With the help of people like Ronas and the strengthening relationship between the Uganda Consulate of Guangzhou and the Public Security Bureau, the market has drastically changed. Many authorities don’t have exact figures but seriously doubt there are many, if any, new arrivals at Baiyun airport.
At the end of 2012 the Chinese Embassy in Kampala began paying closer attention to Ugandans under 35 years old travelling to Guangzhou with a focus on women. Prior to this Ugandans were not even required to appear at the Chinese Embassy in Kampala, and could acquire a visa through a travel agent. Now, at both sides of the journey Ugandan women travelling to Guangzhou are interviewed and required to disclose their intentions. Those that claim to be traders must have Kampala City Traders’ Association (KACITA) documentation. The under-35-year-old policy is still in effect to this day.
For those who have presented themselves to the authorities, the steep RMB10,000 fine can be negotiated down to anywhere between RMB3,000 to RMB4,000. If the traffickers are caught then they are often required to pay the victim’s airfare once they’re released from a detention facility.
Those wanting a hotel room need a valid passport and visa. Once you’ve overstayed, hotels and landlords can get in trouble for giving you registration.
Ronas “hasn’t heard of any Ugandan in the last eight months that are paying someone, it’s very rare.”
Because of the ever-present patrolling police, the girls now function using mobile phones straight out of apartments. Many are housebound for fear of being apprehended by police officers. Ironically, one of the safest times for the girls to walk the streets is in the early afternoon, when officers are either lunching or napping. When they do, they may approach African men in African shops. Unlike local sex workers, the method is very discreet and unless you’ve witnessed the process a few times before, the whole interaction could be mistaken for two friends having an innocent chat.
To discover what remains these days, I headed to a notorious area of the city. On an infamous walk-over bridge in the Xiaobei area two girls stand approximately ten meters from each other, both leaning idly on the bridge’s balustrades, both adorned in tight fitting red dresses.
Twenty-three-year-old Rachel from Kenya gets paid between “100 and 300 [RMB] for one shot” and serves mainly African men but has Chinese customers too. Like Haugen mentions, “It’s important not to think that Chinese men aren’t attracted to African women.”
Rachel says, “there’s no one around. I’m here with a few other friends. I don’t have to watch out for violence, just police.” Asked how long she’s been here for she replies, “three months. My visa has expired. I don’t know how to get back.” According to Rachel her friends who invited her here have subsequently left. Now she has between three and six customers a day, and works outside for three hours most evenings after dark. She rents a place near her spot where she takes customers.
The other girl, a Ugandan in her mid-twenties, goes by the name of Betty. On approaching her, Betty offers “African style fun” and a “good time,” but quickly changes her story after a detailed introduction.
Within five minutes Betty has changed her nationality to Rwandan then Burundian. “I lied baby, I’m here for two weeks. I’m going to a club. I go clubbing. I’m a musician. Why do you think I’m standing here?”
Due to the severe lack of options the girls currently working here have, they are more akin to sex slaves than sex workers. That said, however, we were told that a small proportion come over fully aware of what they are getting in to. Back in 2011 when the Ugandan Consulate first identified the problem, prostitution was so rife and commonplace that many traffickers weren’t aware of just how illegal what they were doing was.
Explaining the final link in this chain, the Macau Daily Times reported that:
“The Public Security Police (PSP) have busted a human trafficking ring and arrested four people after receiving telephone and e-mail reports claiming there were prostitutes working in a hotel in the Central District. The PSP then launched into operation and found 38 females and two males in five hotel rooms. All of the people are nationals from Tanzania, aged between 19 and 34…” The story continues with:
“One woman who told PSP officers that she was coerced into prostituting herself in China. The woman said that she was offered work as a salesperson in Guangzhou but was eventually forced to become a prostitute there. All her income was taken away by another woman.”
Unfortunately, as traffickers relinquish their grip on innocent Ugandans, they are now redirecting their efforts towards other East African countries and other Chinese cities.