Trafficking in Southeast Asia: restricting women's mobility under the League of Nations

Presented by ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences

In the 1920s the League of Nations extended its investigation of the traffic in women and children to the sex industry in Southeast Asia.

Philippa Hetherington and Julia Laite's 2021 special issue of the Journal of Women's History challenged this mobilization of the spectre of 'trafficking' and the consequent criminalization of migration and sex work. The rhetoric of moral reformers, concerned over the dangers of travel for women, led to new restrictions on women's mobility.

In this paper I explore how colonial governments, including the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), Singapore and the Philippines targeted the migration of Chinese women, with their arrests being documented as evidence of governments' participation in the League's anti-trafficking campaign.

While claiming to protect women from unwilling participation in the sex industry, they imposed severe solutions on women including incarceration, deportation and arranged marriage.


Associate Professor Julia Martinez is School Research Leader in the School of Humanities and Social Inquiry at the University of Wollongong

Professor Martinez is a current Visiting Fellow with the HRC

This series is an opportunity for our HRC Visiting Fellows to present and receive feedback on the research they are working on. In 2022 , Visiting Fellows are exploring the theme of Mobilities