TENTH UNITED NATIONS CONGRESS ON THE PREVENTION OF CRIME AND THE TREATMENT OF OFFENDERS
Legal experts are putting the final touches on a landmark international treaty which would take nations a huge step forward in the fight against trafficking in women and children - a global menace with growing links to organized crime.
Each year, thousands of women and girls worldwide are "trafficked" from their homelands and herded into the illegal sex trade. Some go willingly, but others are coerced into prostitution against their will.
A draft protocol to the new treaty -the proposed United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime- aims to protect innocent victims and crack down on traffickers.
Both the convention and the protocol, which should be ready for adoption by the United Nations Millennium Assembly in late 2000, will be key items of discussion at the Tenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and the Treatment of Offenders, to take place in Vienna in April 2000.
Trafficking has skyrocketed in recent years because of its huge profits and relatively few risks. Many nations have no specific laws against trafficking in persons and few on women. Existing laws may go unenforced and lack of evidence often allows traffickers to escape lightly.
Thousands of illegal prostitutes
At least 100,000 illegally immigrated prostitutes are working in the United States, according to Schiavi (Slaves), a book published in May 1999, and written by Pino Arlacchi, Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention. Some 40,000 to 50,000 Thai women are illegally working as prostitutes in Japan, states the recently published United Nations Global Report on Crime and Justice.
The number of illegal sex workers in the European Union ranges between 200,000 and half a million, with some two thirds coming from Eastern Europe and the other third from developing countries, according to the Global Report.
Trafficking in women and children from the Central and Eastern European Countries (CEES) has rapidly increased since former cold-war borders opened up almost a decade ago. A ground-breaking 1999 study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that trafficking from this region - once minimal - now rivals "traditional" trafficking source regions, such as Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
Authorities in Germany registered 1,572
women victims of the heinous practice in 1996, with some 80 per cent
from the CEECs and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), according
to the IOM report. Some 670 women victims of trafficking were registered
in Vienna in 1995, about six times more than in 1990.
With the stakes so high, organized crime has stepped in to take its share. Of about 15,000 Russian and Eastern European women working in Germany's red-light districts, many work in brothels, sex clubs, massage parlours and saunas under the financial control of criminal groups from the Russian Federation, Turkey and the former Yugoslavia, the IOM survey states. Asian organized crime groups directly control about 70 per cent of the sex industry in the United States, according to Schiavi.
Merry-go-round of violence
Trafficking has flourished in regions of high unemployment and financial crisis, where women are eager to accept work elsewhere. They fall into the trafficking net via advertisements for work as entertainers, models, domestic helpers, kitchen aids or even mail-order brides. Some are led there by friends and acquaintances.
Once trapped, victims are caught in a merry-go-round of threats, violence and forced prostitution. Since passports or identity cards may be confiscated or torn up, women live in constant fear of arrest. Conditions are often unsanitary, with women living and working in the same tiny rooms. Often, they are kept locked up or physically tortured - sometimes with cigarette burns, knives and electric shocks, according to Human Rights Watch.
Many victims work as prostitutes for years in "debt bondage", so-called contracts which force women to pay back astronomical transportation costs from their countries of origin before they can go free. Often they must work off the steep fees that brothel owners have paid to traffickers.
For many trafficked women and girls, forced prostitution has proved fatal, leaving them with the HIV virus which causes AIDS. Human Rights Watch recently interviewed 19 women and girls from Myanmar who had been trafficked into Thailand. Some 14 were found to be infected with the dreaded disease.
The threat of HIV/AIDS has swelled the ranks of child prostitution. Awareness of AIDS among potential customers has driven the Thai sex industry to seek more and more young girls from remote villages thought to be untouched by the virus.
A humanitarian project working along the German-Czech border, Karo, says it works mainly with girls and young women between 12 and 18 years of age. The age drop has been due in part to the increasing fear of HIV/AIDS and other diseases by clients of prostitution, according to Karo.
As with trafficking in women, increased trade in children has been boosted by high demand in the tourist industry. As one Interpol report noted: "The incredible escalation of child prostitution ... is directly caused by the tourist trade. Child prostitution is the newest tourist attraction offered by developing countries. The parallel to this phenomenon in the western countries is the explosion of a huge underground trade in child pornography ..."
Child victims are easy to come by. In some regions, parents sell their children to traffickers for ready cash. Or traffickers simply kidnap them. Kidnapping is especially common in orphanages, where children's photographs are taken so that future "owners" can choose the child they want.
According to Human Rights Watch, about 10 per cent of the 900,000 children working in the Nepalese carpet industry have actually been kidnapped, while more than 50 per cent were sold by their parents. Some work in the factories by day and the brothels at night.
International agencies have become increasingly concerned about the widespread trafficking and exploitation of children. Human Rights Watch cites a recent report on Cambodia, where many children and minors are bought and sold to brothels, while others end up working in slave-like conditions as household servants, or on construction sites. Others are forced to join organized begging groups.
According to Anti-Slavery International, children aged 8 to 15 years are "recruited" or kidnapped from backward villages of the poorest countries in Africa, such as Benin or Togo, and sold as slaves to households, plantations or brothels in neighbouring countries, including Nigeria and Gabon.
The problem is also acute in Central and South America, where large numbers of street children are easy prey for traffickers. In Chile, a close link exists between drug addiction and prostitution, according to the UN's Global Report. Traffickers and pimps will addict children as young as 9, 10 or 11 years old to such inhalants as benzene gum and glue. Then, they are kept addicted.
A major reason why traffickers have been able to succeed in amassing global prostitution businesses is that Governments and human rights organizations alike have simply judged the woman guilty of prostitution and minimized the trafficker's role. Also, many women are immediately deported to their homelands before they can give evidence against traffickers.
Trafficked victims suffer, rather than traffickers. For example, both Thai laws and international anti-trafficking norms have arranged that trafficking victims from Myanmar can return there without penalty from either Government. However, summary deportation and imprisonment have often been the rule.
A recent raid in Ranong, Thailand, resulted in the arrest of 148 girls and women from Myanmar, according to Human Rights Watch. Some 58 were reportedly returned to officials in Kawthaung, Myanmar, where the women were sentenced to three years in prison for illegally leaving their country. The traffickers went free.
Despite numerous laws criminalizing the practice in Nepal and India, trafficking in women and girls abounds between the two countries. Human Rights Watch has found that police and other government officials are in collusion with traffickers at various points along the routes, but little has been done to investigate charges or punish those responsible.
UN treaty would punish traffickers
If approved, the protocol against trafficking in women and children [persons] of the proposed UN treaty against transnational organized crime would oblige nations to criminalize trafficking or related acts and punish offenders. Nations would also agree to protect innocent victims, which would include caring for children as well as adopting immigration laws that would allow victims to remain on their territories, temporarily or permanently.
The protocol would step up the hunt
for traffickers. Nations would agree to cooperate in seeking out traffickers
and victims as well as trafficking methods, including recruitment, routes
and links between individuals and trafficking groups.
International action against trafficking in women and
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution in 1994 that called for the elimination of trafficking in women for prostitution. The Commission's subsequent appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and the ongoing work of the Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography have helped to place additional focus on the trafficking problem.
Recently, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention 1999, which outlawed child slavery, sexual exploitation and hazardous work, including the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.
Within the United Nations system, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have also worked against trafficking and prostitution in their programmes.
UNICEF helps nations implement the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which obliges nations to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse and to make every effort to prevent the sale, trafficking and abduction of children. The organization has also launched a 29-nation initiative to combat child labour.
The UNDP and UNIFEM are jointly coordinating the United Nations Inter-agency Campaign on Women's Human Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean, in an effort to raise public awareness about the high social and economic costs of violence against women. A new WHO initiative has been investigating the health consequences - both psychological and physical - of violence against women in several nations and urging health organizations to focus on the problem.
The International Police Organization (Interpol) has held several conferences on trafficking and has tried to coordinate cross-border law enforcement agencies in efforts to clamp down on trafficking in children.
Published by the United Nations Department
of Public Information