Archive for the tag “The Guardian”

Virginity for sale: Cambodia

Abigail Haworth writes for The Guardian:

Cambodia: Virgin tradeThree years ago, when Vannith Uy arrived in Phnom Penh from the countryside, she wanted to open a hair and beauty salon on proper premises in the Cambodian capital. “But my family could find only dirty jobs,” she says. “I wanted a place where my daughter and I could work together.” So Uy did something she describes as her “only choice”: she sold her 18-year-old daughter Chamnan’s virginity to a wealthy local man for £900.

The man was a police general who frequented the beer garden where Uy worked as a kitchen help, she says. He bought Chamnan for six days and nights. He installed her in a hotel room on Phnom Penh’s outskirts and visited her many times to have sex. She was allowed to call her mother once a day. By the third day, Uy recalls, Chamnan was so weak and distressed that the man summoned a doctor on his payroll to give her painkillers and a vitamin shot “so she had the strength to keep going until the end of the week”.

Uy received cash payment in full, but her planned salon never materialised. The money that had represented a life-changing sum – equivalent to around five years’ salary in her home village in Kandal province – soon trickled away. After she’d paid her sick husband’s medical bills, given cash to her ageing parents and bought Chamnan a gold necklace to “raise her spirits”, there wasn’t much left. Uy had greatly underestimated the task of clawing her way out of hardship; her stricken expression as she talks suggests she also miscalculated the personal costs of selling her daughter’s body to try.

Where to begin unravelling the shadowy, painful layers of Uy and Chamnan’s story? It is not straightforward. Often overlooked by more dramatic tales of enslavement in brothels, the trade in virgins is one of the most endemic forms of sexual exploitation in Cambodia. It is a market sustained by severe poverty and ingrained gender inequality. Its clients are influential Cambodian men and other members of Asia’s elite who enjoy total impunity from a corrupt justice system. Most misunderstood of all, many of those involved in the transactions are not hardcore criminals. They are mothers, fathers, friends and neighbours.

Cambodia is far from the only place where women and girls are treated as commodities. But in this country of 15 million people, the demand for virgins is big business that thrives due to cultural myth and other local factors. “Many Asian men, especially those over 50, believe sex with virgins gives them magical powers to stay young and ward off illness,” says Chhiv Kek Pung, president of Cambodia’s leading human rights organisation, Licadho. “There’s a steady supply of destitute families for the trade to prey on here, and the rule of law is very weak.”

Read the rest of this revealing article by clicking here.

Terry Waite: The awful plight of Christians in the Middle East

A Syrian man shows marks of torture inflicted after rebels took control of a Christian area of Aleppo. (CC AFP/Getty Images NC)

Terry Waite writes for The Guardian:

Last week I returned to Lebanon, a quarter of a century after being kidnapped and held captive for almost five years, most of the time chained to a wall and denied many basic comforts. You might think such a trip foolhardy, but the crisis developing there desperately needs attention.

I had been invited to go back to see for myself the plight of the many Christian refugees who are flooding across the Syrian/Lebanese border, and travelled to the Bekaa Valley to visit the refugees who have been forced into exile from Syria. The situation there is tragic. …

Worthy as the proponents of political change may be, there are now elements of the Arab spring that have been hijacked by Islamic extremists who want to impose sharia law and banish Syrian Christians, who make up about 10% of the population. This has created a very hostile environment for minorities. I met refugee families living in dire circumstances in Lebanese border towns, and heard first hand their harrowing stories.

In the early 20th century, Christians made up to 20% of the population in the Middle East; that figure has now dwindled to around 5%. Before the Arab spring Christians in Syria were businesspeople, engineers, lawyers and pharmacists. While Assad brutally restricted political freedoms, the regime did allow the Syrian people religious freedom – more so than elsewhere in the Middle East.

Now Christians are leaving the country. The occupied territories of Palestine are also rapidly losing their Christian communities. Egypt is in turmoil with a series of anti-Coptic Christian riots; Libya is a disaster. In Iraq 300,000 Christians have fled persecution since the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

An estimated 100,000 Christians have left Syria, many to border towns like al-Qaa. Lebanon is the last country in the Middle East where Christians can live in relative peace and security.

Al-Qaa is a dusty, somewhat ramshackle town which has been the scene of numerous border clashes across the years. It is here that many of the Christian families who have escaped from the terrors of warfare in Syria find a temporary home. More than 200 families are housed in and around al-Qaa, mainly being taken into the homes of other Christian families or renting properties. The people I met were not well off. Families I visited told similar stories. The conflict had become so severe that they had been forced to leave their homes. In one place, there were 15 people living in four small rooms. “The Arab spring is a joke,” said one of the refugees. “It has become another form of persecution.” …

From a Christian perspective, Lebanon is rapidly becoming the only remaining country in the whole of the Middle East where there is a significant Christian presence. It will take plenty of acts of reconciliation before Christians once again feel safe in their homeland.

Read the full text of this article by clicking here.
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