an excerpt from
Lost Futures: Our Forgotten Children
"Children for Sale"
by Stan Grossfeld
Prostitute Maew Noi, twenty, comforts her younger brother in Pong Chang, a village in northern Thailand. A prostitute since the age of thirteen, she says, "I have advice for young girls who need money and are lured to the big city: don't go."
There are secrets here. Secrets about sex.
In the northern Thailand village of Pong Chang, the hill tribes speak their native language of Akha. Unless, of course, they want you to understand them. Then they speak Thai.
"I'd like to kill him," say several villagers, gesturing toward a Thai interpreter who has brought two foreigners to this village nestled in the Golden Triangle, far from the tourist trail. Maew Noi, or "Young Cat," speaks in a hushed voice, and when village elders pass by she falls silent and stares at the ground.
Like most of the young girls of this area, she was lured into prostitution in Bangkok when she was thirteen. Now twenty, she says the experience has ruined her life.
"We didn't know what we were going for," she says. "My whole life I had never been out of this village. At first I liked the colors and the lights of the city, but ..." Her voice trails off. She won't discuss the horrors of forced sex, except to say the past plagues the future.
"Now I can never fall in love. I have no interest in sex. It's finished."
Her father, she says, is in jail, framed on an opium charge. She has come back to help her mother work on the land. There are no bright lights here. There is no electricity and there are no cars, just the lush green vegetation and the brown thatched-roof huts. The boys walk around with slingshots in their back pockets to hunt birds. The girls find themselves bouncing from an eighteenth-century farm life to cruel exploitation in a sort of sexual Disneyland, and then back to the farm.
"What do I do for fun now?" she asks. "Nothing."
There are more than eight hundred thousand child prostitutes in Thailand working in sixty thousand brothels, according to Sanphasit Koompraphant, director of the Center for Protection of Children's Rights. In northern Thailand, famous for its beautiful women, up to 90 percent become prostitutes, he says.
"In the past, agents would go to the villages and didn't tell the truth," says Sanphasit. "Now most girls are sent by their own families, who get between seven thousand and thirty thousand baht [$275 to $1,200], which the girls work off in one or two years. Then they get to keep between 10 and 50 percent of the profits.
"They have to pay for their own clothes and medicine, but they get two meals daily and a place to stay. But now the problem is getting worse, and the children are organizing themselves to beat the broker."
Kesorn Ronsai, fifteen, sits in a Bangkok hotel room with a circular bed and mirrors on the ceiling and thinks about her mother. "I miss her. I came here because we didn't have enough money to finish the house. My mother didn't want me to come; she's afraid of AIDS.
"I'm not afraid of AIDS—I'm afraid of nothing to eat."
Prison inmates from Rikers Island bury infant coffins on Hart Island, New York City. The caskets are stacked seven deep, a thousand to a grave. "The first time I saw those baby boxes I got upset," says Michael Pastorino, a driver for the Department of Health and Hospitals. "Most of them are stillborn. Most of their lives are minutes and hours. It hurts. I have a sixteen-month-old son, and when I get home, I give him a big hug."
Kitt Philaphandeth, nineteen, of Lowell, Massachusetts, a member of the Sworn Brotherz gang: "If I was never in it, I'd be the coolest kid ... if I leave, I'd get jumped out."
Jeff Bynoe, thirty-three (far right), leads a pregame prayer in Orchard Park, where he was born and raised. "We hit bottom in '87, '88 when they let the gym deteriorate, then closed it, and the kids went nuts and the gang stuff started."
James DuJour, two months old, gasps for air in St. Catherine's Hospital in Haiti. Every year, 19,200 of the country's children die before reaching their first birthday. Forty percent of those deaths are from diarrhea caused by poor sanitation and a lack of clean water. "This child has chronic diarrhea from bad water ... very preventable," says an exhausted physician.
Stan Grossfeld is an Associate Editor at the Boston Globe. He received consecutive Pulitzer prizes in 1984 and 1985 for his work in Ethiopia, at the United States/Mexican border, and in Lebanon. He has published four books, The Whisper of the Stars; Nantucket: The Other Season; Two on the River (with Wil Haygood); and Eyes of the Globe. Honored by the Overseas Press Club, the Robert Kennedy Foundation, and the National Press Photographers' Association, Stan Grossfeld is also the recipient of the "Local Hero Award" from UNICEF, a Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University, and three World Hunger Year awards. The photographer is donating his royalties from the sales of Lost Futures to the U.S. Committee for UNICEF.