World News

Chinese sex workers find their way to Kabul

KABUL (Reuters) - Wazir Akbar Khan, with its two-storey houses, balconies and walled gardens is regarded as one of Kabul’s more ‘upmarket’ districts and is home to many of the foreign embassies and aid agencies based in Afghanistan.

But behind some of the district’s compound walls lies a ‘seedy’ side to the city; Kabul’s Chinese brothels.

Hidden behind unmarked gates, a surveillance camera and a handful of customers’ jeeps parked outside are the only signs of the brothels’ location.

Inside over a dozen Chinese women dressed in mini-skirts and heavy makeup sit and chat, while foreign men sidle up to them. Conversation is halting with both sides mustering what little English they can manage.

“There are 200 of us here in Kabul, we don’t go out much. It’s not safe,” said a female bartender from northern China who asked not to be named.

“I’ve been here for two years, the money is okay. We stay indoors. We don’t go out. We don’t get into any trouble.”

It is illegal for foreigners to work without permits in Afghanistan and these Chinese sex workers face deportation if they are caught working.

Prostitution is also illegal in Afghanistan and from time-to-time brothels are raided and closed down.

“I’ve been here four years now. There used to be more of these places but the police raided them and they had to shut down. I only know of three places now”, said a client from Turkey. “They pay money to the police in order to stay open.”


Chinese workers can be found all over the world searching for a better living, doing the jobs that locals snub.

Despite a strong, robust economy, unemployment is a huge problem in China with numerous state enterprises downsizing in the last decade or so, leaving millions either jobless or underemployed. Relentless inflation has only made life harder.

“I am here just to make money. I don’t feel very comfortable here. Frankly, the working conditions back home would be a lot better, but work is hard to find,” said Ah Hua, a prostitute in her 20s who said she had been in Kabul for five months.

Lily, a sex worker from southern China, agrees: “I have been here a month. It’s boring here.”

“We don’t go out, she added, referring to both their illegal working status and Kabul’s volatile security situation.

Violence has surged in Afghanistan over the last two years with the Taliban launching more than 140 suicide attacks last year alone, resulting in the deaths of some 200 people, mostly civilians.

But the Chinese sex workers are willing to live in such a dangerous city because their wages are relatively high compared to China where the average wage is $11 a day.

Thousands of foreigners have flocked to Afghanistan since the Taliban were removed from power in 2001 and it is well-paid foreigners that mostly frequent Kabul’s brothels. Afghans are usually turned away at the door.

“A local might earn $150 a month; I pay $150 a night for a woman!” said one foreign client.

One of the hidden dangers in Kabul for foreigners and locals alike is sexually transmitted diseases, a growing problem in Afghanistan due to widespread ignorance about how sexually transmitted diseases are contracted.

Asked if she practiced safe sex, Ah Hua, the sex worker who has been in Kabul for five months said: “Of course we have to protect ourselves. We are in a very foreign place.”

Editing by Megan Goldin