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Blind children Cambodia 07
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
By Lola García-Ajofrín
27 Mar 2015

Photo by Krousar Thmeu. Benoît Duchâteau-Arminjon and Phalla Neang. Benoît is the founder of NGO Krousar Thmey. He started in Thailand’s refugee camps over 20 years ago. In 1993, Phalla Neang and the NGO Krousar Thmey opened the first school for visually impaired pupils in Cambodia and Phalla became the very first Braille teacher in the country’s history. She also contributed to the development of the Khmer version of Braille.

Since 1997, Krousar Thmey, which is supported by LIGHT FOR THE WORLD (a European development federation), also provides education for deaf pupils. Today Phalla Neang serves as a teacher trainer, school director and as the coordinator of the national ‘Education for Blind’ program. The ‘Education for Blind’ program involves five schools for blind and deaf students, 72 integrated and inclusive classes in regular schools, and nationwide advocacy campaigns.

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Blind children Cambodia 10
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
By Lola García-Ajofrín
27 Mar 2015

Phnom Penh Thmey School. This is the school where Phalla currently works. The program has now expanded to 69 teachers and 250 children in 4 Krousar Thmey schools. There are an additional 29 integrated classes in public schools across the country.

Photo by Krousar Thmey Foundation.

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Blind children Cambodia 09
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
By Lola García-Ajofrín
27 Mar 2015

The Phnom Penh Thmey School.

Photo by Krousar Thmey Foundation

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Blind children Cambodia 08
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
By Lola García-Ajofrín
27 Mar 2015

The opening of the Phnom Penh Thmey School.

Photo by Krousar Thmey Foundation.

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Blind children Cambodia 03
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
By Lola García-Ajofrín
16 Mar 2015

In 1993, Phalla Neang opened the first school for blind children in Camboda. She was one of 10 finalists for the "Global Teacher Prize," an honor that awards $1 million to "the best teacher in the world."

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Blind children Cambodia 04
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
By Lola García-Ajofrín
16 Mar 2015

In 1993, Phalla Neang opened the first school for blind children in Camboda. She was one of 10 finalists for the "Global Teacher Prize," an honor that awards $1 million to "the best teacher in the world."

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LGBT Community in Myanmar Says 'Enoug...
burma
By Pablo L. Orosa
09 Mar 2015

At sundown, only the golden dome of the Shwedagon Pagoda shines in the Yangon's sky. Now the bustle of the afternoon has disappeared and the People's Park, one of the most crowded places in the city, remains in silence. In the west corner, at least fifty candles cry out against tortures, harassment, police abuses and discrimination. Hidden for 50 years, Burma's LGTB community is now clamoring for their rights. 

“Some weeks ago, a friend of mine was walking in the lane, here in Yangon, when a group of men started to insult him because of his sexuality. Right after, they attacked and beat him”. Incidents like this, reported by Zae Ya, a spokesperson of activist group Colors Rainbow, are quite frequent in Burma. Despite the improvement achieved since the dissolution of the Military Junta in 2011, lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people are still facing bullying and violence in their daily life. “Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) minorities do suffer from social prejudices and discrimination”, says Lynette Chua, an expert on LGTB issues and professor of Law at the National University of Singapore.

In Burma, homosexuality is not illegal, although it is de facto outlawed under Section 377 of the Penal Code 1860, which defines the ‘unnatural offence’ of carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal and punishes it by imprisonment for up to ten years. In theory, this offense could be applied to all genders, but in fact it is interpreted by the police as criminalizing male consensual homosexual conduct as well as other “unnatural” sex forms.

This law was inherited from the British colonial era and is based on the Indian Penal Code. In roughly 80 countries, at least half of which were British colonies, this repressive law is still in force. Unlike other Southeast Asia countries, such as Cambodia or Laos, where the age of consent sex for both heterosexual and homosexual sex is 15, in Burma same sex behavior is criminalized. Even if homosexual relations cannot be proved, LGTB people may be sued for public nuisance (Section 268 of the Penal Code), negligently spreading sexual disease (Section 269) and detained under local Acts for suspicious activities. On December 29, about 30 transgender people were arrested in Kandawgyi area. “There are a lot of people in prison due to their sexuality”, declares Hla Myat, program officer at Colors Rainbow. “They can punish LGTB community using the legal system”, adds Zae Ya.

Police abuses: torture and arbitrary arrests 

On 7 July 2013, a gathering of around 20 men, some of them Police officers, “assaulted” a group of gay and transgender people in the area of Sedona Hotel, in Mandalay, “pushing, hitting, handcuffing and pulling off their garments in public”. Once in custody, “police continued to abuse the group of 11 detainees, hitting and kicking them constantly, stripping them naked in the public areas of the Mandalay Regional Police headquarters, photographing them, forcing them to hop like frogs, forcing them to clean shoes and tables, to walk up and down as if on a catwalk, uttering obscenities at them, and otherwise physically and psychologically demeaning them”, the Asian Human Rights Commission reported.

Cases of alleged arbitrary arrest, detention and torture of people on the grounds of sexual orientation have become chronic in Burma, particularly in the Mandalay area. “Big cities, especially Yangon, are more open-minded, but in rural areas the situation for LGTB people is more difficult”, explains Zae Ya.

In a 2014 statement, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) warned that “police reportedly use the law to intimidate and extort bribes” from transgender and homosexual people: “inside police detention and prison, there are reports of humiliating treatment such as MSM (men who have sex with men) and transgender persons being forced to strip naked and dance, beaten with a rod (Nan-Bat-Dote), ridiculed while they are naked, pressured to have sex and burnt with cigarettes”. Paying bribes is often the best way to escape from this.

Lifetime social stigma

There are at least fifty people this night in the People´s Park, most of them under 30´s. They chat in a lively way. Tin Cu Chu, who wears a pink shirt from which hang sunglasses, appears with a candle. Then everybody falls silent. After two minutes, two voices begin to speak. It´s Burmese language, but the message is clear: it´s high time to claim our rights. The candles are to shed light on these hidden people.

Behind all abuses and discrimination faced by LGTB community there are social reasons. Although most people have no problem with them, - “there is no problem if there is no public announcement about relationship”, says Hla Myat-, some society groups are becoming more and more intolerant regarding sexual orientations. Religion is playing a big role in that. Theravada Buddhism, the main religious branch in Burma, enhances gender roles. In Mandalay, for example, religious authorities advised that homosexual men are not authorised on the upper level of the place of worship, where only men are allowed. “There is a populist belief in Buddhism in Myanmar that one is reborn a SOGI minority and thus has to endure suffering in this lifetime, because one has committed sexual transgressions, for example adultery, in one's past life”, illustrates Chua.

These theological assumptions have imbued Burmese culture, inciting social disturbances. At home, some fathers believe that bringing up a homosexual child hurts the family´s dignity and force his marriage. Intolerance starts at school too. “LGTB students usually suffer discrimination from their colleagues, even from their teachers who say to them ‘you are not natural, you are not normal. You have to change your behavior because it is not in accordance with our culture’”, notes Zae Ya. Due to bullying and mistreatment, the majority of these children quit the school before graduating, which puts them in a weak position to earn a living. “Most of them don´t have a chance to get a good job”, adds the Burmese activist. 

In its study, UNDP reports that many transgender and gay men have limited work opportunities  “because of stigma and discrimination and stereotyping”. In many cases there are constraints on expressing their sexual orientation and gender identity in workplaces. For many of them, above all among transgender people, sex work is the only way-out. However, working in the streets leads to more problems with the Police -it has been reported that some policemen extort money from them and some require sex to be provided under threat of arrest- and the high risk of contract HIV.

According to official data, HIV prevalence among MSM in Burma was 29.3 percent as of 2008, 42 times higher than the national adult prevalence rate. Since then, as a result of a successful national health program, HIV prevalence has fallen to 7.8% in 2011. In 2013, the rate grows to 10.4%. Social disturbances and law enforcement are discouraging programme beneficiaries from accessing basic HIV services, UNDP recognizes in its report. 

2015, the year of the change

When last November a same-sex couple celebrated their tenth anniversary publicly, a controversial debate shook the Burmese society. It was the first time that a gay couple did this in the country. Moreover, in 2014 the first LGTB film festival took place in Yangon, and some nightclubs in the city organized special parties for lesbians and gays. “Some years ago things like these would have been impossible”, says Zae Ya.

The democratic winds will be verified in 2015, with the elections. “We can change positively our country. We can get more rights”, insists the Colors Rainbow spokesperson. However, it is not clear what is going to happen. Perhaps, the candles will blow out. Perhaps, more must be lit. 

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Domestic Workers Face 'Modern Slavery...
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
01 Mar 2015

320,000 migrant women are exposed to all kinds of physical and psychological abuse in the domestic service sector of Hong Kong. This story is a testimony of their experiences and struggles.

After being repeatedly abused and realizing that her situation would not improve, in a desperate attempt, Kamsiah ran away from her employer's house without money or documentation. Subsequently she was accused of stealing her employer's wallet which was said to contain around 900 US Dollars. Unfortunately, false accusations are a common practice to pressure migrant workers and avoid paying the wages owed to them. Barefooted, without money nor documentation, she sought refuge in a 24-hour fast food restaurant and waited until another compatriot helped her and took her to a shelter.

Esther C. Bangkawayan is the director of Bethune House shelter, where foreign domestic helpers who suffer abuse find shelter, food, and legal advice. They now house about a dozen women in trouble, but at times they even have to squeeze around 20 people in the small house nestled beside a church in Kowloon. A domestic helper herself, Esther is campaigning the government to scrap two rules she deems unfair: one which forbids employees from changing their employers more than three times a year, and another one which doesn’t allow them from changing to work at another sector of the economy.

42 year old filipino domestic helper Grace signed a misleading labour contract to work in Hong Kong but she instead ended up in Dalian, a northeast Chinese city 1,979 km far from Hong Kong. After confronting her employer about the situation, Grace was put into a return flight to Hong Kong without her pending salary and with only 200 RMB in her wallet. Grace has made now a formal complaint against the recruitment agency which made her labour contract. However, she is not very optimistic regarding her chances of recovering the debt of 40,000 pesos she currently has in the Philippines.

Eni Lestari, Indonesian, is the spokesperson for the Justice for Erwiana Committee. A domestic helper herself, she hopes to get justice for one of her compatriots, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, who came to Hong Kong seeking for a better life and future but instead found a form of modern slavery. Erwiana’€™s employers hit her so severely that her brain has sustained irreversible injuries. As a result, she is unable to walk properly and has blurred vision. Her employer punched Erwiana so violently that her teeth cracked. She was sent to Indonesia with her body full of bruises and 8 US dollars in her pocket. Outraged immigrants like Lestari demand now justice and prison for her attackers. The Court has already declared them guilty and sentence is pending.

On Sundays thousands of Indonesian women gather in the streets and public spaces around Hong Kong to take advantage of their only day off. Most take their own food and an umbrella and talk to their friends all day long.

“€œWe barely have any money, so we have to take our lunch from our employer's house and sit in any public space that we can so we can enjoy our leisure time with our friends,”€ said Kamsiah.

To enjoy their free time and to get to know other immigrant workers in Hong Kong, immigrant groups organize activities for the women, such as beauty contests and self-defense classes in Victoria Park.  Persaudaraan Setia Hati Terate Fight Club teaches women to protect themselves from abusive employers.

Not only helping the women get away from the world of domestic work for the little time they have off or boosting their ability to defend themselves, such activities are the only social contact many have; and friends made during Sundays can be of great importance when difficulties arise.

FULL ARTICLE AVAILABLE ON REQUEST

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Child Labor in Southeast Asia 08
Chiang Mai, Thailand
By S. R. Grasso
27 Feb 2015

Two young boys transport flowers from a small field in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Child Labor in Southeast Asia 09
Chiang Mai, Thailand
By S. R. Grasso
27 Feb 2015

Young construction worker on break at a the site of a future hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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Child Labor in Southeast Asia 10
Chiang Mai, Thailand
By S. R. Grasso
27 Feb 2015

Little girl assisting her parents on a construction site in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
25 Feb 2015

February 25, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - (L-R): Robert, 18 months, and his mother, Mylene, 37, at their home in Balibago. Mylene used to recruit girls from Manila for work in Angles City red light district and met Robert's father a US citizen while at Owl's Nest, a go go bar in Fields Avenue. After a 20 month relationship with the 55 year old three-time divorcess who lives in the Philippines on a tourist visa, he left Mylene for another woman. Although the father signed Robert's birth certificate his new girlfriend convinced him not to get his son a US passport. He sends money to Mylene and his son occasionally.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
25 Feb 2015

February 25, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - (L-R): Robert, 18 months, and his mother, Mylene, 37, at their home in Balibago. Mylene used to recruit girls from Manila for work in Angles City red light district and met Robert's father a US citizen while at Owl's Nest, a go go bar in Fields Avenue. After a 20 month relationship with the 55 year old three-time divorcess who lives in the Philippines on a tourist visa, he left Mylene for another woman. Although the father signed Robert's birth certificate his new girlfriend convinced him not to get his son a US passport. He sends money to Mylene and his son occasionally.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
25 Feb 2015

February 25, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - (L-R): Azumi, 2 years old, and her mother Angelica, 25, at accommodation provided to them by Renew, a charity that helps Filipina women leave the sex trade. Azumi's mother claims her father is a German named Ralf, 50, who is the owner of Camelot bar on the Fields Avenue red light strip. Ralf has been confronted by both Azumi's father and a represntative from Renew, but he denies that Azumi is his daugher and also refuses to take a paternity test. Angelica is now in her second year of a college degree.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
25 Feb 2015

February 25, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - (L-R): Azumi, 2 years old, and her mother Angelica, 25, at accommodation provided to them by Renew, a charity that helps Filipina women leave the sex trade. Azumi's mother claims her father is a German named Ralf, 50, who is the owner of Camelot bar on the Fields Avenue red light strip. Ralf has been confronted by both Azumi's father and a represntative from Renew, but he denies that Azumi is his daugher and also refuses to take a paternity test. Angelica is now in her second year of a college degree.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
24 Feb 2015

February 24, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - (L-R): Peter, 8, and his mother Grace, 35, with a picture of Peter's Australian father, Max, Peter and the child of a family friend taken during one of Max's visits to the Philippines. Grace met Max when she was 24 and he was 78, while she was working in a bar in Angeles City's red light district. Unlike many children of sex tourists' Peter's father signed the boy's birth certificate, helped him obtain an Australian passport and bought them the house in which they live. Grace and Peter have not heard or received financial support from Peter's father in four months. Grace hopes to obtain welfare payments from the Australian government.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
24 Feb 2015

February 24, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - Peter 8, at a small restaurant near his home in Balibago. His mother Grace met Peter's Australian father when she was 24 and he was 78, while she was working in a bar in Angeles City's red light district. Unlike many children of sex tourists' Peter's father signed the boy's birth certificate, helped him obtain an Australian passport and bought them the house in which they live. Grace and Peter have not heard or received financial support from Peter's father in four months. Grace hopes to obtain welfare payments from the Australian government.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
24 Feb 2015

February 24, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - Peter 8, and some of his classmates outside the Learn Yearn Nurture School for Young near his home in Balibago. Four of the 50 students at this private primary school have Australian fathers.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
24 Feb 2015

February 24, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - Francine, 7, (right) sits in her family's home in the Hadrian 3 slum as her grandfather washes vegetables. Francine whose father is Australian lives with, her mother, her five half siblings, her aunt and her two children and her grandfather in their 70 sq metre home. Francine has never met her father who ceased contact with her mother shortly after she informed him that she was pregnant. Her father met her mother while she was working at a bar on the Fields Ave red light strip.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
24 Feb 2015

February 24, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - (L-R):- Francine, 7, her mother Susan, 35 and her son 19 month old son James in their home in the Hadrian 3 slum. Francine has never met her father who ceased contact with her mother shortly after she informed him that she was pregnant. Her father met her mother while she was working at a bar on the Fields Ave red light strip. Susan receives money from her Filipino boyfriend, the father of James, sent from Saudi Arabia where he works in construction.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
24 Feb 2015

February 24, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - Francine, 7, whose father is an Australian, with her 19 month old half brother James. Francine's father had a one night stand with her mother while she was working at Blue Nile go go bar in the Fields Avenue red light strip. Francine has never met her father and her mother has no contact with him.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
24 Feb 2015

February 24, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - Francine, 7, whose father is an Australian sits in her home in the Hadrian 3 slum. Francine has never met her father, a sex tourist with whom her mother has no contact.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
24 Feb 2015

February 24, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - Tristan, 3, (second from right) his mother Jennifer 32, Tristan's half sister Fiona, 7 (second from left and a cousin (left) look at a picture of Tristan's Australian father, which his mother saved from his Facebook account. Jennifer met Tristan's father, Jason, an Australian now living in America while she was working at Dolls House go go bar on the Fields Ave red light strip and visited Tristan when he was one month old. Tristan and his family live next to a garbage dump in the Hadrian 3 slum and receive occasional fanancial and material suport from Jason, a manager at Ikea in California and his parents.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
24 Feb 2015

February 24, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - (L-R): Fiona, 7, Tristan, 5, and their mother Jennifer 32, at their home in the Hardian 3 slum. Jennifer met Tristan's father, Jason, an Australian now living in America while she was working at Dolls House go go bar on the Fields Ave red light strip and visited Tristan when he was one month old. Tristan receives occasional financial and material support from Jason, a manager at Ikea in California and his grandparents.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
24 Feb 2015

February 24, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - , Nelcy, 30, Renz, 8, (left) whose father is believed to be Norwegian and his mother Nelcy, 30 (second from left) with his two half brothers at their home in the Hadrian 3 slum. Nelcy says Renz's father, Frank, who is in his 60s and lives in the Philppines with his Filipina wife was a regular at the Dirty Dog go go bar where she used to work. After she became pregnant, she was unable to contact Frank. When she saw him on the street after her child was born and she approached him, he refused to believe he was father to her child. "Sometimes he's bullied by others kids because he's different", says Nelcy, "but he always fights back."

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
24 Feb 2015

February 24, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - Francine, 35, (top left) and at their home in the Hadrian 3 slum. Francine, 7, (right) has never met her father who ceased contact with her mother shortly after she informed him that she was pregnant. Her father met her mother while she was working at a bar on the Fields Ave red light strip. Susan receives money from her Filipino boyfriend, the father of James, sent from Saudi Arabia where he works in construction.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
23 Feb 2015

February 23, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - Bar workers in bikinis stand on a podium at 'Crystal Palace' go-go bar on Fields Avenue. This red light strip, that originally arose to service the Clark US Airforce Base, which closed in 1991, is a centre for international sex tourism. The bar workers, who are from impoverished rural areas, earn money by customers buying 'lady drinks' or providing sex to customers who are mainly from South Korea, Australia and the US. At bars such as this one on the Fields Ave 'Walking Stret, bar workers earn one third of the approx $70 bar fine (locally known as an Early Work Release) to go home with a customer. Prices are considerably lower away from the main bar strip.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
23 Feb 2015

February 23, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - Bar workers in bikinis stand on a podium at 'Sea Star' go-go bar on Fields Avenue. This red light strip, that originally arose to service the Clark US Airforce Base is a centre for international sex tourism. The bar workers, who are from impoverished rural areas, earn money by customers buying 'lady drinks' or providing sex to customers who are mainly from South Korea, Australia and the US. At bars such as this one on the Fields Ave 'Walking Street,' bar workers earn one third of the approximately $70 bar fine (locally known as an Early Work Release) to go home with a customer. Prices are considerably lower away from the main bar strip.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
23 Feb 2015

February 23, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - Traffic is slow on a Monday evening on the Fields Avenue 'Walking Street'. This red light strip, that originally arose to service the Clark US Airforce Base is a centre for international sex tourism. The bar workers, who are from impoverished rural areas, earn money by customers buying 'lady drinks' or providing sex to customers who are mainly from South Korea, Australia and the US. Most visitors fly in for the weekend.

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Sex tourists' children in Angeles Cit...
Angeles City
By David Tacon
23 Feb 2015

February 23, 2015, Angeles City, Philippines - Pole dancers peform at 'Dolls House' go-go bar, one of the largest estabishments on Fields Avenue. This red light strip, that originally arose to service the Clark US Airforce Base is a centre for international sex tourism. The bar workers, who are from impoverished rural areas, earn money by customers buying 'lady drinks' or providing sex to customers who are mainly from South Korea, Australia and the US. At bars such as this one on the Fields Ave 'Walking Stret, bar workers earn one third of the approx $70 bar fine (locally known as an Early Work Release) to go home with a customer. Prices are considerably lower away from the main bar strip.

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Thaipusam Festival 08
Penang
By Kevin Quinn
09 Feb 2015

Thaipusam festival Kavadi bearer with his cheeks pierced as a form of offering and penance.

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Thaipusam Festival 02
Penang
By Kevin Quinn
09 Feb 2015

Devotees smash coconuts for good luck and humility on the final eve of the Festival Thaipusam in Penang, Malaysia

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Thaipusam Festival 05
Penang
By Kevin Quinn
09 Feb 2015

Hindu devotees attempt to steer the cows pulling the silver chariot containing the statue of Lord Murugan during the festival of Thaipusam in Penang, Malaysia

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Child Labor in Southeast Asia 06
Loi Ta Leng, Myanmar
By S. R. Grasso
06 Feb 2015

Young soldier at the Shan State Army (South) National Day in Loi Ta Leng, Myanmar.

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Thaipusam Festival 03
Penang
By Kevin Quinn
04 Feb 2015

Celebrants of the Festival Thaipusam pay respect to the cows pulling the silver chariot carrying the statue of the Lord Murugan

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Thaipusam Festival 04
Penang
By Kevin Quinn
04 Feb 2015

The statue of the Lord Murugan is pulled on a silver chariot during the Festival Thaipusam on the island of Penang, Malaysia

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Thaipusam Festival 16
Penang
By Kevin Quinn
03 Feb 2015

Celebrants making their between the decorative stalls on Gottlieb Road in Penang, Malaysia

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Thaipusam Festival 17
Penang
By Kevin Quinn
03 Feb 2015

A devotee carries his Kavadi on the way to Thannirmalai Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple

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Thaipusam Festival 18
Penang
By Kevin Quinn
03 Feb 2015

A devotee carries his Kavadi on the way to Thannirmalai Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple