about 150,000 Filipino women are hired by Japanese companies annually. The study said that only 11 percent of the women respondents confirmed that they are professional prostitutes, with the remainder saying they were forced into prostitution.

Recruiters often lure women by offering cheaper and easier processing of travel papers, which are usually forged. Most of these women become easy prey to Japanese employers who blackmail and force them to work or face arrest, according to HAIN.

The Manila-based newsletter says many Filipinas returning from Japan had been dismissed from their jobs when they got pregnant and some had been suffering from sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV. ]

Laos: Nation in the Balance

by Andrew Forbes

to AIDS Time Bomb series
(IPS) VIENTIANE -- Just outside the terminal of the Laotian capital's Wattay Airport, a visitor's attention is captured by the image of a fierce-eyed yaksa, or demon, apparently preparing to dine on the world with the aid of a three-pronged trident.

The sign is a reminder, if any were needed, that the AIDS virus has already crossed the Mekong, and that Laos faces the threat of a serious pandemic.

As the sign states in both Lao and English, "AIDS is a world wide problem." To date, however, land-locked Laos seems to have avoided the high incidence of HIV infection currently afflicting neighboring Yunnan, Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.

As the prongs of Wattay Airport's yaksa indicate, AIDS is spread primarily through unprotected promiscuous sex or through contaminated needles, which is the case in societies with extensive commercial sex industries and serious drug problems.

Drug addiction has also exacerbated the problem, with drug users sharing needles
Laos' less developed neighbors, too, are facing a deteriorating situation as nascent sex industries mushroom in Saigon, Phnom Penh, and Hainan, while drug abuse levels soar in Burma and Yunnan.

Lao officials acknowledge the seriousness of the problem and are working with international agencies such as the United Nations Development Program to develop a new national plan to control the spread of the disease.

"As Laos begins to capitalize on its location at the heart of the sub-region, as a transit point or hub for increased trade and interaction with and between neighbors, the risk and vulnerability to HIV of once isolated communities will also rapidly increase," said U.N. resident coordinator Anne Sutherland at a meeting on AIDS last month.

Since its switch to a market economy in the mid-1980s, Laos has seen increasing urbanization and mobility, and since its shares borders with countries significantly affected by AIDS, people have become more vulnerable to the disease.

The drug addiction problem spawned by the rampant drugs trade in the country, has also exacerbated the problem, with drug users sharing needles.

The rugged mountains of northwestern Laos are at the center of the notorious Golden Triangle. Opium cultivation was actively encouraged for taxation purposes under the French colonial regime, and both France and the United States used opium and its derivatives in the most cynical of ways to promote and pay for their war efforts in Indochina.

Traditionally, opium was cultivated by Lao Sung highlanders, particularly Hmong and Mien, and transported by Yunnanese Chinese traders known as Chin-Haw.

Another source of concern is the growing level of prostitution, which for years was effectively curbed by the Marxist government
In the aftermath of World War II and the communist revolution in China, renegade Kuomintang troops took over much of the drug trade in both Burma and Laos.

Lao government involvement in narcotics trafficking reached its most notorious level in the three-way Ban Huay Sai Opium War of 1967, when the Royal Lao Army under General Ouane Rattikone seized control of a large opium caravan following a three-way struggle with Shan forces and the KMT.

By contrast during the same period the Pathet Lao communists, in their base area provinces of Phong Sali and Hua Phan, seem to have steered clear of the trade.

Unfortunately this "clean hands" policy does not seem to have survived the communist seizure of power in 1975. Faced with a disastrous financial situation, and with most of the educated middle classes fleeing the country, clandestine opium and heroin production became an important mainstay both for elements of the Lao army and for numerous officials at provincial level.

Today Laos remains the third largest opium producer in Asia after Burma and Afghanistan, and there is significant opium addiction in Phong Sali, Hua Phan, Luang Phabang and Sieng Khwang provinces. Happily for Laos -- though not, of course, for the outside world -- nearly all the refined heroin production is earmarked for export.

In Laos opium addiction remains a killer, but more usually through prolonged addiction than through AIDS.

Another source of concern is the growing level of prostitution, which for years was effectively curbed by the Marxist government, along with any signs of "decadent bourgeois culture" such as rock music, dancing, Western fashion.

Yet despite this official disapproval, Vientiane is slowly undergoing a transformation. Bars and nightclubs have sprung up along the banks of the Mekong, though open prostitution remains all but unknown. Disco music increasingly shatters the calm of the early evening, whilst amongst the young Western fashions are all the rage.

Lao officials know that they are facing an AIDS time bomb which they are financially and clinically unequipped to handle.

They also know that they are surrounded by a rising tide of HIV infection. Like the rest of the world, it seems they can only strive to limit the epidemic and at the same time hope someone finds a cure.

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Albion Monitor November 5, 1997 (

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