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Monday, June 06, 2005


Most Singaporeans lead very sheltered lives. We seem to be able to 'block out' all the ugly side of Singapore, especially when it comes to foreign workers - some of whom are often undernourished, ill-treated and have no access to healthcare.

It may be that the majority of foreign workers who live in such poor conditions are actually illegal immigrants, hiding out after hours in the rainforests of Singapore - and I'm sure those hiding spots have been around for years and will probably never be found.

During my medical training, I often went back to Singapore during the holidays and did work experience in the hospitals there.

I once treated a young girl in the emergency department who had been dumped by the side of the road, naked and feverish, in the early hours of the morning by her employer. She was probably from Thailand or Myanmar, and she was wearing nothing but a set of undergarments made from a cheap red lace. An illegal immigrant, a prostitute too ill to work and was therefore expendable - thrown away, left for dead.

Somebody had seen her lying in bushes near the motorway and had called the police. She was so sick with fever that she could barely move or speak. How long had she been lying there? I remembered that it had been pelting down with rain the night before - and tropical rainstorms can be pretty scary.

She looked young - perhaps in her late teens - and frightened (why not? she was in a strange, bright place where everyone ran about sticking needles everywhere and babbling gibberish at her). But her face was wrinkled from stress, crumpled like a wad of paper, and the skin on her body was hanging off her bones. She was probably about nineteen, but life had prematurely aged her fifty years.

Her eyes looked at me and were dull - she'd given up a long time ago. Then she blinked and looked away from me, looking at the ceiling, as if to say "do what you want with my body, I'm sending my mind far away from here". I wondered how many times she had to do that every night.

Had she come to Singapore thinking that it would bring her oppotunity? Or had she been sold out of poverty so that there would be one less mouth to feed? How long had she been living here, like this? Who would go to the jungles to use these prostitutes, knowing the conditions in which they lived, knowing that the money spent would be used to smuggle more girls into the country?

How many girls have died and are buried in those jungles?

And how many are still living there?



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