Child prostitution and sex tourism: Dominican Republic

Type Journal Article - ECPAT
Title Child prostitution and sex tourism: Dominican Republic
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 1996
The Dominican Republic's history is scarred by the legacy of colonial mismanagement, plantation slavery and foreign intervention, a legacy which continues to impede the country's economic growth (see Ferguson, 1992). Over the past two decades, the Dominican Republic has experienced growing debt problems (partly due to the falling price of sugar, the country's main commodity on the world market), unemployment (now estimated at 23%) and high inflation. These factors, combined with pressure from world financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have forced the Dominican Republic to look to tourism for economic salvation. Foreign owned companies, including the German owned LTI, have invested heavily in the Dominican Republic taking advantage of the generous incentives given by the Dominican Government (including a ten year exemption on income tax, corporate and local tax, as well as duty free imports of goods not locally available). Some 1,500,000 tourists now visit the Dominican Republic annually, many of them taking cheap, all inclusive package holidays provided by foreign owned travel conglomerates. Since the government allows foreign companies to repatriate profits to their home country, the wealth generated by mass tourism does more to swell pension funds and shareholders' bank accounts in Europe and North America than it does to raise the living standards of Dominican people, whose average annual per capita income remained a paltry US $830 in 1992. Meanwhile, national and international economic policies create the conditions which generate a supply of cheap labour for the tourist industry. Although the Dominican Republic's exports include gold, silver, coffee, tobacco, nickel, bauxite and an expanding agro-industrial sector which produces for the large American market, the IMF and World Bank did not include strengthening these industries as part of the country's recommended 'stabilisation plan'. Instead, efforts were concentrated on the tourist industry and the creation of Industrial Free Zones (IFZs) which offer the same incentives to foreign manufacturing firms that are offered to those investing in the tourist industry (i.e., cheap labour and tax concessions). The predominantly female workforce in these IFZs undertakes labour intensive jobs and wages dropped to around 35 cents an hour in the early 1990s (Ferguson, 1992). As is the case in so many of the countries which host both multinational corporations in search of cheap labour and sex tourists in search of cheap prostitutes, it is the annexation and depletion of subsistence land and which underpins the supply of women and girls whose economic desperation makes them so very exploitable. Over the past 15 years the Dominican Government has supported the redistribution of land away from the poorest. It has allowed the government controlled sugar industry to shift into the hands of foreign business such as the US owned Dole Fruit Company. The new large scale export agriculture business has also marginalised some 40,000 people once dependent on coffee production in small scale family holdings (Ferguson, 1992). The overall effect of these land reforms has been to restrict domestic food production and create an increasingly large landless population. It is women who have borne the brunt of these 'reforms' (Moves and Grant, 1987). This is for two main reasons. First, almost 30% of households are woman-headed (ENDESA,1991) and land reform has led to a crisis drop in levels of food sufficiency, so that subsistence in rural areas is barely guaranteed. Second, it is increasingly difficult to find work in the countryside. Women traditionally contributed to the family income through small scale low productivity economic activity or temporary seasonal work that did not interfere with their reproductive role. Although most of the work that they performed was often low paid, unstable and labour intensive, even this type of work is now unavailable. This, coupled with poor education levels that produce high illiteracy rates among these women (it is estimated that little more than 50% are able to read and write), has meant that very few are able to support themselves or their children.

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