Buddhism's Influence in the Sex Trade

Mar 21, 2009
by: Stephanie

    The religion of Buddhism has had a big influence on the culture of the sex slave.  There is no separation of church and state in Buddhist societies.  Instead there is a close relationship between the government and the dominant male establishment.  This and the Buddhist teachings add to the mind set that males are superior to females.  Their teachings also say that women are embodiments of sexuality and seen as temptations that men need to resist.  Women are attached to the material world and depend solely on it while men are able to more easily embody their spiritual goals.  Since women are identified with sex, they are seen as obstacles for monks attempting to maintain their vows of celibacy which would violate their pursuit of a spiritual path.  This use of the female body as a symbol of sex and attachment to the world is a common theme throughout the Buddhist world.
    Buddhist teachings also say that women are considered to be the result of bad karma.  Because of this, they can't reach Enlightenment in this life.  They can only reach it if they are reincarnated as a male.  These types of teachings have added to the degradation of women in society.  "Buddhist teachings facilitates women involvement in the sex trade by conveying attitudes that through prostitution women fulfill their role expectations as sexual and inferior beings."
    Though prostitution is thought to bring about bad karma by reinforcing the sexual cravings and attachment to the physical world, it is not seen as a "sin."  The main reason for this is that the women give money to their families.  The families often sell their daughters into the sex trade or they don't inquire about the money they receive.  With this money, they are able to have a better lifestyle and more importantly, are able to give bigger donations to the local temple.  So the government does not condone the sex slave but they have not formally opposed it either because they work with the religion and temples that get the donations from the sex slave money.  Prostitution along with the negative karma can later be overcome if the women renounce sex work and abide by certain rules.

    All of these influences undermine the ability of international human rights law to protect women who are victims of trafficking and the sex trade.  The Buddhist religion does not itself recognize a concept of human rights.  Even simple recognition of women's human rights is difficult in the south east Asia because the Buddhist culture views women as socially embedded into the family, rather than also seen as an independent individual.
   This has been the influence of the Buddhist religion on human trafficking and the sex trade, especially in South East Asia in the past.  The Buddhist religion also teaches that
"human rights are an extension of human nature. Thus, in the Buddhist perspective they flow from right human relations. Human rights are legal matters which can be legislated, but only to a certain extent, especially so in a divided world. Human nature, however, is an existential matter which can neither be legislated nor measured; therefore, one must resort to persuasion and self-realization in order to seek one's unique existence." Taitetsu Unno has studied the Buddhist religion in depth asserts: "The fact that the Buddhist tradition in its past history has had little to say about personal rights in the current sense of the term does not mean that Buddhists were not concerned with human well-being, with the dignity and autonomy of the spirit."25 Moreover, he argues that contemporary Buddhism "must clarify what it has to offer to the concept of personal rights and its realization for all people." (http://religionhumanrights.com/Religion/Buddhist/buddhist.fhr.htm)