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Wednesday, December 15, 2004 

Slavery in the 21st Century

Until the 20th century, the word 'slavery' has been synonomous with black Africans, plantations and the American south and before that with the population of conquered nations being forced into slavery by their victors. Today, it has taken on a new meaning. Human trafficking. Victims are recruited from mainly poor eastern European countries, Asia and Africa to be sold for use in the sex and labour trade. Estimates range anywhere from 300,000 to 600,000 women each year being smuggled for the sex trade in the European Union. Ukraine's government estimates that about 400,000 Ukrainian women have left the Ukraine since independence for work in the sex industry. (http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=342003)

Human trafficking is not limited to just women, children are also fair game for lucrative trade of human beings. Children from countries like Albania, Thailand and Cambodia are also being bought and sold for use as prostitutes or as beggars. It's a booming business that hasn't shown any sign of decline for several reasons:
  • apathy of citizens in the destination countries
  • absence of tough laws to prohibit and punish such crimes
  • lack of education in recruitment countries to inform potential victims of recruiters' operating tactics

Many people in the destination countries view these people as illegal immigrants instead of victims. In Greece, the police will put children under 12 years of age into detention centres and arrest those over the age of 13 for deportation along the border without ensuring their protection or reception by Albanian authorities. Women are arrested and charged with prostitution or living illegally in the country. (http://www.humantrafficking.com/humantrafficking/client/view.aspx?resourceID=4229)

A movie recently released in Greece demonstrates the apathetic attitude prevalent in many destination countries. The premise of "R20" is a middle aged man looking to 'spice up his life' and is prescribed a mystery cure by his psychologist,--'R20", which means "a Russian woman, 20 years old". The man visits a mobile prostitution brothel where women are basically caged inside a truck offering sexual services to the clientele. The movie is marketed as a comedy of all things. Considering Greece's status as a 'Tier 3" country for human trafficking, (Tier 3 being the worst for allowing and often promoting the human trafficking industry as defined by the US State Dept.) this film never should have been made.

I've talked to many people regarding the issue and the standard response usually is "the women shouldn't be so stupid as to believe promises of the recruiters in the first place." We can't judge these women using our own standards and education since these women often come from places so poor and remote that they will take risks that western people would even think about twice. Often, the recruiters pose as employment agents looking for waitresses or bar staff in the EU workplace. Once the women have made the trip over the borders, their passports are stolen from them and their lives take a dramatic turn for the worst.

Laws and Prosecution
The EU is trying to get laws passed within its member states to establish a minimum common penalty for the crime bosses who traffic humans. Doctors of the World is lobbying for the criminalisation of both the clients and owners of premises where human trafficking takes place and to suspend deportation of the victims.

In Greece, an anti-trafficking law was passed and there were 140 arrests in 2003 under the law, but no data has been given yet on any convictions. Some NGOs have stated that the police themselves are complicit in the human trafficking industry so it's no wonder that many human traffickers haven't been convicted. I'm sure Greece isn't the only country facing the involvement of the police force in such a dirty industry. Amnesty International has claimed the UN peacekeepers in Kosovo in 1999 fueled the illegal sex trade with up to 20% of its soldiers paying for sex from trafficked women and children. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3686173.stm)

In the rest of the EU, arresting organizers of the human trafficking ring has been hampered due to the silence of both the women and children. The problem is compounded by the fear of the victims thinking they will be deported or murdered for talking.

Victims of the human trafficking industry must be protected if they are to testify against their captors or even to have the courage to leave them once inside the destination country. They need to have somewhere to go without fear of being harmed, forced again into the trade or deported back to their native countries where they may be found again.

Doctors Without Borders has opened the Greece's first shelter for victims which is a step in the right direction but like many countries, more are needed.

Prevention Through Education
People inboth the recruitment and destination countries need to be educated regarding the risks involved in such an industry. Young women need to be aware of the dangers which face them by trusting others with offers of riches in another country. The clients need to be aware of how they are exacerbating the problem...that the women they pay for sex usually aren't there of their own free will and the money they pay them goes directly into the pockets of more men who continue the cycle by procuring more women illegally.

Even women who choose of their own volition to become sex workers legally in countries such as the Netherlands complain that they suffer since the prostitutes recruited illegally and work illegally have a negative impact on their own earnings since they will provide their 'services' at cut rates.

Most nations recognize the extent of the human trafficking problem. Now, it's time to actually do something about it.