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First Lady Meets Prostitution Victim With AIDS

November 25, 1996

CHIANG MAI, Thailand (AP) _ First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton gave comfort today to an 18-year-old girl forced into prostitution and now dying of AIDS.

On the second day of her two-day tour of northern Thailand, an area ravaged by AIDS and the sale of girls into sexual slavery, Mrs. Clinton toured a shelter founded by two American missionaries that houses 151 girls from ethnic hill tribes.

The girls at the New Life Center are either at risk of being sold into Thailand’s huge sex industry by their parents, who are seeking income for either survival or status, or they have already been rescued from brothels or quasi-prostitution as restaurant hostesses. The center tries to educate them and give them vocational training.

Mrs. Clinton was welcomed by 30 girls, some wearing traditional black garb and elaborate silver-spangled hats. Mrs. Clinton joked that she couldn’t perform their complicated dances of greeting, then joined a panel discussion with the directors and some of the girls.

``When you sell a young girl, that brings a very limited benefit for a few years,″ Mrs. Clinton said. ``When you educate a girl, that brings a lifetime of benefit to a family.″

As she left, Mrs. Clinton walked over to a wheelchair-bound girl named Mi Cha Ach Mae, who resides in the center’s hospice for AIDS patients and is in the final stages of the disease. The girl was sold by her parents as a house maid when she was 10 and was eventually forced into prostitution.

Mrs. Clinton touched her on the wrist and said a few words of encouragement. The girl pressed her hands together in a prayer position and nodded, the traditional Thai gesture of respect.

The center was founded by American Baptist missionaries Paul and Elaine Lewis, who worked for more than 40 years with the Lahu and Akha people, who live by subsistence agriculture in remote areas and have few survival tools in Thailand’s rapidly modernizing society.

Mrs. Clinton was speaking later at Chiang Mai University. President Clinton was joining her Monday night, after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the Philippines, for the first state visit to Thailand by a U.S. president since 1969.

On Sunday, Mrs. Clinton inspected other anti-prostitution projects.

Earlier in the day, Mrs. Clinton inspected a U.S.-aided program in Chiang Rai province that has provided scholarships, vocational training and jobs to some 1,200 girls to give families that might sell their daughters an alternative source of income.

Mrs. Clinton toured a school that extends the girls’ education after mandatory schooling stops at 12 _ an age when many are bought by middlemen for delivery into the garish brothels of Bangkok and elsewhere. Many die of AIDS. Thailand has an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 prostitutes.

Girls can be sold for $1,000 and send remittances home to their parents afterward. Having a daughter as a prostitute can mean the difference between poverty and a new home, motorcycle and status.

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