Sex Trafficking in Women and Girls

The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed.”: 

“Defining trafficking

In November 2000 the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, was added to the United Nations Conventions against Transnational Organized Crime. The protocol offers the most universally acknowledged definition of trafficking:

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt or persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

Involuntary servitude is the essential feature of human trafficking. For this reason, trafficking is often synonymously referred to as “modern-day slavery”. Men, women, boys, and girls are bought and sold – sometimes many times over – to work in brothels and strip clubs, in sweatshops, in mines, on plantations, at construction sites, as beggars, brick makers, domestic help, circus performers and even camel jockeys. Some of them are held in debt bondage and expected to pay off a balance due to win their freedom. Other have no debt, but as a result of threat or force live as virtual prisoners.

Closely linked to money laundering, drug trafficking, document forgery and human smuggling, trafficking in persons generates an estimated US $9.5 billion in annual revenue, much of which goes into the coffers of organized-crime networks. Every country in the world is implicated in this slave trade, whether as a point of origin, transit or destination.

Since 2000 the United States Department of State has issued the world’s most comprehensive annual report on trafficking. The latest edition calculates that 600,000 to 800,000 human beings are trafficked across international borders each year – and these figures do not account for those who are trafficked “internally”, from one destination to another within their own countries or communities. The report further estimates that 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls, and most of them are trafficked into the commercial sex industry. According to the International Labour Organization, this industry “has become highly diversified and global in recent years.”

Although exact numbers are difficult to learn, available estimates give some indication of the scope of the problem. Approximately 100,000 Albanian women and girls are thought to have been sold into the sex trade in neighboring Balkan countries and Western Europe. Between 1990 and 1997, 200,000 Bangledeshi women were believed to have been trafficked. Some 200,000 Nepali girls under the age of 14 may be working as sex slaves in India. An estimated 600,000 Thai children have been sold into prostitution. Israeli police speculate that 99 percent of women working as prostitutes in Israel are victims of trafficking. In Belgium, between 10 percent and 15 percent of known foreign prostitutes are thought to have been trafficked from abroad. As many as 130,000 women enter Japan on entertainer visas every years, but only about 10 percent of them actually perform in legitimate venues. The rest – many of whom are believed to have been trafficked – are most likely working in sex clubs or as prostitutes. The Middle East, Northern and Latin America, and Africa are also points of origin, transit and/or destination. As with other forms of trafficking, no region in the world appears to be free from the trade of women and girls for sex.

The hazardous journey

Beyond the common denominator of exploitation, every women’s or girl’s trafficking experience is unique. In Albania, where 13-year-old “Alma” is living with her family in a camp for Kosovar refugees, she is convinced by her boyfriend of two weeks to run away from Italy. After they arrive, he forces her into prostitution and beats her repeatedly whenever she refuses. In Nigeria, just before “Betty” is sent to Europe, her sex trafficker has a voodoo priest convince her that her soul will be held captive until she has paid back her debt to the trafficker – possibly as high as $50,000. In Nepal, a familiar older women in the community – perhaps one who was sent to an Indian brothel years earlier and has now returned as a “matchmaker” – approaches the house of “Kamala” and convinces her parents of the good life their daughter will have in Mumbai, India. As she reassures them about how much money Kamala will send home, she is liable to forego discussing the considerable dispensations to herself, the transport organizers and escorts, and the brothel owner.

In Brazil, “Anita” is befriended by an older man and offered a promising job in a big city, far away from the remote rural community where she lives with her impoverished family. She later discovers that her would-be employer has sold her into prostitution. “Karin”, a single mother of two from Sri Lanka, is transported to Singapore by a man who agrees to find her a witnessing job. Shortly after her arrival, she is taken to an open market, where she and other women – from Indonesia, Thailand, India and China – are inspected and purchased by men from Pakistan, India, China, Indonesia and Africa.”

All text is copyright (IRIN). Full permission is given for reproduction for non-commercial purposes.

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