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It is hard to imagine that not long ago these children, aged 11 to 14, worked as prostitutes, used by men three and four times their age. She cried a lot." The words pour out louder and faster. Drained by her anger, Lek throws herself on the floor.
As soon as Lek sees her photograph, the quiet 12-year-old girl is transformed. She has never told her life story, but now she belts it out. "This girl was 10 and she was sold to a woman called Auntie. Auntie beat her and made her work." Lek grabs a stick and begins striking the air with every new point. She worked every day, there were many men, Thai men, foreign men. Next to her, Sister Michele, a young Catholic nun from India, bends down to cradle the girl. In the four years she has worked with prostituted children, moments when the children let out their pain are very rare.
At Doi Suthep, a schoolteacher explains that many have gone to Chiang Mai, the nearest big city.
He says the people here are "not rich, not poor," but everyone craves televisions and other consumer goods.
Her debt often grows because the brothel owner adds costs of food and clothing and may charge "interest" on the loan.
Nit, a peasant girl from the north, was sold for the price of a television.
In the nine communities the girls came from, the researchers found a total of five girls aged 13 and 14.
Yet even as the issue moves onto the international agenda, the subject makes politicians and tourist officials so uncomfortable that they deny or belittle it.
Pigs and chickens have the run of the place, and old men wear the thin, spent demeanor of longtime opium smokers.
The most striking feature of many villages, though, is the absence of teen-agers.
While child prostitution is increasing worldwide, experts say it is growing fastest in Asia, and the police there say the clients are of all kinds: locals and foreigners; Asian, Arab and Western businessmen, diplomats and development workers.
On the recommendation of gay and pedophile guidebooks and newsletters, many Western men go to Sri Lanka and Thailand for very young boys on the cheap.