Trapped in misery by the lure of false dreams

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 July, 2011, 12:00am

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To many Africans, China has become the new America, with its boom towns and flourishing economy.

The promise of a good life away from poverty and violence is appealing, and, like generations before who sought greener pastures, there are some who fall prey to peddlers of false dreams.

Precious flew for more than 24 hours, passing through Addis Ababa and Guangzhou, to reach Hong Kong, where she thought she would work as a supermarket clerk.

But she, like others in her situation, had been tricked by an acquaintance from her village. When she landed, all that awaited her was a HK$6,000 debt her trafficker demanded she pay. Without a work visa, and anyone willing to hire her, Precious turned to prostitution.

'If I could work at a restaurant, or a laundry, things would be better,' she says.

Given her age and figure, she says, business has been slow. Over the past two years, Precious has only been able to repay about HK$3,000 to her trafficker.

'I cannot get money to pay for my room or to send to my [three] children,' she says.

Her friend Glamour, a volunteer at Vision First, an NGO providing services for refugees, says Precious and other trafficked women are constantly harassed by their traffickers, and made to give up what meagre earnings they have.

'You're already miserable, so you give them the little you have and you get space to breathe,' she says.

While some of the younger women are able to make money by marketing themselves on the internet and contracting themselves out for three-month long 'marriages', older women like Precious often only make as little as HK$50 for sexual services.

At times the trafficked women even become traffickers themselves, going back to their home countries, picking up young, beautiful and hopeful girls and conning them the same way they were conned. 'They claim to be businesspeople, they go to universities and they sell them a fake dream,' Glamour says. 'They pick girls around 20 to 25 years old, girls who are fair because now they know what will sell.

'And the girls drop out, because when someone tells you can go abroad, you get excited. They need to be sensitised and told there are no jobs for them here.'

20,000

The number of sex workers in Hong Kong, according to the advocacy organisation Zi Teng.

- It says they serve 10,000 to 20,000 'clients' a day