News/Asia: Trade in Human Beings

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Subject: News/Asia: Trade in Human Beings
From: Jeffrey D. Ballinger (
Date: Mon Jun 12 2000 - 09:43:38 EDT

International Herald Tribune
Thursday, June 1, 2000

The Trade in Human Beings Is a Worldwide Scourge

By Anita L. Botti International Herald Tribune

  MANILA - Delegates from 20 Asia-Pacific nations and the United States
gathered here recently to build a strategy for combating a modern
manifestation of slavery - the growing trade in human beings.

At this three-day conference, we heard about Asian villages where few girls
remained. They had been taken by traffickers who had lured, abducted or
bought the children for sale to brothels or into forced labor. We heard about
Chinese women who had been promised modeling jobs in Italy, but ended up in
brothels in Mongolia. We heard about women who managed to escape their
captors, only to see their families terrorized by the very same criminals,
demanding payment of their victims' ''debts.''

Trafficking in people is not just an Asian problem. In the past decade, the
international trade in human beings, particularly women and children, has
reached epidemic proportions. No country is immune. Economic crises and
regional instability, combined with increasingly open borders, have created a
fertile environment for traffickers.

Each year, an estimated 700,000 to 1 million women and children are shipped
across national boundaries and sold into modern-day slavery. About 50,000 of
them are brought into the United States for sexual servitude, domestic
servitude, bonded sweatshop labor and other debt bondage.

Trafficking in humans is, first and foremost, a human rights issue. But it is
also a transnational crime issue, a socioeconomic issue and a public health

Trafficking is a transnational crime issue because organized criminal
enterprises that have flourished in the aftermath of the Cold War find
trafficking in people a relatively easy and low-risk enterprise. They are
sometimes abetted by corrupt government officials. The international trade in
human beings is a major source of revenue for organized crime. The profits
earned from it feed back into the other illicit activities of organized

Human trafficking is a socioeconomic issue because severe poverty and the
relative powerlessness of women in many developing countries make for an
endless supply of potential victims.

There are also problems with repatriating victims after they have escaped or
been rescued. Some cannot safely go home because they would face ostracism
for 'dishonoring' their families or because their families sold them into
slavery in the first place. Too often, victims continue to face the threat of
violence and death from their traffickers.

Human trafficking is a public health issue because it exacerbates the spread
of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis-C and other infectious diseases. In many rural
villages in Nepal, for example, one can find young women and girls who were
sold into prostitution in India, contracted AIDS, were discarded by their
captors and returned home to die. Many former victims desperately need crisis
counseling services, which often are not available.

The U.S. government strategy for combating this trafficking includes
educating the public, assisting the victims, protecting the vulnerable and
apprehending the perpetrators. The administration is working with Congress to
pass an effective bill that provides severe punishment for traffickers and
protection for the victims, including medical treatment, shelter, and the
opportunity to become legal residents of the United States in some cases.

However, that bill must not, as some have proposed, inflict mandatory
economic sanctions on countries that are perceived as doing too little to
combat trafficking. That would be counterproductive. It could require the
U.S. to impose sanctions on as many as two-thirds of the world's governments.
It would not end trafficking; instead, it would foster a climate of suspicion
and distrust and cripple the important work of nongovernment organizations on
behalf of victims in many parts of the world.

Advocates for trafficking victims in many developing countries have urged
Washington not to punish their governments but to target organized criminal
elements that traffic women and children.

Regional approaches to ending human trafficking are also needed. At the
meeting in Manila, government representatives, international organizations
and nongovernmental organizations came together to develop an action plan to
combat trafficking from, to, and within the Asia-Pacific region.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has already drafted
an action plan for Europe. It has begun implementing projects to increase NGO
support, mount public awareness campaigns and work with legislatures on
stronger laws. Other regional organizations have also started to turn their
attention to human trafficking.

Most importantly, there must be a coordinated, concerted global push to end
the trade in human beings. Adoption of the UN Convention Against
Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and
Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, is a vital
step. This treaty, now being negotiated, will help source, transit and
destination countries hunt down and severely punish traffickers, assist
victims in rebuilding their lives and educate woman and children about the
dangers of trafficking.

No one country has the power to eradicate this scourge. The transnational
character of human trafficking demands that all nations work together in an
aggressive effort to end this barbaric assault on human rights and human

The writer is deputy director of the U.S. President's Interagency Council on
Women and a member of the U.S. Interagency Taskforce on Trafficking in Women
and Children. She contributed this comment to the International Herald

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