Foreign Policy In Focus:Trafficking in Women

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Jyothi Kanics---Global Survival Network (
Tue, 1 Dec 1998 15:05:33 -0800 (PST)

NOTE: This piece is a bit outdated now (the US Congressional Resolution
mentioned below had an "anonymous hold" put on it this past Congressional
session), but I thought that many on the list would find it interesting.

Foreign Policy In Focus:Trafficking in Women

October 1998
Vol. 3, No. 30

Written by Jyothi Kanics, Global Survival Network
Edited by Tom Barry (IRC) and Martha Honey (IPS)

Key Points
o The United Nations estimates that 4 million people are trafficked each
year, resulting in $7 billion in profits to criminal groups.
o Many countries have weak, unenforced or no laws against trafficking in
human beings, often making it less risky and more profitable to criminal
groups than drug or arms trafficking.
o With increased economic globalization, trafficking in women from poor to
wealthier countries appears to be on the rise. Trafficking networks may
recruit and transport women legally or illegally for slavery-like work,
including forced prostitution, sweatshop labor, and exploitative domestic

Increased economic globalization has resulted in an increased feminization
of poverty, forcing greater numbers of women worldwide to migrate in search
of work. Seeking economic opportunities abroad, women turn to a variety of
resources, including newspaper ads, acquaintances, marriage agencies, labor
recruiters, and modeling agencies. They accept positions as nannies, maids,
sex workers, dancers, factory workers, and hostesses. Many of these migrants
end up as victims of illegal and unscrupulous trafficking networks.

Trafficking, according to U.S. Senate Resolution 82 on Trafficking,
"involves one or more forms of kidnapping, false imprisonment, rape,
battering, forced labor, or slavery-like practices which violate fundamental
human rights." The resolution, which was introduced in 1998, states:
"Trafficking consists of all acts involved in the recruitment or
transportation of persons within or across borders, involving deception,
coercion or force, abuse of authority, debt bondage or fraud, for the
purpose of placing persons in situations of abuse or exploitation such as
forced prostitution, battering and extreme cruelty, sweatshop labor or
exploitative domestic servitude."

The United Nations has estimated that 4 million people (both men and women)
are trafficked annually, resulting in profits to criminal groups of up to $7
billion. In Mauritania, for instance, women are trafficked internally from
one ethnic group to another. In other cases, forced labor migration is from
rural areas to urban centers, and people are trafficked within their country
or to neighboring countries. For example, poor rural girls from Burma are
trafficked and forced to work in Thailand's sex industry. Furthermore, since
the collapse of the Soviet Union, the economic transition in Central and
Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union
has caused many women to migrate for work to Western Europe, Japan, the
U.S., and elsewhere.

Many countries-regardless of whether they are places of origin, transit or
destination-have weak, unenforced laws or no laws against trafficking in
human beings. Individuals can be sold and resold many times and forced to
prostitute themselves and work under slavery-like conditions. Penalties for
trafficking and selling humans are often relatively minor compared with
those for other criminal activities. Therefore experts believe that
trafficking in people is often more profitable and less risky to criminals
than trafficking in drugs or guns.

Some women may end up as victims of trafficking and exploitation through
officially legal routes. For example, under U.S. law, foreign diplomats and
employees of international agencies (such as the World Bank and United
Nations) are permitted to bring in domestic workers under special A-3 and
G-5 visa categories. The several thousand workers-mostly women-imported each
year under these programs are supposed to be paid minimum wage and protected
by U.S. labor laws. But because oversight is extremely lax, many of these
domestics are forced to work long hours for little or no pay.

In other instances, women knowingly agree to migrate for work in the sex
industry, but then are coerced into debt bondage where they are forced to
repay their trafficker and/or employer for transportation and other "fees."
Further, because these women may have entered the U.S. or other countries
illegally and are often working in an illegal industry, they are afraid to
turn to local authorities for help and are unable to file civil suits
against their abusers or have access to other protections provided by labor
laws. In such cases, the criminalization of prostitution "adds to the burden
of women who are already victims," noted Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner
for Human Rights.

Problems With Current U.S. Policy

Key Problems
o The Clinton administration has taken modest steps to address trafficking
in women, but more needs to be done to protect the victims, prosecute the
traffickers, and enforce U.S. labor laws.
o The U.S. and other governments have failed to document instances of
trafficking and to ensure victims' safety, and instead have summarily
deported them without investigation into abusive situations.
o Public awareness campaigns are crucial, but they are not enough to stop

In March 1998, in recognition of International Women's Day, President
Clinton issued an Executive Memorandum on Steps to Combat Trafficking that
pledges to combat "trafficking in women and girls with a focus on the areas
of prevention, victim assistance and protection, and enforcement." This
order outlines the roles that different governmental agencies should play to
reduce trafficking. These various efforts are coordinated by the President's
Interagency Council on Women in consultation with nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs).

The State Department and United States Information Agency have funded
public-awareness campaigns and conferences abroad to warn high-risk groups
and the general public of the methods used by traffickers, and to strategize
for solutions. State Department efforts include a public awareness campaign
in the Ukraine and production in Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian of a
brochure on trafficking that U.S. Consulates abroad distribute to visa seekers.

Unfortunately, many of these U.S. initiatives appear to be hastily planned
and lacking in competent follow-through. For example, the brochure being
distributed through U.S. Consulates abroad to visa seekers gives the
National Domestic Violence hotline number to call if foreigners find
themselves trafficked or otherwise abused in the United States. Hotline
staff, however, say they have not yet received training in how to handle
calls about trafficking. There must be training and resources for personnel
in the U.S. if this hotline is to effectively counsel victims on their
rights and direct them to shelters and other services.

The U.S. strategy also calls for protection, legal counseling, and other
services for victims, but none of these programs have been
institutionalized. Frequently, victims of trafficking who are caught in
raids by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) or police are
quickly deported, which makes it difficult to prosecute their employers or

Some trafficking victims are inappropriately held in INS detention centers
or local jails. As noted in a September 1998 Human Rights Watch report, "INS
detainees are being held in jails entirely inappropriate to their
noncriminal status where they are mixed with accused and convicted inmates,
and where they are sometimes subjected to physical mistreatment and grossly
inadequate conditions of confinement."

Similarly, there is no effective monitoring of domestic workers who are
brought into the U.S. legally under the G-5 and A-3 visa programs to work
for diplomats and officials of international agencies. Former domestic
workers and their lawyers describe situations akin to slavery or bonded
servitude. They report that employers confiscate workers' passports and
other documents, require dawn to dusk labor for little or sometimes no pay,
and forbid them from leaving the house or making contact with other domestic
workers. If a domestic worker runs away, she is likely to be caught and
deported by the INS because, by breaking her work contract, she loses her
legal status. Experts and social workers believe that some of these
domestics escape into underground criminal networks, finding work in sex
clubs or sweatshops.

The lack of government monitoring of both illegal workers and legal domestic
worker programs allows the rampant abuse of workers to continue. And
although the creation of brochures, documentaries, posters, and other
public-awareness materials is very important in the campaign to stop human
trafficking, information is not enough to slow the flow of migrant workers
who have no viable economic alternatives in their home countries.

The U.S. has failed to address the root of the trafficking problem. It needs
to fund and support gender-sensitive economic development and education
projects overseas. Lack of support has severely hampered the efforts of
local nongovernmental groups to create and coordinate such projects.

Toward a New Foreign Policy

Key Recommendations
o The U.S. should sign and ratify existing international human rights
conventions and treaties so that it can use these tools to better address
trafficking in human beings.
o Congress should approve the Resolution on Trafficking and follow up with
legislation that will effectively implement the resolution's proposal for a
coordinated, comprehensive, governmental response to the problem.
o The U.S. should make sure that funding of projects abroad reaches local
nongovernmental organizations who promote public-awareness campaigns,
advocacy, education, and rehabilitation with regard to trafficking in human

The U.S. should ratify the following international treaties and conventions
pertaining to trafficking: Convention on the Rights of the Child, Convention
on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and Convention
on the Rights of Migrant Workers and the Members of Their Families.
Ratification of these international agreements is essential to the
coordination of an effective international human rights based response to

Additionally, the U.S. needs to develop domestic legislation to more
appropriately and effectively prosecute crimes associated with trafficking.
However, legislation and migration policies created to combat trafficking
should not further limit or prohibit the free movement of people.
Specifically, the G-5 and A-3 visa categories should not be eliminated
because they are among the few ways poor women from developing countries can
legally enter the United States. Rather, the government agencies involved
(including INS, State, and Labor), as well as institutions (including the
World Bank, UN, and foreign embassies) must create a monitoring system to
ensure that these workers' are fairly treated according to U.S. laws
regulating wages, working conditions, and worker rights.

Congress should approve the Resolution on Trafficking (Sen. Con. Res. 82)
and follow it with legislation that will effectively implement the
Resolution's proposal for a coordinated, comprehensive, governmental
response. This response must include greater communication and coordination
between and within government agencies at the international, federal, and
local levels. Federal resources and skills need to be shared with local
authorities, especially when carrying out investigations, prosecuting cases
of international trafficking, and providing services to victims. Care should
be taken so that the laws passed do not further stigmatize trafficking
victims, but rather prosecute traffickers with punishments proportional to
the seriousness of the crime.

The U.S. is reviewing its standards for gender-based asylum decisions, and
it should incorporate granting asylum to trafficked women under this
category. This new policy, coupled with reform of the INS detention system,
would ensure trafficked women the protection and services they need. Until
such policies are implemented, information and access to victims must be
given to nongovernmental organizations that are trying to reach possible
victims of trafficking lost in the detention system.

If the U.S. and other governments want to prosecute organized crime
syndicates that profit from trafficking in human beings, they will need to
take steps to protect and compensate victims regardless of occupation or
legal status. This requires cooperation with nongovernmental organizations
in order to educate law enforcement officers and reach out to victims. In
addition, governments need to be aware that tightening up immigration
restrictions only puts more pressure on people trying to migrate, forcing
them to use trafficking networks that will take the opportunity for further
exploitation and profit.

There is great potential for the U.S. to take the lead in the global fight
against human trafficking by continuing and expanding its work and by
funding projects with foreign governments and international and local NGOs.
The U.S. should increase funding to countries undergoing socio-economic
transitions and experiencing cases of human trafficking. This aid should be
used to investigate the extent and forms of trafficking and to provide legal
assistance and rehabilitation for trafficking victims.

When planning and implementing programs abroad, U.S. officials should
consult with national and international women's and human rights
organizations. All U.S. government programs implemented for judicial reform
and law enforcement training abroad should contain a gender perspective,
including information about the special situation of women and children who
are victims of sexual and gender crimes such as trafficking, sexual slavery.
and rape. The U.S. should also make a serious effort to distribute funding
directly to local grassroots groups working on these issues in order to
minimize loss of funds caused by traditional "pass-through" grants to large
American NGOs and government agencies.

The United States Information Service (USIS), U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID), Peace Corps, and other agencies abroad are in a unique
position to work with communities vulnerable to trafficking. Their
educational campaigns overseas should include a component on the dangers of
trafficking, the rights of foreign workers-legal and illegal-in the U.S.,
and courses of action available to victims. U.S. embassies should be
required to report instances of trafficking or communities that appear to be
vulnerable to trafficking to relevant government agencies in the United
States. This information should be shared with relevant foreign governments,
and international organizations, and NGOs. Finally, the State Department
should include information about trafficking in its annual human rights
country reports.

By following these suggestions, the U.S. will be able to more effectively
document cases of trafficking and more successfully collaborate with other
countries in the processes of legal reform, investigation, prosecution of
traffickers, and victim rehabilitation.

Sources for More Information


Foundation Against Trafficking in Women (STV)
P.O. Box 1455
3500 BL Utrecht, The Netherlands
Voice: (31) 30-2716044
Fax: (31) 30-2716084

Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women
P.O. Box 1281 Bangrak Post Office
Bangkok 10500 Thailand
Voice: (662) 864-1427-8
Fax: (662) 864-1637

Global Survival Network
P.O. Box 73214
Washington, DC 20009
Voice: (202) 387-0032
Fax: (202) 387-2590

Human Rights Watch
1522 K Street, NW, #910
Washington, DC 20005
Voice: (202) 371-6592
Fax: (202) 371 0124

International Human Rights Law Group
1200 18th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Voice: (202) 822-4600
Fax: (202) 822-4606

International Organization for Migration
Nibelungengasse 13/4
A-1010 Vienna, Austria
Voice: (43-1)585-3322-25
Fax: (43-1)585-3322-30

Witness Project
Lawyers Committee for Human Rights
333 Seventh Avenue, 13th Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Voice: (212) 845-5252
Fax: (212) 845-5299


Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), Removing the Whore Stigma:
Report on the Asia and Pacific Regional Consultation on Prostitution
(Bangkok, Thailand: GAATW, 1997).

GAATW, Practical Guide to Assisting Trafficked Women (Bangkok, Thailand:
GAATW, 1997).

GAATW, Regional Meeting on Trafficking in Women, Forced Labor, and
Slavery-like Practice in Asia and Pacific (Bangkok, Thailand: GAATW, 1997).

Global Survival Network (GSN), Crime & Servitude: An Expose of the Traffic
of Women for Prostitution from the Newly Independent States (Washington,
D.C.: GSN, 1997).

GSN, Trafficking of NIS Women Abroad: Moscow Conference Report (Washington,
D.C.: GSN, 1998).

Human Rights Watch, Women's Rights Project, Trafficking of Women and Girls
into Forced Prostitution and Coerced Marriage (New York: Human Rights Watch,

Human Rights Watch, Women's Rights Project, Asia Watch, A Modern Form of
Slavery: Trafficking of Burmese Women and Girls into Brothels in Thailand
(New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993).

Siriporn Skrobanek, Nattaya Boonpakdee and Chutima Jantateero, The Traffic
in Women: Human Realities of the International Sex Trade (Bangkok, Thailand:
Foundation for Women, 1997).

Marjan Wijers and Lin Lap-Chew, Trafficking in Women, Forced Labour and
Slavery-like Practices in Marriage, Domestic Labour and Prostitution (The
Netherlands: Foundation Against Trafficking/STV, 1997).

U.S. Senate Congressional Resolution 82.

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