Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, which was once a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage destination is rapidly turning into a haven for prostitution due to China’s ongoing drive to develop and modernize the Tibetan region. The flesh trade is getting piled up in a sophisticated way eluding the curious eyes of the outside world. The so-called hair salons and bars during day time turns into brothels at night. The age of women working in the flesh trades are mostly between 16 to 40 years, though some are even younger. Due to lack of education opportunities and professional skills, they opt for flesh trade hoping that the money would secure a better life in future. The prostitutes consist of both Chinese and Tibetan women in the brothels, but Chinese were paid more than Tibetan prostitute.
The reason for the rise of this trade can be attributed to China’s modernization drive, presence of a large military contingent in Lhasa living without families and development projects like railway between Golmud and Lhasa which has brought in large number of Chinese settlers to Tibet.
A 12 year old Namdrol Lhamo, who hails from Lhasa feels that increasing number of Han Chinese in Tibet particularly in and around Lhasa city at such a high rate would bring many sociological changes, particularly the most alarming being the corrosion of ethical and traditional moral values of the Tibetan people.
Namdrol Lhamo, who recently arrived in exile had the opportunity to study till 12th grade, but was unable to pursue higher studies, as she was unable to score the required marks by .5 percent. According to her, “in all the government run schools it is mandatory for the students to give their first priority to Chinese language starting from elementary school. If one is not fluent in Chinese language, it is very difficult to find job even though one has passed the exam with good result. Those who fail to score good marks in Chinese are not eligible to apply for higher studies.” That was the chief reason why Namdrol was deprived of pursuing her higher studies as she missed the requisite marks for Chinese language by a bare margin. Like her, many Tibetan youngsters in Tibet were deprived of taking their study further and consequently they ended up without any future. They would not be qualified for any decent job thus forcing them to take up some odd job in hotels, guest houses, restaurants, discotheques, bars, and brothels as there are no other alternative source of livelihood.
Namdrol, after failing in exam, took up a job at a hotel in Lhasa city and worked there for nearly four years. She said “The owner of the hotel is a Tibetan and there are nearly 140 workers and most of them are Tibetans. Most of the employees have been to middle school and were forced to discontinue their higher education owing to lack of tuition fees as the schools charge exorbitant fees while there were some who can afford the fees but fail to qualify the requisite mark by 3 percent. The qualification required for getting an employment in restaurants, hotels, dance bars, travel agency and clubs can be met if an applicant has middle school degree and should have good command in Chinese language. The Government set the criteria that those who do not know Chinese language will not get jobs in these sectors and anyone who applies for job has to give qualifying exam in Chinese language.”
Most of the workers in hotels were Tibetan girls and they were mainly from Lhasa city. Those Tibetan girls who came from Kham, Amdo and outside of Lhasa were not fortunate enough to get employed in hotel and restaurant, as they lack proficiency in Chinese language. Hence, left with no other alternatives, and thus indulge themselves in prostitutionto earn thier living. The number of such girls are increasing these days. For example, in Lhasa City many young Chinese and Tibetan girls engage in prostitution to earn their livelihood. Most of the brothels are owned by Chinese women and hence many Tibetan girls emulate the Chinese prostitute sand choose prostitution as an alternative way to eke out livelihood. Tibetan brothels are not conspicuous from outside, but have a Bod-sod (literally: Made in Tibet) word inscribed on the doors and beer are served inside the room. There are many young Tibetan men who visit the brothels. Moreover, most of tour guides of the foreign tourist were frequent visitors to the brothels as they have more money than other Tibetans. They drink beer in brothels and afterwards they take the prostitutes to the hotels. These Tibetan youngsters waste their hard earned income in brothels.
It is being reported that the government doesn’t levy any restriction on the sale of beers and the plying of the flesh trades as they pay heavy taxes to the government. That is the reason why brothels, nightclubs and dance bars function freely without any restriction from the government authorities. Hence, the number of brothels in Lhasa have been increasing rapidly over the years. The Tibetan girls working in brothels are in the age group of 16 to 40 years. The numbers of Tibetan girls working in brothels are increasing in Lhasa City these days. In light of this fact the opening of railway link between China and Lhasa will only pave way for massive influx of Chinese migrants toLhasa and will subsequently increase the Chinese prostitutes in Tibet. Before the occupation of Tibet, one could hardly find any Tibetan prostitute in the town. Since the Chinese invasion, owing to the influx of Chinese settlers in Tibet, the prostitution business in Tibet particularly Lhasa city has experienced massive growth of sex industry.
This business in many ways corrodes the social life of the communities. Chinese settlers lure the elder Tibetans by paying huge money in exchange for young Tibetan girls. These elder Tibetan deceive the young Tibetan girls from rural areas and bring them to towns and cities to work as prostitutes. Due to the prevalence of prostitution, many family men tend to devote more time and money with prostitutes leading to breakdown in families. Namdrol Lhamo has witnessed many such cases while working at hotel in Shigatse prefecture.
In recent times, Lhasa and Shigatse authorities have imposed no restriction on prostitution in hotels and guesthouses. However, couples are required to show their marriage certificate while booking room for their stay in hotels.
No restriction is imposed by government on the functioning of brothels, bars, nightclubs and intakes of drugs and abuses. Namdrol Lhamo views that the massive increase of brothels, bars, and night clubs is due to the massive influx of Chinese settlers in Tibet and thus it leads to decline of moral values and decadence in general Tibetan society.