In Malaysia, the issue of underaged sex trafficking often takes a back seat or isn’t even acknowledged. That is, until one investigative journalist delved into the deepest areas of the city and uncovered a sex trade that not only exists but may also be thriving. MC Malaysia speaks to Mahi Ramakrishnan.
By: Shakila Rajendra
It starts with a girl, face partially obscured, telling us she has not seen the light of day in years and that the little room she now sits in is all that she knows. She eats, sleeps and works here. The work she mentions however, is not one of her choosing. The girl in the video is just one of many trapped in the world of sex trafficking.
The video in question, is one made by film maker and investigative journalist Mahi Ramakrishnan. Entitled Trapped – The Underage Sex Trade in Malaysia, the film is the end result of two years of hard work, unbridled patience, and diligence when it came to uncovering the existence of a thriving underaged sex trade that involved illegally trafficked migrant foreign workers in Malaysia.
Since its release in September last year, the video has gone viral with netizens and news sources picking it up to highlight an already growing cause of concern in Malaysia —that underaged sex and human traffickingnhas gone largely under-reported.
Many were also outraged that it has taken this long for a piece of evidence to emerge and highlight this alarming issue in the country. Also last year, Malaysia was downgraded to Tier 3 (the lowest grade possible ranking for response in fighting human trafficking) in the US government’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report along with three other countries making the release of the video all the more pertinent.
The reason it took this long however, was due to the fact that human trafficking, and to an even larger extent, underage sex trafficking is such a taboo subject that for one investigative journalist, making a video on the subject was deemed an impossible task.
Mahi Ramakrishnan, an advocate herself and correspondent for USA Today, however, was undeterred by the giant hurdles that lay ahead when she set about making the film Trapped, two years ago.
IT DOESN’T EXIST?
The 22-minute video was released on YouTube and features interviews with the police, child activists and psychologists and three sex workers who are underaged but seasoned in their trade. Two of them tell Mahi that they do it for the money while the other revealed that she had been tricked into prostitution after reaching Malaysia.
Mahi says, “Even after the release of the video, it was hard to get people to believe that this was happening on our doorstep. However, just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist and that there isn’t a market for it. There are people out there who want to prey on children and are willing to pay for it.”
She continues, “Although some of the children seem nonchalant about their plight in the video, I believe no children should ever consent to sex work.”
However, Mahi remains optimistic on the issue of taking action, “As a journalist, my function is to provide accurate information and for people to make informed decisions based on that information. I want society to organise itself and lobby for changes, without waiting for lawmakers to initiate such campaigns.”
To read the full interview, get your hands on Marie Claire Malaysia’s JANUARY 2015 issue, out now!