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LAOS: TV and radio dramas boost HIV/AIDS awareness among migrants

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

BANGKOK, 8 June (PLUSNEWS) - Naive and unfamiliar with the world beyond their isolated, tight-knit communities, young job seekers from Communist-ruled Laos are at high risk of being trafficked into the booming sex industry in neighbouring Thailand, officials fear.

As a result, the government has made a film to raise awareness of the potential dangers of crossing the border to seek work, including the possibility of contracting HIV/AIDS, and is also involved in using radio to educate job seekers.

State television recently aired the film, “Lessons for Life”, which warns young Laotian people, especially women, of the risks. Based on a compilation of true stories from several Laotian trafficking victims, the 90-minute drama tells the story of Noi, an unsophisticated village girl who is promised a decent job in Thailand by a woman from her village.

Instead, the girl is sold and ends up in a series of abusive situations - first in a Thai household as a domestic helper and later in a brothel - before she finally escapes and crosses the Mekong River to re-enter Laos.

The drama was the result of a collaborative effort by the Lao National Television, the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and Lao Art Media, a private production company.

Its aim was “to bring the message to young Lao girls, who are attracted to life across the river, to be extremely careful about what sort of propositions they accept,” Ruth Landy, head of the communications section of UNICEF in the Lao capital, Vientiane, said.

For UN agencies, the rise in the number of young Laotians seeking work across the border is a worrying phenomenon, as research shows many will end up in extremely exploitive situations - ultimately raising their risk of exposure to HIV/AIDS.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has backed the production of several radio drama serials in ethnic minority languages – including the Hmong-language dramas “Poison and Mistakes” and “Kindness for Tears”.

These are reality-based stories about trafficking and HIV/AIDS and use the medium of radio to reach isolated areas that lack access to television and where the population may not even speak fluent Lao.

Currently, Laos, a small mountainous state of 5.6 million people, has a relatively low HIV prevalence rate, especially compared to its southeast Asian neighbours, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar. The UN currently estimates just 0.8 percent of the adult population is infected, though weak surveillance means that figure may be on the low side.

Experts say that AIDS threatens to become a bigger problem for Laos as poverty, along with the development of new roads across previously isolated mountain areas, increasingly propels young citizens to leave their rural villages in search of work and opportunity.

“It used to be said that the AIDS epidemic in Laos was low and slow,” David Feingold, an anthropologist and trafficking expert, said. “Now it’s low and it’s not so slow.

Ethnic minorities, many of whom may not speak fluent Lao, are the most vulnerable.
“Minorities are disproportionately represented in trafficking and exposure to HIV/AIDS,” Feingold said. “Most of the prevention is done in languages they don’t understand.”

Both the UNICEF-sponsored TV film and the UNESCO-sponsored radio serials are intended to use entertainment, based on real life stories, to engage vulnerable populations and convey potentially crucial messages to them.

“Good information does not guarantee good choices, but no information does guarantee bad choices,” said Feingold. “It’s not saying, ‘girls stay home in your village,’ it’s saying, ‘here are a range of things that can happen and here is what you can do about it.’”



· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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