East Asia (MNN) — The United States recently added twelve more countries to its human trafficking watch list. Several of these countries (including Singapore and Thailand) are in Asia, and several other Asian countries (including, China, Sri Lanka and the Phillippines) remain on the list, according to AFP News.
Tens of thousands of women are tricked and trafficked into prostitution every year in East Asia, but what's causing the alarming statistics?
"The huge driving factor of the sex industry in East Asia is poverty," says Ella Grere, a missionary in an East Asian country with Pioneers. It's not that women choose prostitution because they're poor, but it's that they're so poor they'll flee to anyone offering them a job.
Voice of America says this is a particular problem in places like Burma, where people are too poor to turn down any job opportunities that come their way, even if it's out of the country. Unfortunately, this is an easy way for traffickers to trick women into slavery.
Grere explains the phenomenon with the story of one girl named Camille. Camille married into an abusive home, got divorced, and moved back in with her family. She was seen as such a disgrace, however, that she had no way to care for her daughter or for herself. So when her cousin offered her a job in the city cutting hair and waitressing, she spent all of the money she had left to get there. As soon as she arrived, her cousin took her to a brothel.
Camille's story is similar to almost all of the women Grere encounters at the brothels she and her teammates visit. She and her team minister to the women through prayer walking, befriending them, and eventually offering them a way out of the brothel by working for a jewelry business the missionaries began two years ago, Tamarisk Tree.
People outside the situation may think this would be an easy decision for women trapped as unwilling slaves, but it's not that easy. "We've had our business going for two years now, and really only three women have come out of the brothel to work for us full-time," says Grere.
Grere explains that most of these women have been treated so poorly that don't believe they deserve a better life. They might leave for a pay increase, but Tamarisk Tree purposely offers slightly lower pay than the women get in the brothels. Grere says this is intentional, in order to "not make it an economic decision for the women, but [to] allow them to choose a new life and a change." Other similar ministries say this is the best way to ensure that women won't return to the brothels but will really begin a new life.
Still, few women are ready for serious change. Even once trust is gained in the missionaries, these women are still often too emotionally defeated to leave their situation. Grere says that the reality is, "They can never leave the brothel behind unless they can grasp the hand of Jesus."
This is difficult for women who have been ill-treated and told they are worthless. "The thing I hear most often when I share the Gospel is, ‘I could never face God: I'm too dirty and worthless,'" notes Grere.
Prayer is greatly needed for these longsuffering missionaries and their ministry. Grere says women tell her everyday that they'll leave the brothel "tomorrow" but never do. Pray for these missionaries to have patience and to be filled with love for these women and for the Gospel.
Pray also for the countless women throughout East Asia who have been tricked into a life they never would have chosen. Only God can truly free these victims from their despair. Pray "that they would actually have enough faith that when God calls their name, they can listen and believe that He could truly love them."