Name:Building an Effective Network in the Service of Migrant Sex Workers in East and South East Asia (2001) by Zi Teng and Asia Monitor Resource Center


Over the past decades there has been a dramatic increase in the number of women crossing borders working as migrant labour. Many of them enter the sex industry as they are opened to only limited opportunities in a foreign country. Others initially work as domestic or factory workers, or as mail-ordered brides foreign countries, but later take up sex work for various reasons. There are others who have already worked in the sex industry in their own countries, and choose to migrate to work in other countries. This migration helps them to earn more income and escape the social discrimination/ stigma from their own community. For whatever reasons, these migrant sex workers are one of the most marginalized group since they often suffer from multiple discriminations of gender, race and occupation – for the stigma attached to sex work and sex workers.

In most of the Asian countries, sex workers are not considered criminal, yet the sex work itself is not recognized as a work. It is also difficult to obtain a work permit for sex work purposes. Therefore most of the migrant sex workers are illegal to work in the formal sector or sex-industry even if they hold valid travel visas. Due to this they have to hide themselves “underground” or constantly migrate from one place to another. The invisibility, mobility, and ambiguity of law allow middle agents and local polices to exploit and abuse them. Their illegal status leaves them in a vulnerable situation with little bargaining power to protect themselves.

The idea of building up a supportive and informative network among importing and exporting countries is surfaced in the Zhuhai conference organized by Zi Teng in early 2000. After one and a half year, in June 2001, Zi Teng organized another conference to bring sex workers and grassroots organizers together to share their experiences of being and working with sex workers (both local and migrants) in their own countries. This conference provided a good platform for sex workers and organizers from Asia-Pacific region and Europe to exchange their ideas on relationships among sex workers’ livelihood, discriminative social culture and unfriendly national policies. Main problems that faced by the migrant sex workers in various countries have also been reviewed. At the first part of the conference (first two days), participants from Asian countries had mapped out the migrating routes of sex workers, and discussed about how the discriminative laws and policies that against sex work and sex industry put migrant sex workers into a doubly-marginalized position (as both a foreigner and a sex worker). In the second part, participants from Australia and European countries share a number of successful examples of how sex workers being recognized, protected and regulated under some significant changes in social policies. Their experience of bringing changes to policies and culture in their own place revealed alternative sets of model for Asian sex workers to struggle for. This report reflects on the process and main issues which emerged during the conference.

Countries reports/ papers are contributed by our participants, exploring sex workers’ working situation in a wider social context in different countries. Throughout the report, the voices of sex workers and organizers are clearly heard, expressing their concerns and their views on the trend of increasing number of migrant sex workers and their mobility. The need of building a cross-border supportive network among the sex worker’s self-initiated groups or organizations that work directly with sex workers Asia was clearly articulated. Publishing a migrant sex workers handbook, with information that contributed by every of the participating countries, becomes the first practical step towards the building of cross border network. Without doubt, the purpose of this network is a challenging and dynamic process for most sex workers concern groups, and this report of the conference contains rich data and information for us to understand the need of both local and migrant sex workers and the difficulties for fulfilling our long term aim of sex workers’empowerment.


Download: Building an Effective Network in the Service of Migrant Sex Workers in East and South East Asia (2001)