Prostitution Thriving in Tibet as Authorities Look the Other Way
khap | 2005.09.06 08:28
Thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of women in Tibet are turning to prostitution, a situation that authorities of China's autonomous region do not acknowledge. In Shigatse, Tibet's second-largest city with a population of 80,000, downtown appears as one sprawling brothel district. At night, a pink light every few meters marks a venue where sex is for sale. Single males are likely to find attention from cheerful women sitting inside beauty salons and foot-massage parlors that are fronts for brothels.
"There's no prostitution in Shigatse," insisted Panba Tsering, local vice director of the municipal council. "The shops you see are part of the service industry, and they make money by washing people's feet or hair."
"I've been trying to run this business for two years, but it's hard to make a living," said Cheng Li, owner of a beauty parlor. "There are too many in the business," says the sex worker, who arrived as a teenager with her father, a member of the People's Liberation Army.
According to the London-based Free Tibet Campaign, there are an estimated 1,000 brothels in Tibet's capital, Lhasa. The campaign attributes the growth in prostitution to tourism, the large inflow of border soldiers, and economic disparities resulting in rural-urban migration.
Most prostitutes are ethnic Han Chinese, some 60 percent of whom come from neighboring Sichuan province, pro-Tibet groups say. Sichuan is an exporter of labor to all parts of China. More frequently, however Tibetan women also are entering the trade.
"Observers unanimously link this change to the widening economic gap between urban and rural areas," making prostitution "the only realistic quick route to a better standard of living," the Tibet Information Network reported. "Thus in Tibet, prostitution is not just a symptom of poverty, but is triggered also by the prosperity of the few."