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Instead, the year-old from China was beaten, raped and forced to work as a prostitute in Singapore. Her heartrending story, and many others like it, have provoked calls for action in the city-state, whose squeaky-clean image belies its status as a major destination for women and girls trafficked into the sex industry.
For the year-old, whose plight came to light in a recent court case, the bait in the trap was the promise of a job in a casino. He locked her in a room and pestered her repeatedly for sex, beating her up when she refused. The case — which led to pimp Tang Huisheng being sentenced in October of last year to six years in prison — has triggered soul searching in a country still reeling from a series of high-profile underage prostitution scandals, including a notorious episode in which prominent figures such as a former bank executive and a school principal were among the perpetrators.
Yet the details of her plight are tragically familiar to those who work with women ensnared in the sex trade. Singapore, where prostitution is legal but paying for sex with a girl aged under 18 is against the law, has a thriving vice industry — despite its manicured image. Some of the methods of control and coercion employed by their ruthless pimps make for grim reading. Women and girls sometimes have their passports, money and phones confiscated, as happened in the case of the year-old girl from China.
Many are brought into the country using tourist visas and fake documents, according to a report by anti-trafficking charity Ecpat International. Once in Singapore, they may be locked up during daylight hours and forced to have sex with numerous men by night. Celine Dermine, legal consultant at the Singapore-based Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, said she had seen cases of women who came in on social-visit passes and thought they would get regular jobs, but ended up as prostitutes.