My brother-in-law who is visiting from Sydney, Australia told me he had seen a Filipino TV show host who had paid a kid to dance on TV—like a stripper. He had seen it in a morning show in Australia, where viewers had an outraged discussion about child abuse.
Here’s what The Australian had to say about it:
Game show disgrace highlights sexual exploitation of Asian children
By Emma-Kate Symons
The Australian, April 10, 2011 8:07PM
IT is a story about show business and the lust for fame, the struggle between permissiveness and social conservatism, and child exploitation: it is a very Philippines sort of scandal.
Willie Revillame, the country’s highest-paid TV identity, is under investigation for child abuse after he goaded a bawling six-year-old boy to gyrate like a male stripper before a guffawing live audience and millions of viewers.
In the March episode of Revillame’s show, Jan-Jan Suan, tears streaming down his face, agreed to simulate a pelvic thrusting “macho dancer” – male stripper in The Philippines – in exchange for 10,000 pesos ($220) for his poor family.
Footage of Jan-Jan’s televised humiliation quickly went viral.
Government ministers and religious leaders rushed to denounce the star. The Movie and Television Review Classification Board and Human Rights Commission announced investigations into allegations of child abuse.
At first glance, images of the skinny lad dancing nervously to a tune from rapper Snoop Dogg seem relatively innocuous.
But a closer look tells a more disturbing story. As Jan-Jan cries in distress while grimly bumping and grinding, the studio audience, including his family, is in fits of laughter, egged on by the host.
Merciless, Revillame pushes the six-year-old to keep dancing for money, mocking his performance as comparable to Burlesk Queen, the 1970s Philippines cult movie starring actress Vilma Santos (now a politician) as a bikini-clad cabaret performer whose sexy dance routine so traumatises her she has a miscarriage on stage.
“That’s how hard life is. Jan-Jan has to learn macho dancing at his age, for the sake of his family,” Revillame says with a laugh.
The besieged host launched a diatribe against his celebrity critics on Friday as he announced a two-week suspension of the top-rating program Willing Willie. “Don’t pulverise me. I’m not a bad person. I only want to help the poor,” Revillame pleaded in a histrionic 25-minute “farewell” speech, beseeching viewers to “pray for this program to be back on air”.
He charged some of The Philippines’ top singers and actors with leading a Twitter and Facebook campaign to push advertisers to pull commercials from Willing Willie.
The network has appointed an internal ombudsman to monitor treatment of minors.
Still, the star of Willing Willie is tipped to return to the TV screen.
The forces that put Jan-Jan in the spotlight have elements peculiar to The Philippines, but Manila is not an isolated case.
Across Southeast Asia, in TV game shows, reality programs and talent contests, product launches, advertisements and mainstream films, children and minors under the malleable Asian age of consent are increasingly depicted in a highly sexualised and erotic fashion.
Thai commercial TV broadcasts popular “mini-Thai idol”-style contests showcasing heavily made-up children as young as three in sexy get-up, dancing and singing provocatively.
Similar fare is increasingly dished up to audiences in Indonesia and in poorer Cambodia. Often it’s cutesy but more often blatantly pedophile-friendly. In Thailand, where made-up toddler girls sport pink T-shirts saying “I’m Single”, the press occasionally reports on controversies surrounding beauty contests for children from the age of three.
The treatment of Southeast Asian children as commodities extends from the mainstream media to bars and brothels.
Experts agree that a pernicious popular and private culture of impunity regarding sexual abuse and trafficking of children still exists in the region and is worsening. According to law enforcement agencies and academic specialists, trafficking and prostitution of young children is on the rise. Thailand today is functioning more as a trafficking hub for child prostitutes and “illegal immigrants” from neighbouring poor countries such as Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
A new study backed by the French Research Institute on Contemporary Southeast Asia, “The Trade in Human Beings for Sex in Southeast Asia”, edited by Pierre Le Roux, says sex trafficking of women and children, “already widespread internationally, continues to escalate”. “Thailand is an emerging epicentre of both sex trafficking and sex tourism”, the study says, noting that the first sex tourists are local and regional, followed by the smaller but persistent group of foreigners from outside Asia.
Some figures suggest as many as 250,000 women and children are trafficked annually in Southeast Asia.
Estimates of the number of child prostitutes in Thailand range from fewer than 2000 to the high hundreds of thousands. The Philippines is believed to have more than 100,000 child prostitutes.
Le Roux points to cultural factors, such as Southeast Asian concepts of “sacrifice” and the “younger sibling”, as facilitating the prostitution of children and women.
Locals and foreigners often mistakenly think that with economic and social development, the scourge of pedophilia and widespread child prostitution is at least diminishing in Southeast Asia, from the heights of the 1980s and 1990s.
Australians recall pedophiles such as Robert Dunn who were tracked down by journalists and sometimes police. Cambodia has trumpeted the arrests of high-profile foreigners such as Gary Glitter, while local child abusers, the UN and NGOs attest, go unpunished.
Countering the public-relations spin, the US State Department last year placed Thailand, to Bangkok’s fury, on the high alert “Tier Two watch list” for only making “limited progress” on combating and prosecuting human trafficking, including child prostitution. The Philippines also shared this ignominious status (second year running), alongside new entrants Vietnam and Laos. Wealthy Singapore appeared on the same US watch list. South Asia is not exempt, with India tagged as a top source, destination and transit country for traffickers.
Gender expert Carina Chotirawe, a professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, believes more work needs to be done in the region “to shift the consciousness of the parents and society as a whole on the protection of children”.
“Depicting them in a sexualised manner is a form of child abuse and it is very worrying to see children appearing in such lewd ways,” she says.
“The Revillame show was despicable. It felt like he was prostituting poverty, making the poor pander to him for quick cash fixes, as he does on a daily basis, and never mind if it entails a kid being sexed up and crying as he (Jan-Jan) does so pitifully.
“Willie was acting like God, dispensing patronage to parents inured to the poverty they see as their lot in life — and if lewdness gets them instant cash, then so be it.”
For Chotirawe, a deep-seated “cultural wiring” takes place in Southeast Asia where “kids are conditioned to believe that being sexy and looking grown up will get you far more”.
“It devalues education, toil and perseverance,” she says.
“In Thailand, you also see this even at kindergarten performances, with girls dressed up, made up and dancing to songs with provocative lyrics.
“It is no wonder that there is a link to child prostitution. Or in milder cases, if they are more well off and are fortunate to escape that predicament, they are lured to become ‘Pretties’ like the ones you see (parading) at motor shows.”
Australian child protection activist Bernadette McMenamin, founder of Child Wise, agrees that the erotic depiction of children in Southeast Asia is bad news for the battle against sex tourism.
“The sexualisation of children is something that is happening worldwide without society really coming to grips with it,” she says.
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