[Stop-traffic] News/Asia: Human trafficking in Southeast Asia remains growth ...

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/Asia: Human trafficking in Southeast Asia remains growth ...
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Fri Feb 02 2001 - 11:53:29 EST


          Human trafficking in Southeast Asia remains growth ...

OTC 08/Jan/01 1:39 PM

  BANGKOK, Jan. 8 (Kyodo) -- By: Tim Johnson Human trafficking within and
from Southeast Asia is likely to remain high in the coming years in view of
the region's slow economic recovery, though there is also cause for
optimism, Thai and U.S. law enforcement officials and nongovernmental
organizations (NGO) were told Monday.
    International Organization for Migration (IOM) regional representative
Lance Bonneau told an anti-trafficking seminar in Bangkok that trafficking
of women and children for prostitution and forced labor has become a
lucrative and well-organized "growth industry" in the region.
    But he said an increasing international focus on the problem, along with
expanded international cooperative endeavors and changes in national
legislation, will hopefully combine to curb the growth.
    Bonneau made the assessment on the opening day of a five-day seminar on
human trafficking, sponsored by the U.S. Justice Department, which brought
together some 40 Thai police officials, judges, prosecutors and NGO
representatives with their U.S. counterparts.
    U.S. State Department official Claudia Gonzales noted that the
trafficking of women and children in the region has grown along with
increased trade and economic development, expanded tourism and the easing
of international travel, and the officially sanctioned export of manpower.
    In light of the slow economic recovery of Asian countries, it is likely
to remain high, she said.
    She said, "National governments tend to lose focus on a problem such as
human trafficking every time there is economic and political turmoil in
their country."
    Gonzales lamented that tight government budgets have cut into programs
for vulnerable women and children, while unemployment rates among women
continue to be higher than men "and few are getting educated on the
realities and horrors of trafficking."
    She said trafficking groups and networks continue to enjoy considerable
political influence over corrupt government officials.
    She said these groups and networks have developed more
technologically-sophisticated means of plying their trade without getting
caught, including the use of state-of-the-art computer equipment to forge
documents and elaborate means of laundering their ill-gotten gains.
    "More information on the facilitators and their networks are needed to
crack down on them and disrupt, if not stop, their illicit activities," she
said.
    Gonzales said the U.S. government estimates around 700,000 women and
children are trafficked globally every year. She acknowledged there are no
accurate statistics and that estimates vary -- from 500,000 to as many as 2
million.
    She said Southeast Asia accounts for about a third of the estimated 700,
000 annual victims, most of whom are trafficked within Asia though about
25,000-35,000 of the trafficked Asians enter North America.
    Ophidian Research Institute Director David Feingold, who advises the
U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on trafficking
issues, took issue with what he called the "made up" numbers used by the
U.S. official and cited a need to develop a sophisticated way of assessing
the magnitude of the problem.
    Meanwhile, Wachai Roujanavong, a state attorney in Thailand's Office of
the Attorney General, called for a "change of attitude" on the part of law
enforcement authorities so that women and children who are trafficked will
be given proper assistance rather than simply being regarded as illegal
aliens.
    His views were echoed by Saisuree Chutikul, a member of Thailand's
National Commission on Women's Affairs, who said, "Trafficked women and
children should be looked at as victims or injured parties...whether they
entered a country illegally or not."
    She urged governments to work with NGOs to help victims after
repatriation, noting that many are forced to return to the same
circumstances in their home countries that made them vulnerable to
traffickers in the first place.
    Vitith Muntabhorn, a Chulalongkorn University professor and former U.N.
special rapporteur on the sale of children, said it is more often the case
that governments do not so much lack the resources to fight human
trafficking but that they "misallocate" resources by inadequately
prioritizing the problem.
    Trafficking is now considered the third largest source of profits for
organized crime, behind only drugs and guns, generating billions of dollars
annually.
                 2001 Kyodo News (c) Established 1945
    -0-

        Copyright 2001
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