Archive for the ‘Trafficking’ Category

A Mexican girl who was held captive by human traffickers and later managed to escape tells Channel 4 News how she witnessed babies and children being “sold to order” to American citizens.

The Department of Homeland Security in Washington DC says the girl, known only as Maria, had “significant information” and possessed a “remarkable memory” of her experiences inside the gang.

In a chilling interview with Channel 4 News the teenager tells of a cross-border trade in babies and young children, where Mexican and US gangs worked together to supply a demand in the United States.

Her interview with the programme has prompted US authorities to launch a criminal investigation and in late December agents flew the teenager to the United States for a full interview after Channel 4 News alerted authorities.

Maria was 16-years-old when she was lured into the gang by a young man on the streets of the deadly Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez.

Since the 1990s thousands of women have disappeared from the town, and hundreds of bodies bearing signs of rape and sexual mutilation were dumped on waste ground in the city.

Thousands more have never returned.

Despite international coverage of the story including a film starring Jennifer Lopez, the disappearances continue.

In 2009, 55 teenage girls vanished in the town, which has been gripped by violence as two drug cartels fight a lethal turf war for cocaine smuggling routes to America.

Whilst investigating the fate of the missing girls Channel 4 News correspondent Nick Martin and producer Guillermo Galdos discovered Maria and carried out the interview whilst she was in hiding.

Few girls return after going missing and Maria’s interview sheds light on the fate of so many in her position.

She said she had been given presents and promised a job in an office by the gang member but was instead drugged and raped and sold to men. She explained what the gang did to one girl who tried to escape.

“They took a gallon of gasoline and started pouring it over her,” said Maria.

“One of the men told me ‘if you don’t do as I say I will do the same to you’. I wanted to look away – but they didn’t let me.

“Even though the girl was on fire they kept hitting her. They were laughing as if they were enjoying what they were doing.

“They burnt her alive.”

Maria, which is not her real name, said the gang held young women in a house on the Mexican border until they were sold to the US as sex slaves. But she said they also dealt in children and told of on one occasion when the gang was contacted by a woman in New York.

“She called and was very angry. She said she needed a seven-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy – and she needed them in three days.”

Maria told Special Agents that the gang would prowl the streets of poor areas and look for children.

“They stole the children,” she said. “One of the gang members took a six-year-old kid. I had to look after him for three hours. He told me he wanted to see his mummy.

“Then I started crying, I said: “I don’t think you’re ever going to see your mummy again.” All he kept saying was I want to see my mummy.”

US officials have a keen interest in this case. As a result of the interview US officials have begun investigating along with the Mexican authorities.

Maria, who managed to escape after a gang member left her alone in a house, says children were often around. But not for long.

“I saw the Americans taking kids,” she said. “A four-year-old and another boy, he barely walked, he was only about two years old. They took them to New York.”

The US State Department estimates that more than 20,000 young women and children are trafficked across the border from Mexico each year. But conviction rates remain low.

Mexico’s Attorney General Arturo Chavez has been accused of not doing enough to bring human traffickers to justice but insisted it was an issue the country was “definitely focussing on.”

Maria has been told that she could have to give evidence against the gang of they are caught. It is something she says she is determined to do.

“Women are sold, they are abducted, bought and even killed by these men. If these men are ever found, jail won’t be enough to make them pay for the way they’ve made us feel.”


Three decades ago, the relatives of an eleven-year-old Native girl in Minnesota forced her to have sex with a man in exchange for alcohol. The story was not front-page news. It was not the subject of a feature-length film with a happy ending. No one intervened. But when she turned eighteen, the police started paying attention. She was arrested and convicted over twenty times for prostitution. Her parents’ addiction became her own, and she entered treatment dozens of times.

At an early age, the girl became one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Native American children and women forced into prostitution in Minnesota, falling under the radar of social services, the community, and the media.

“If it was a bunch of white, blonde hair, blue-eyed girls, believe me, there would be an end to this,” said Vednita Carter, executive director of Breaking Free, a St. Paul-based nonprofit serving women involved in prostitution.

In September, the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center became the first organization in the state to release a report about the widespread trafficking of Native women. The agency hopes its effort will draw attention and funding to Native victims of sexual exploitation.

Advocates say the report’s findings cast little doubt that the situation has already become a crisis. In a sample of 95 Native women seeking services from the resource center, 40 percent reported being the victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

Sixty percent of the women surveyed entered prostitution or pornography before the age of 18. And about one-fifth had been sexually exploited before their thirteenth birthday. When the girls become adults, the exploitation often continues. They remain in prostitution, but the law often no longer views them as victims, but as criminals.

The 126-page report, called Shattered Hearts, written by research scientist Alexandra Pierce, focuses on women who live outside of reservations. The report compiles statistics, identifies flaws in the legal system, draws parallels to the historic exploitation of Native people, and makes dozens of suggestions about how to address the problem. Pierce incorporated the Resource Center’s own studies, interviews with social service workers, and available government data.

“To me, it’s an emotional issue; it’s a financial issue; it’s a justice issue; it’s a human rights issue,” said Suzanne Koepplinger, the Resource Center’s executive director.

Although the legal system treats prostitution and trafficking differently, the report often uses the terms interchangeably, as many advocates believe that prostitution can never be considered fully consensual. The prostituted woman is the true victim of the crime, they argue.

“There’s a general acceptance that prostitution is a lifestyle choice, when it’s actually a federal crime against women,” Koepplinger said.

The report found that Native women have been disproportionally impacted by sexual exploitation. For example, Native American women make up about 25 percent of all women on probation in Hennepin County for prostitution-related offenses, according to data from 2007. But Native women represent only 2.2 percent of the county’s population.

Some of the reasons for the staggering numbers are clear. Native Americans have the state’s highest rates of homelessness, poverty, and alcoholism – what many call the legacy of hundreds of years of colonialism. But the report also argues that generational trauma plays a role. White settlers repeatedly raped, tortured, and murdered Native women over hundreds of years, treating their bodies as disposable and worthless.

In one account from the 1860s, a white rancher describes a government attack on the Cheyenne: “I heard one man say that he had cut out a woman’s private parts and had them for exhibition on a stick…I also heard of numerous instances in which men had cut out the private parts of females and stretched them over the saddle-bows and wore them over their hats while riding in the ranks.”

Other more recent practices, including the involuntary sterilization of Native women and the Indian Adoption Project (which removed Native children from their homes), added to the collective trauma, the report says.

“There’s been so much violence and destruction of families because of colonization,” said Nicole Matthews, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition.

In Minnesota, advocates say that Native women have been prostituted onto ships in the Duluth harbor for generations, although local law enforcement say that they have not noticed any trafficking since harbor security was ramped up after 9/11.

“Girls have conversations with their mothers about their time, when the mothers were working on the boats,” one advocate said during a round-table discussion conducted as part of the report. “Many of the girls were conceived out of working on the boats.”

These historical experiences leave Native women psychologically vulnerable to exploitation, the report says. Once women enter into prostitution, they are less likely to ask for help, as violence against women may seem normal.

Advocates say that many Native communities have also normalized sexual exploitation. Although data is limited, the fact that Native women are often exploited in childhood suggests that Native men play a significant role in their abuse. In many close-knit Native communities, women may have difficulty speaking out.

“It’s a very difficult issue because it’s a very painful issue,” Koepplinger said. “But not talking about it hasn’t helped us.”

An advocate who was interviewed anonymously as part of the report said that when she has tried to talk about sexual violence with members of her Native community, “Some of the elders don’t appreciate that.”

Another participants agreed, saying, “Oh, I know, I know. I was ‘that nasty girl who talks nasty.’”

If the girls don’t find help before they turn eighteen, the legal system takes over, often criminalizes their abuse, and fails to effectively stop sex trafficking, advocates say. But disagreement exists among both advocates and law enforcement about the best intervention methods.

“Police get a hold of them first,” said Linda Miller, executive director of Civil Society, a non-profit that provides legal and other assistance to trafficking victims. “They’ve declared that they’re not going to look beneath the surface.”

But St. Paul Police spokesperson Paul Schnell points to the federally funded Gerald D. Vick Human Trafficking Task Force, a police-led effort to coordinate services for victims of trafficking. The police department trains officers to recognize signs of human trafficking when they approach criminal situations.

However, many women are distrustful of law enforcement, and Schnell acknowledges that police officers frequently arrest women engaged in prostitution.

“In the moment, a case may become a case, “ he said. “But over the course of time and doing that investigation via prosecution or defense counsel, there are different places where there can be interventions to address the trafficking issues.”

Carter, of Breaking Free, said that St. Paul police officers have been increasingly receptive to treating prostitutes as victims. More police officers are bringing women directly to Breaking Free instead of jail, she said.

Nonetheless, arrests continue, and advocates say that a prostitution conviction – or even an arrest – can prevent a woman from ever having a decent job or housing.

“Not many women want to spend the rest of their lives saying that they engaged in prostitution,” Miller said.

Minnesota law does provide some additional legal protection to victims of sex trafficking. While the federal definition of trafficking requires that traffickers use “force, fraud, or coercion,” state laws say that a person can never consent to being sexually exploited. Under state law, anyone who had been prostituted by others is considered a trafficking victim.

Part of a longer article that you can read in full at

It’s a subject seldom addressed publicly in the Palestinian territories, but for the first time, a report is lifting the veil on the taboo topic of female trafficking and forced prostitution – and calling for action to stop it.

Trafficking and forced prostitution in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza operate on a small-scale basis, rather than being part of a sophisticated and organized activity, the report found. But the two practices are also frequent and widespread — and the women and girls involved have few means of escape.

The 26-page report, released last week and titled “Trafficking and Forced Prostitution of Palestinian Women and Girls: Forms of Modern Day Slavery”, was researched and written by SAWA, a nonprofit Palestinian group that combats violence against women. SAWA received support for the report from UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, which is making the report available online.

Getting information for the report — which was completed in June 2008 but published only now — was difficult because of the stigma suffered by the victims and the sensitivity of the subject within Palestinian society, SAWA said.

Explaining the delay between completing the research and publishing the report, UNIFEM spokesman Julien Vaissier said it took a long time to analyze the data from the field, and staff in Gaza were also forced in January of this year to turn their attention to victims of the fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

“Dating [the report] 2009 would have been misleading, because the data was collected in 2008,” he said.

“It was hard for us to publish it, and it took us a long time to decide how, whom and why, because of the situation and the sensitivity of the subject,” SAWA representative Jalal Khader added.

The report found that unemployment and poverty play a major role in pushing girls and women into prostitution and making them vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers.

Most of the women have also been “violently abused by their families, especially their fathers,” the report found. The trafficked women who spoke to researchers said they had been “battered continuously” at home, then forced into marriage, often facing further violence at the hands of their husbands.

The situation is no better if the trafficked women and girls are accompanied by pimps or madams, who threaten the girls with violence if they refuse sex with clients. In one case, a trafficker called “W” threatened to inform a girl’s family if she tried to escape and to disseminate embarrassing pictures of her engaged in sexual activity.

Researchers found no studies or reports on the issue, just local newspaper reports on specific cases, SAWA said. They did manage to conduct 11 face-to-face interviews with “informants,” or Palestinians willing to speak out about the problem. Those included police officers, victims’ lawyers, taxi drivers and hotel owners.

Field researchers also managed to conduct in-person interviews with three trafficked women and included their case studies in the report.

SAWA said its groundbreaking report is not meant as a comprehensive study, but rather an initial step in identifying the problem.

“For the first time, people have chosen to break the silence and speak out, and this briefing paper can be seen as a first step to start answering the need for protecting women and girl victims of trafficking and forced prostitution in the [occupied Palestinian territories],” the report says.

If the victimized women somehow escape their situations, they face further problems on several fronts. The report found there are few social networks or shelter houses to which they can turn, that they may be ostracized by their communities and families, and that the law may treat them as criminals.

The first case study in the report is of a 23-year-old married mother of three from Jerusalem. A Palestinian, she says her father used to abuse her violently on a daily basis, tightening a belt around her neck until she fainted, then forcing her to live in the basement for days without food.

After the woman’s father forced her into marriage at 16, her husband raped her on their wedding night, then continued to beat her, she said.

She ran away from home and met two men who promised her shelter and employment in Israel — but instead, when she got there, she was kept in a house and forced to be a prostitute, she said.

When she once refused to sleep with a client, the woman said her pimp called her father, who took her home and hit her violently until she fainted. She now lives at a safe house, the report said.

In another case, a field researcher overheard two women talking in the front seat of a public taxi on the way from Jerusalem to the West Bank city of Ramallah. The woman told her friend she was unable to obtain a birth certificate for a baby fathered by one of her former clients at a brothel.

The woman said she was forced to leave the brothel after becoming pregnant and now didn’t know what to do: “I went to the social services in Jerusalem, but they could not help me either,” she was overheard as saying.

A lack of willingness by law enforcement to investigate these cases and prosecute the traffickers — along with criminalizing the victims’ behavior — only compounds the problem, the report said.

The Palestinian territories use a hodgepodge of laws applicable to different areas, which also makes it difficult to take action, the report said.

The report calls on Palestinian governmental organizations to draft new legislation guaranteeing that girls and women are treated as victims of crime and not as offenders, and referring to forced prostitution as sexual violence.

It also urges civil groups to document cases of forced prostitution and trafficking for sexual purposes and to push the government to change the law.

The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, harboring or receipt of people by force, coercion, fraud or abuse of power. Traffickers seek to exploit their victims for sexual purposes, forced labor or removal of organs, SAWA said.

To download the report in either English or Arabic go to

SAWA website at

When the FBI announced a nationwide crackdown on child prostitution last month as part of a long-term initiative to combat domestic sex trafficking, it noted that 52 children had been rescued from “sexual slavery”.

“It is repugnant that children in these times could be subjected to the great pain, suffering and indignity of being forced into sexual slavery for someone else’s profit,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said at the time.

But a month later, none of those children is receiving the kind of help that experts say they require to overcome the trauma of their experiences, and some are still languishing in local juvenile detention centers, according to a Tribune Newspapers check of the children’s situation.

Experts say the only way to ensure a good chance of recovery for these children is placement in a residential treatment program for such victims, of which there are only three in the United States: in New York, California and Georgia.

“When America’s child prostitutes are identified by the FBI or police, they are incarcerated for whatever reason possible, whether it be an unrelated crime or ‘material witness hold,’ ” said Lois Lee, founder of one of the three centers, Children of the Night in Los Angeles.

“Then they are dumped back in the dysfunctional home, ill-equipped group home or foster care, and (often) disappear back into the underground of prostitution with no voice.”

Experts say victims struggle to find care once they escape an industry that could involve as many as 300,000 U.S. children.

Ian McCaleb, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said the department “uses a victim-centered approach that provides victims with the services they need in order to recover and to fully participate in the criminal justice process.”

A report prepared for the Health and Human Services Department in 2007 found four residential treatment centers with a total of 45 beds for child prostitutes in the U.S. Interviews with the centers show bed numbers remain low two years later.

New York-based Girls Educational and Mentoring Services has 12 beds. One of the four mentioned in the 2007 report, The Standing Against Global Exploitation Safe House in San Francisco no longer has beds for trafficking victims, though it offers non-residential care for victims and helps place them with foster families.

Melba Robinson, a program manager at Georgia’s Center to End Adolescent Sexual Exploitation, said the center’s Angela’s House, which usually takes in girls on probation, is expanding from six beds to eight.

Still, with victims numbering in the thousands, advocates say there just aren’t enough treatment options to go around.,0,7382909.story

The government will sponsor a bill later this Knesset session that is expected to put the squeeze on those trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich announced.

Aharonovich, addressing his ministry’s plans to combat the phenomenon during a hearing of the Subcommittee on the Trafficking of Women, said that he intends to submit a bill during this Knesset session, sponsored by the government, that would increase penalties for pimping to the same level as those for human trafficking – from seven years to 16 years imprisonment.

In addition, Aharonovich said, his office would reexamine the topic of business licensing to any businesses found to be running a brothel while abusing the business licenses that they were issued – and will try to cancel the licenses.

Subcommittee chairwoman MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima) complimented the enforcement activities currently underway to curb trafficking, and noted their “significant contribution to reducing the phenomenon of women trafficking.”

But Zuaretz also called upon the enforcement agencies to plan ahead for changes in methods of trafficking and employment of women as prostitutes in light of the fact that, according to Zuaretz, the methods of employing the women have become more advanced.

“The minister’s position is consistent with my perspective throughout all of the subcommittee’s hearings, to make the level of punishment for those convicted of trading in women’s bodies more severe. I call upon the police and the other law enforcement authorities to act to try offenders under the existing law that forbids human trafficking and employment under conditions of slavery for the purpose of sex, which includes a sentence of 16 years,” said Zuarets.

In the course of the meeting, police officers reported that in the past two years, they had noted a significant decline in the phenomenon of organized prostitution in Israel, including a decline in the number of victims of women trafficking.

Police representatives did, however, add that with the increase in the number of foreign workers living in Israel – a number that the Immigration Authority places around 200,000 – they have noticed an increase in instances of trafficking of manual laborers. The police officers added that they could not determine whether the incidents were widespread enough to consider them a “phenomenon.” They emphasized that it was still a “rare” occurrence.

The Israel Police said that the number of people working in prostitution in Israel was “a couple thousand,” but NGOs who offer assistance to women involved in prostitution said that they believed the true number to hover around 20,000.

The police also said that at the beginning of the decade, there were estimated to be approximately 3,000 victims of women trafficking in Israel, whereas in 2009, they believed that the number was only a few dozen. The Israel Police attribute the decline to the enforcement efforts by police in the field.

Recent years have also seen a decrease in the number of investigations opened by police into suspected cases of trafficking for prostitution. In 2007, 21 such files were opened by the police whereas in the past two years, a mere 10 investigations have been opened each year.

The data provided by the police was not, however, entirely positive. Although police recorded a decrease in trafficking investigations, there has been an increase in the number of files opened for offenses related to trafficking, including pimping and operating brothels. In the first eight months of 2009, 331 files were opened for trafficking-related offenses – an increase of 84.9% from the overall number of investigations on similar charges in all of 2008.

Fourteen cities are being targeted in a new campaign aimed at alerting people about human trafficking, federal immigration officials have announced.

The “Hidden in Plain Sight” initiative, sponsored by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, features billboards highlighting “the horrors and the prevalence of human trafficking,” which the agency says is equivalent to “modern-day slavery.”

The words “Hidden in Plain Sight” are displayed on the advertisements with a toll-free number people can call to report situations where they believe people are being sexually exploited or forced to work against their will.

Cities in the new campaign are Atlanta; Boston; Dallas; Detroit; Los Angeles; Miami; Philadelphia; Newark, N.J.; New Orleans; New York; St. Paul, Minn.; San Antonio; San Francisco and Tampa, Fla.

Bruce Foucart, an ICE special agent in charge of New England, said officials hope the billboards persuade residents to report suspected cases to ICE or local law enforcement.

“It’s difficult to identify victims and it’s difficult for them to tell their stories,” said Foucart.

About 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked each year around the world and about 17,500 of them end up in the United States, according to ICE. Immigration officials say the victims are lured from their homes with false promises of well-paying jobs but are trafficked into the commercial sex trade, domestic servitude or forced labor.

Foucart said victims who cooperate with law enforcement are offered temporary status and can later apply to stay in the U.S. permanently.

Jozefina Lantz, director of New Americans services at Lutheran Social Services in Worcester, Mass., welcomed the new campaign and said the public is generally unaware that human trafficking is occurring near their homes.

“Often the victims get mistaken for undocumented immigrants,” said Lantz. “It’s not the same because these people were abducted from their homes and forced into trafficking.”

Lantz said her group has recently helped trafficking victims from Africa and South America.–PAsQ4CvGNat2ArgQD9BSUO0O2

Survivors of human trafficking spoke at the U.N. recently as part of a new institutional effort to have their input on policymaking. Panelists said a major problem was not being seen as trafficking victims when they suffered their ordeals.

The U.N. has held hearings and sessions on human trafficking many times before, where professional advocates and police authorities have offered evidence.

But an Oct. 22 gathering before an audience of several dozen, which included U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, was different.

For the first time trafficking victims were invited to speak, reflecting the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights’ effort to promote a victim-centered approach.

One of the victims was Rachel Lloyd, who grew up in the United Kingdom. She survived forced sexual exploitation, which began after she quit school at 13 to care for her alcoholic mother. It led to a cycle of sexual abuse, drugs and prostitution that lasted through her teenage years.

After moving to New York, she founded GEMS: Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, which she said helped 279 young women escape prostitution last year. She also actively lobbied for New York State’s Safe Harbor Act for Sexually Exploited Youth, the country’s first law to end the persecution of child sex-trafficking victims.

“This is a big and significant step for the U.N., and my hope is that this is the beginning of some real and substantive action on this issue,” Lloyd told Women’s eNews after delivering her testimony.

Three other survivors also spoke at the gathering–each from different corners of the globe, each with a very different ordeal to recount.
Different Stories, Common Theme

But there was one common theme: The official world often failed to see them as trafficking victims.

“One of the largest challenges that we have . . . is the lack of identification and the lack of recognition of our victim status,” Lloyd told the gathering.

Charlotte Awino of Uganda told the panel about her eight-year imprisonment at the hands of Ugandan rebels, who kidnapped her and three dozen others from a boarding school when she was 14. Forced to march for days, she and other prisoners were “traumatized and often near death from beating and starvation.”

Awino escaped at 22, having borne two children. She pointed out that often people in her position are viewed by authorities as being there voluntarily, mistaken for complicit terrorists rather than prisoners.

Buddhi Gurung of Nepal–the only male in the group–said his passport was confiscated when he answered a recruitment ad for work abroad. Instead, he was held for about a month in Amman, Jordan, then told by his supposed recruiters that he was going to work on a military base in Iraq. On the way there, a van in front of him carrying other trafficked Nepalis was ambushed and his 12 countrymen abducted. They were later killed, their beheadings broadcast over the Internet.

After serving 15 months at a U.S. base in Iraq, he was given his passport and sent home. He is currently suing the U.S. government. Although he may have looked like any immigrant worker, his circumstances did not match those of a voluntary worker. Instead of being sent to work in the U.S. for $500 per month as his recruiters had promised, he was brought to a war zone, paid a pittance and fed even less, he said.

Gurung and the families of the murdered Nepalis have taken the Houston-based defense contractor KBR, Inc. and Daoud and Partners, a Jordanian subcontractor, to federal court on human trafficking charges.
Forced Into Prostitution

Kikka Cerpa of Venezuela said that in 1992 she followed her boyfriend to New York City expecting a job as a nanny. Instead, he and his cousin forced her to “work off” her debt to the boyfriend by prostituting herself in his family’s brothel.

“The first night was the worst. I had to service 19 men. They lined up for the new girl,” Cerpa told the panel. She said her “boyfriend” told her that if she turned to authorities for help she would be arrested and deported.

She said that police sometimes raided the brothel and demanded sex. At other times, police arrested her. But either way, no officer ever seemed to look at Cerpa as a potential crime victim.

Cerpa eventually escaped by marrying a customer. When he started beating her she sought refuge in a shelter for abused women, which steered her toward Sanctuary for Families, a New York nonprofit that assists abused women and their children. In 2007, Cerpa received the annual Susan B. Anthony Award from the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women for her victim-advocacy work, which she continues to do while earning a living as a housekeeper.

Ruchira Gupta, a former BBC reporter who has spent the past 20 years working with prostitutes in India, many of whom are trafficked, moderated the panel.

In opening the session she offered her own example of public officials not recognizing trafficking victims as people in need of their help.

She said public health workers in Bombay try to prevent disease within brothels by giving out condoms, when official efforts would be better focused on helping to free the women in the brothels. Gupta was struck by the plight of these women when she first met them in the 1980s, women who had been sold into sex slavery in their teens or earlier. Her work has helped bring the issue to the forefront globally, and in September she received the 2009 Clinton Global Citizen Award from former President Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative foundation for her work.
More Concern Over Protecting Men

“Some of them actually told me, ‘If the brothel didn’t exist, where would we distribute the condoms?'” said Gupta, referring to the public health workers in Bombay. “They are more interested in protecting men from disease than protecting women and girls from the men.”

The Office of the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons presented a report on trafficking to the General Assembly on Oct. 23, the day after the hearings.

Human trafficking, it said, encompasses slavery, debt bondage, forced labor and sexual exploitation.

The Geneva-based International Labour Organization, or ILO, estimates that at least 12.3 million adults and children are being trafficked at any given time.

The majority of these people are women and girls forced into sexual slavery, according to the ILO and other agencies.

“There are millions out there who are still victims, many of whom have not been discovered,” U.N. Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons Joy Ngozi Ezeilo told the panel.

The key, she said, is giving visibility to victims, keeping track of those who go missing, offering them assistance once they’re rescued and making a commitment to eliminate trafficking in the first place.

Countries, she said, must also levy harsher punishment on traffickers and compensate victims for the time lost.

“It will be irresponsible if we fail to act. We are humans and we should not support inhuman action,” Ezeilo said. “The slave trade has been abolished and we can’t accept that in our world today.”

For more information:
* Girls Educational and Mentoring Services
* Sanctuary for Families
* Report of the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, presented to the General Assembly on 23 October 2009 (pdf)
* 2009 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime

See also:
* She came to America with dreams of a better life, but became a victim of human trafficking. Now her case is believed to be the first prosecuted under the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Federal officials rescued 52 children and arrested nearly 700 people over the last three days in a nationwide crackdown on child prostitution.

Almost 1,600 agents and officers took part in the raids, which followed investigations in 36 cities, according to the FBI, local law enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Included in the arrests were 60 suspected pimps, according to the FBI and local police officials.

Authorities say the youngest victim was 10.

In Southern California, two children were rescued in Riverside, and four adults were arrested, said Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman. Four suspected customers of child prostitutes were arrested in Orange County.

“It is repugnant that children in these times could be subjected to the great pain, suffering and indignity of being forced into sexual slavery for someone else’s profit,” Assistant Atty. Gen. Lanny A. Breuer said in a statement. He added that the latest raids show that “the scourge of child prostitution still exists on the streets of our cities.”

The sweep, dubbed Operation Cross Country, is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, started in 2003 to address child sex trafficking in the U.S.

The initiative has rescued nearly 900 children; led to the conviction of 510 pimps, madams and their associates; and seized $3.1 million in assets, according to the FBI.

“We’re having an enormous impact on this business,” said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Most of the recovered children have been girls, who usually become victims of traffickers around age 12, Allen said.

He estimated that 100,000 children are still involved in sex trafficking in the U.S., adding that the problem is growing partly because of the recession.,0,2692854.story

The ministry of women and child development, government of India, has formulated ‘Ujjawala’, a new comprehensive scheme for the prevention of trafficking and rescue, rehabilitation and re-integration of victims of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation (CSE).

The object of the scheme is to prevent trafficking of women and children for CSE, to facilitate rescue of victims from the place of their exploitation and place them in safe custody, to provide rehabilitation services both immediate and long term by providing basic amenities/needs such as food, clothing, medical aid, counselling, legal aid, guidance, vocational training and shelter, to facilitate reintegration of the victims into the family and society at large and to facilitate repatriation of cross-border victims to their country of origin.

Any organization applying for grant-in-aid under this scheme should be duly registered under the law in existence for at least 3 years and should be financially sound.

It should have facilities, resources, experience and personnel to initiate the scheme for which assistance is sought.

For more details about this scheme and application form, those interested may contact, the Directorate of Women and Child Development, Shanta Building, St Inez, Panaji during office hours on any working day or on the ministry’s website

On May 13, 2009, the Home Secretary of India said in a seminar organized by the Central Bureau of Investigation that there are 1.3 million prostituted children in India right now. Most of them are girls. The National Human Rights Commission of India has stated that the average age of entry into prostitution for young girls is now between nine and twelve.

The fact that the numbers of the trafficked are going up and the ages coming down displays the failure of those government and non-government strategies which only focus on HIV/AIDS management and half hearted rescue operations combined with shelters for victims. These ignore the root cause, which is the demand for women and girls for sexual exploitation. Even the Sept. 19 Ministry of Home Affairs advisory to state governments on combating human trafficking falls short of asking for higher arrests and convictions of buyers and traffickers, though it recognizes that “trafficking in human beings, especially of women and children, is the fastest growing organized crime and an area of concern.”

Demand for trafficked people – from end-users (buyers of prostituted sex) to traffickers who make a profit off the trade (the recruiters, transporters, pimps, brothel owners, money lenders, etc., who form the intricate chain in the organized criminal networks) — has become the most immediate cause for the expansion of the trafficking industry. But the existing outdated law, Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956, (ITPA), does not address it adequately.

Apne Aap Women Worldwide has been campaigning to have ITPA amended. This survivor-led campaign is seeking to penalize buyers and traffickers. If the numbers of convictions against buyers and traffickers go up, the cost of human trafficking will become untenable. Increased convictions will also restore a sense of justice to the survivors of prostitution.

Countries like Sweden have gone after the traffickers by bringing them to book, confiscating their illegal assets created out of trafficking, making them compensate for the damages and penalizing end-users (buyers of prostituted sex). This has seen a significant decrease in trafficking. In 1999, it was estimated that 125,000 Swedish men bought about 2,500 prostituted women one or more times per year, before the law came into force. By 2002, this figure had fallen to no more than 1,500 women.

In running this campaign, Apne Aap Women Worldwide has come up against some entrenched interests. Ironically, this opposition has included many HIV/AIDS management projects that work in red-light areas and hire pimps and brothel managers as “peer educators” to gain easy access to the brothels for the purpose of condom distribution. They turn a blind eye to the little girls and adult women kept in a system of bondage and control, who cannot say no to unwanted sex let alone unprotected sex. In fact a representative of the National AIDS Control Organization once told me: “If the brothels didn’t exist, where will we distribute the condoms?”

The hiring of pimps and brothel managers not only legitimizes them at the cost of delegitimizing the rights of the little girl or woman locked up in the brothel but also silences her.

Apne Aap has been organizing these silenced girls and women to join together in small self-help groups in the red-light areas and high-risk slums of Bihar, Delhi, Maharashtra and West Bengal for the last seven years. They are asking repeatedly for lives free of all forms of male violence and a zero tolerance policy for prostitution and trafficking in human beings. They are asking for the punishment of those who exploit them as a guarantee of safety and security. They are asking for access to safe housing, counselling, education, and job training.

Regrettably, most government projects offer them either a bed in a shelter or a condom in a brothel and a policy that puts more emphasis on protecting male buyers from disease rather than protecting girls and women from male buyers.

Ruchira Gupta is founder and president of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an anti-trafficking organization based in India. She recently won the Clinton Global Citizen Award for her leadership in civil society.

More than a third of the world’s child brides are from India, leaving children at an increased risk of exploitation despite the Asian giant’s growing modernity and economic wealth, according to a UNICEF report.

Nearly 25 million women in India were married in the year 2007 by the age of 18, said the report released on Tuesday, which noted that children in India, Nepal and Pakistan may be engaged or even married before they turned 10. Millions of children are also being forced to work in harmful conditions, or face violence and abuse at home and outside, suffering physical and psychological harm with wide-reaching, and sometimes irreparable effects, the report said.

“A society cannot thrive if its youngest members are forced into early marriage, abused as sex workers or denied their basic rights,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman.

Despite rising literacy levels and a ban on child marriage, tradition and religious practices are keeping the custom alive in India, as well as in Nepal and Pakistan, the report said.

More than half the world’s child brides are in south Asia, which also accounts for more than half the unregistered births, leaving children beyond the reach and protection of state services and unable to attend school or access basic healthcare.

Only 6 percent of all births in Afghanistan and 10 percent in Bangladesh were registered from 2000-08, the report said, compared to 41 percent in India and 73 percent in the tiny Maldives.

Also, about 44 million, or 13 percent of all children in south Asia, are engaged in labour, with more than half in India.

Children in the region have also been seriously affected by insurgency and instability, as well as natural disasters.

Especially in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, past or ongoing conflicts have broken down most child protection systems, leaving children especially vulnerable, the report said.

Trafficking of children for labour, prostitution or domestic services is widespread, especially within Bangladesh and India, and within the region, as well as to Europe and the Middle East.

“Insufficient emphasis has been placed on protecting child victims of trafficking and ensuring that any judicial proceedings brought against them are child sensitive,” the report noted.

Throughout the month of September, public transit users will receive an important education on the realities of child sex slavery in America. This week, Shared Hope International will unveil End Child Sex Trafficking: Kids are NOT for Sale in D.C., a campaign that aligns with D.C. Human Trafficking Awareness month. Bright yellow signs in Metro buses, bus shelters and Metro stations scream messages, including “13 is the average age children are forced into prostitution.” With D.C. Acting U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the District’s Office of the Attorney General, and D.C. City Councilman Phil Mendelson, Shared Hope International Founder and President Linda Smith will highlight the reality of child sex slavery in America and in the D.C. Metro area in particular at a 10:00 AM press conference on September 9, 2009 at the Washington D.C. United States Attorney’s Office.

On a familiar intersection, such as 14th and K Street, NW and along New York Avenue, young girls are sold by pimps and rented by the hour, and by the minute, for sexual acts. Hundreds of campaign announcements will address the local demand for paid sex and will emphasize the vulnerability, exploitation and danger that American children face every day on our streets. Advertisements placed in the Adult Classifieds and the Wild Side sections of CityPaper will warn potential buyers that buying sex with a child in Washington, D.C. can result in a life prison sentence.

Shared Hope International conducted over five years of research on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking – U.S. children used in prostitution, pornography and sexual entertainment. Research confirmed that at least 100,000 American children are used in prostitution in the United States every year.

“American girls, from small towns to our nation’s capital, are being lured into prostitution and sold for sex, and some of the harshest penalties for child traffickers have been served by the District of Columbia,” said Linda Smith (U.S. Congress 1994-1998), Founder and President of Shared Hope International. “It is clear that D.C. refuses to be a playground for traffickers and pimps.”

The Washington D.C. area has been identified as a sex trafficking hub, and the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force is aggressively tackling predators who attempt to buy or sell children in the District. Just last week, Shelby Lewis was indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. and charged with five counts of Sex Trafficking of Children and four counts of Interstate Transportation of a Minor for Purposes of Prostitution. Lewis, a Maryland resident, brought underage girls – including a 12 year old – into D.C. where he forced them into prostitution. If convicted, Lewis faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

About Shared Hope International For more than a decade, Shared Hope International (SHI) has worked around the world partnering with local groups to prevent trafficking and to rescue and restore the victims of sexual slavery. SHI recently released “National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking”, which conducted field assessments on child sex trafficking in 10 U.S. locations. Visit

Carmen Madriñán, Executive Director, ECPAT International, during an interview in Bangkok said that the saddest truth for all adults and parents is that child-trafficking has nudged it way up to become the third biggest global consumer market after such major crimes like drugs and arms sales.

It is a sad and tragic phenomenon that the third biggest consumer industry in our world involves the very constituency whom we should protect: our children.

Child trafficking ranks third after drugs and arms dealing in the world. At the ECPAT ( an acronym for ‘End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes’) global conference which ended in Bangkok on August 13, to our horror, we realised, through accumulated scientific study and statistics, that an estimated 1.2 million children are annually traded globally for sexual exploitation, which includes pornography, and child labour.

Strangely, I am to some extent surprised by the lack of knowledge among the not-so-otherwise ignorant about the nature of child trafficking. Most people think that this crime is limited to only developing nations when the facts are quite the opposite.

In London alone, more than 30% people do not even know what child trafficking is or its extent in the country while at around 34% believe that trafficked children end up only in foreign countries.

Child trafficking, which generates $27.8 billion globally in a year, is a crime which pervades the UK, US and all the rich countries where ignorance cannot be taken as an excuse.

For example, the UK chapter of ICPAT, which has done no small study on the evils of child abuse, has identified 325 children in the island in the last one year though the actual figure must be much higher. We cannot forget that child trafficking, like almost all major criminal activities, is covert in nature and the laws cannot always help in identifying the perpetrators of the crime.

However, what has come to the surface at the Bangkok conference and was known by us earlier too is something quite unexpected. Child trafficking is as much an internal and national problem as it is internationally. The evil is not restricted to borders and geography but has spread its tentacles inside, gnawing away at the entrails.

In the UK, as in other countries like India, for example, children are ferried inside the nation mostly for sexual gratification but also for other purposes like labour and pornography. In the inland ferrying, these criminals are very difficult, almost impossible, to catch and the laws are not favourable either.

Whenever cases have been booked, I for one have come across numerous examples when the adult criminal has taken refuge in the loopholes of the law, using fear and cash, or both, to silence the victim into saying that there is no case.

Also, there are many countries where the age of consent is variable and even at 16, I have heard of kids being treated as adults so that silence is taken as consent by the law. International rules to stop trafficking must thus be looked into more deeply.

In the UK though, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel with ECPAT International and The Body Shop, a major global cosmetic goods retailer and leading corporate enterprise with an extensive history of involvement and support to social causes, joining hands.

This is a remarkable step forward. Working in collaboration, The Body Shop and ECPAT have committed to use their respective global platforms to create awareness and support action to protect children from trafficking and sexual exploitation.

In this invaluable partnership, the Body Shop will use its extensive network of 2,400 stores around the world to reach out to the public and magnify the message and goals of the campaign.

Through a series of initiatives which will be coordinated globally and undertaken directly at national level through the 81 member networks of ECPAT organisations in 75 countries, the campaign will inform the public on the problem of child trafficking and sexual exploitation to stimulate public engagement and turn public concern into direct action as well as collective social action.

The ECPAT report released in Bangkok “*Their Protection is in Your Han*ds” spotlights the specific situation of children in relation to trafficking and sexual exploitation placing the problem within the broader panorama and context of lapses in the application of child rights.

The 2008 report on *Trafficking in Persons *of the US State Department identified internal trafficking as a relevant problem in 64% of the countries analysed worldwide. The number of children trafficked within countries is, however, unknown.

The recent report by the North American NGO, Shared Hope International, provides a snapshot of the problem where it is estimated that exploitation of US children through prostitution is in the range of 100,000 victims per year: a large part of these children are trafficked domestically for this purpose.

But it ought to be known universally that it is society’s fault that we cannot protect our children. Whenever the support structure collapses, it is then that children become most vulnerable and are then easy targets for criminals. Children are helpless in the face of such dangers.

Their only succor comes in the form of the immediate family or community. When there is a vacuum in both, or are non-existent, it is then that children suffer the most and can be silenced into abuse.

The laws in most countries are almost universally lopsided. For example, there are some nations in which a minor is qualified as only a girl and boys are thus compromised. There is an immediate need to set such anomalies right.

We have a significant phenomenon in Wales where the number of boys being abused are more than girls. We are looking into this phenomenon and trying to find the reasons for this trend. However, this unusual fact is in keeping with the larger map of an increase in boys being abused and falling prey to trafficking.

Depending on the reason for trafficking, some countries might be only sending, while others might be both sending and transit. Some countries can be all three. The UK is primarily a destination country although, to a lesser extent, is used as a transit country to other parts of Europe.

Ports are significant entry points to the UK, but increasingly traffickers use diverse routes such as regional airports and lorry drops on motorways in less predictable locations. Airports are the most commonly used means of entry followed by seaports. Boys are more likely than girls to enter the country via clandestine means like buses and lorry stowaways.

I have noticed that children coming into rich nations are mostly unaware of why they end up where they do. For example, a child may be whisked away to the UK and then finds itself in an unknown environment with hostile adults all around. This is a pathetic situation because any protest can bring further abuse while help in the form of police is mostly unreachable.

Children who have been trafficked from abroad for sexual exploitation have been identified all over the UK, indicating that this is not just a problem for inner city London. Studies suggest that the demand for prostitution is increasing in the UK fuelled by the availability of online child pornography. Police operations in the north of England have uncovered the online and offline grooming of British teenage girls that resulted in the girls being transported across the UK and pimped for sexual exploitation.

Demand is not just about the people who buy sex but the many people who seek to make easy money by facilitating the arrangements. British nationals have also been prosecuted for the sexual abuse of children abroad in countries such as India, Ghana, Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Romania, and the Czech Republic but also in Sweden, France and Spain.

ECPAT is an ongoing movement in over 75 countries to end the exploitation of children. However, what we need is not mere individual concern but sharing of knowledge among nations and institutions. It is only this adult association and bonding which can save the future which lies in the innocence of our children.

Up to a quarter of a million women and girls in Southeast Asia, mostly adolescents, are forced into prostitution each year and face violence and the prospect of contracting HIV/AIDS, researchers said on Wednesday.

The researchers, in a report documenting criminal activity in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, predicted circumstances would worsen as the financial crisis prompts women in the region to migrate in search of work.

Trafficking victims, many of them aged 12 to 16, are raped, locked up, denied food, water and medical care or forced to take narcotics and alcohol, they said.

“Victims of trafficking suffer horrendous, horrendous violations of human rights, deprivations of the most basic human dignity. It’s a form of enslavement,” said Jay Silverman, an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Narcotics and alcohol were used in Indonesia and Cambodia “to keep these people in bondage,” he said. A premium was paid for young girls, prompting traffickers “to continually bring them in to maintain the supply”.

Caitlin Wiesen, an HIV expert at the U.N. Development Programme, said most victims were lured away by promises of jobs as domestic workers or in restaurants to end up in brothels where they faced “extreme situations of violence and exploitation.

“Asia is both the source and the destination,” she added.

The study, entitled “Sex trafficking and STI/HIV in Southeast Asia: Connections between sexual exploitation, violence and sexual risk”, was undertaken by the UNDP and the Harvard School of Public Health.

It found that in Thailand, trafficked girls were subjected to more frequent sexual encounters than sex industry workers. Incidence of anal sex, with a greater risk of HIV infection, was three times more common.

In Indonesia, HIV prevalence was nearly 20 percent among trafficked women who had been sexually exploited for a year or more. Seventy-five percent had experienced violence.

Malaysia, it said, was the destination for a third of the women and girls trafficked from Indonesia. In Cambodia, 73 percent of women and girls who were rescued tested positive for sexually transmitted infections.

The researchers said the financial crisis would prompt more women to look abroad for jobs, making them easy prey.

“They are getting more desperate and travelling under more unsafe circumstances that make them terribly vulnerable to unsafe migration, HIV and exploitation such as trafficking,” Wiesen said.

Rosilyne Borland of the International Organisation for Migration said criminals “take advantage of places where people are looking for work, places where people need to go find a better life”.

The researchers called for a dialogue between the United Nations, non-governmental organisations and law enforcement agencies. Police had to be “sensitised” to the problem and avoid raids and imprisonment which would only drive the activity further underground.

The jury deliberating on a most unusual trial – the first South East Asia Court of Women on HIV and Human Trafficking in South East Asia – here have urged the governments, UN agencies, civil society organizations and others to urgently address the vulnerabilities of women to trafficking and HIV.

However, these responses should be rights and gender-responsive and should not “re-victimise” the women who have been trafficked, they said. What is required are joint-efforts based on human rights principles rather than inappropriate law enforcement.

This was no typical court proceeding, but was instead a symbolic court held in connection with the 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP), which opens here on August 9.

“The vulnerabilities of women to trafficking and HIV are rooted in the disproportionate human insecurity, poverty, illiteracy and disempowerment that they face in their daily lives,” the Jury said in a statement issued at the end of the Court. In several countries, women who are trafficked are chased by the same law that is meant to protect them. They are treated as “illegal migrants” and “criminals” and are often denied their rights and choices.

The jury of six eminent legal and human rights experts heard real-life testimonies in the Women’s Court, including harrowing stories of trafficking, violence and exploitation. The Court provided a forum for women across SE Asia to share their personal survival stories and to create further awareness about trafficking, sexual exploitation, bonded labour, and HIV in the region.

Alongside the powerful and poignant testimonies of women who suffered at the hands of traffickers, “expert witnesses” presented data and powerful analyses to highlight the intense violation of dignity and rights of thousands of other women from South East Asia. The Court brought together leaders, politicians, activists and communities who are working to make a difference to empower women and reduce their vulnerability to trafficking and HIV in the South East Asia region.

The event was organised by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Asian Women’s Human Rights Council (AWHRC), and Yakeba, a Balinese NGO , with financial support from the Japanese Government and in partnership with UNODC and others.

Opening the court, Ms. Meutia Hatta, Minister for Women’s Empowerment of Indonesia, said: “of the total number of people trafficked globally, one-third is from South East Asia and gender inequality and unequal power relations are the main fuelling factors for this phenomenon.” In view of the seriousness of the issue, the Government of Indonesia enacted the anti-trafficking law in 2008. The spread of HIV in the region is increasingly impacting women 2-3 times more at risk of contracting HIV than men in the same age group.

In her key note address, Dr. Nafis Sadik, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific region, said that trafficking was a matter of legislation alone, though laws were essential. They should be drafted with due respect for human rights and there must be even-handed enforcement. “Too often, we find double or triple standards at work.” She added: “the sex workers are endowed with the same rights as other human beings; and that coercion in all its forms, including trafficking, has no part to play.

The testimonies heard by the Court included:

*A young Cambodian woman selling sugar care juice on the streets of Phnom Penh couldn’t resist the lure of an overseas job that promised her a decent salary. Smuggled out of her country through the Cambodia-Thai border, she ended up in Malaysia as a bonded sex worker. After months in several brothels and a jail, she is now back in Phnom Penh, thanks to the intervention of an NGO. But with a battered past and HIV, life is a daunting struggle for her.

*One woman Indonesia took a job in the Middle East as a domestic worker, but faced extreme hardship and escaped, ending up in a detention centre in Jakarta. Unable to make both the ends meet, she tried for another job in another country. This time, the working conditions were worse. “They forced me to work without a break and withheld my pay frequently. I fell unconscious often. I was raped several times.”

The eminent jury included Hon. Mieke Komar Kantaatmadja (Supreme Court Justice, Indonesia), Prof. Vitit Muntarbhorn (Prof. of Law and Former UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Thailand), Marina Mahathir (Steering Committee Member, Asia Pacific Leadership Forum on HIV/AIDS and Development, Malaysia), Annette Sykes (Lawyer, New Zealand), Sylvia Marcos (Director, Center for Psycho-ethnological Research, Mexico), and Esperanza I. Cabral (Secretary, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Philippines).

The U.S. government should reform immigration enforcement policies that inflict needless suffering on immigrant women and their families, a former immigration detention center nurse, a former detainee, and a group of leading human rights advocacy and research groups said at a Capitol Hill briefing.

Immigration detention is the fastest growing form of incarceration in the United States. On any given day, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) holds 33,000 immigrants in detention, about 10 percent of them women. Detainees include asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, pregnant women, and mothers of children who are U.S. citizens.

“The vast majority of women I interviewed posed no security threat or flight risk,” said Nina Rabin, director of border research at the Southwest Institute for Research on Women and director of the Bacon Immigration Law and Policy Program at Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona. “One of the most effective ways to deal with immigration enforcement is simply not to detain so many people and instead use a wide range of alternatives.”

The hosts for today’s briefing are the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights; American Civil Liberties Union; Human Rights Watch; Legal Momentum; National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum; National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; and the Women’s Refugee Commission.

The briefing will be held in cooperation with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus; and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Kathleen Baldoni, who worked as a nurse at Willacy Detention Center, the largest immigration detention center in the country, said that women there often are subjected to extreme temperatures, inadequate nutrition, medical staffing shortages and long delays for critically needed health care.

“I was prevented from providing the level of care ethically required of me as a health care provider,” said Baldoni. “Nursing and medical staff are genuinely caring people who want to do the best for their patients but we are often hampered by the system. Not only are the detainees in danger but the medical staff, who face liability issues are as well.”

A March 2009 report by Human Rights Watch found that while current standards allow for emergency medical care and treatment for detained immigrants, they are insufficient to cover women’s unique physical, social, emotional, and health care needs. These include gynecological exams, pre- and post-natal care, and treatment for those who have been victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

“It is appalling that ICE does not provide women in its custody with enough sanitary pads to keep from bleeding through their clothes, to say nothing of sufficient Pap smears, mammograms, and the other most basic elements of women’s health care,” said Meghan Rhoad, researcher in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. “It is bad enough that these women are locked up. The least the government can do is to give them decent care.”

Emily Butera, program officer at the Women’s Refugee Commission, said that ICE’s focus on emergency care and keeping detainees medically ready for deportation is misplaced. “ICE needs to take into account the pressing humanitarian needs of individuals not held on criminal charges,” she said. “In addition to poor conditions in detention facilities, our immigration and enforcement policies are needlessly endangering the well-being of vulnerable people and tearing apart families.”

In fact, the advocates point out, women are being separated from their children, permanently in many cases, at great cost to society. In some cases, mothers are detained and taken to detention facilities hundreds of miles away without being given the opportunity to make the most basic arrangements for the care of their children. While in detention they are denied access to telephones and the legal materials necessary to locate their children and communicate with family courts to preserve their parental rights.

“ICE took me from my home while my children watched in fear,” said Marlene Jaggernauth, a single parent who was separated from her four children, all of them U.S. citizens, and who will speak at today’s event. “Had I not experienced a year in immigration detention, I would never have believed that such inhumanity existed.”

To read the January 2009 University of Arizona Southwest Institute for Research on Women report, “Unseen Prisoners: A Report on Women in Immigration Detention Facilities in Arizona,” please visit:

To read the March 2009 Human Rights Watch report, “Detained and Dismissed: Women’s Struggles to Obtain Health Care in United States Immigration Detention,” please visit:

The African Union Commission’s Initiative against Trafficking (AU.COMMIT Campaign) was launched here in Addis Ababa on Tuesday 16 June 2009, at the headquarters of the AU.

At the ceremony, the AU.COMMIT Campaign Strategy Document was presented by Mehari Taddele, Program Coordinator for Migration at the AU.

Mehari began by observing that June 16 was The Day of the African Child, and as such there was no better day on which to launch the AU.COMMIT Campaign. He observed that trafficking is a form of slavery and a form of international organised crime.

“Slavery assumes that the master is a superior human being, while the slave is an inferior human being. With trafficking in human beings, it is even more savage and abhorrent as the trafficked person is not only a slave but a source of body organs. There are many cases where organs of trafficked persons are stolen and, in some cases, they are deliberately killed for this purpose,” he stressed.

The Ouagadougou Action Plan, he said, was the main instrument to be implemented and used apart from the Migration Policy Framework for Africa and other AU policies in the campaign.

The action plan has proposed a three-pronged strategy: prevention of trafficking, protection of victims of trafficking and prosecution of those involved in the crime of trafficking and related forms of abuse. Some five major activities were planned over the next four years and these will be aimed at curbing both the supply and demand for human trafficking. He proposed the adoption of soft measures to curb the supply side and hard measures to fight the demand side.

Mehari told Capital that human trafficking in Africa is getting worse. “The AU has already formulated policies and is now working on disseminating the policies. But the implementation process rests highly on the commitment of African governments,” he stressed.

“Let’s prevent trafficking, protect victims of trafficking and prosecute those involved in trafficking,” was the slogan used by the AUC to send a strong message to the international community and the African population within the continent and in the Diaspora at the launch.

Organised by the Department of Social Affairs of the AUC, the AU.COMMIT campaign strategy documents will be implemented as part of the AU policies on migration and development, particularly the Ouagadougou Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings, Especially Women and Children.
According to the organisers, the launch of the AU.COMMIT Campaign is aimed at making the fight against trafficking a priority for the continent.

Recently, the fight against trafficking in human beings has gained more prominence in the international and regional forums pertaining to global governance. This is particularly true with regards to the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) programme.

In addition, the recent Sixth African Development Forum, jointly organised by the UN Economic Commission for Africa, African Development Bank, and the African Union calls for the popularisation and implementation of the Ouagadougou Action Plan.

Similarly, the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership (Lisbon Action Plan) particularly the Africa-EU Partnership on Migration, Mobility and Employment calls for more action to combat human trafficking.

Police urged to show more empathy

As many as half of women who have moved from Thailand to Finland are believed to be living “underground”, beyond the reach of social safety nets, according to a fresh report on how Thai women have adapted to Finnish reality.

A large proportion of the 800-1200 Thai women living in Finland are apparently pleased with their lives as housewives in this country. However, hundreds of them are either living at the mercy of violent husbands, or are employed as sex workers in “massage parlours”.

According to the report, one in ten of the women do not have a fixed place of residence, and some do not even have a valid residence permit.

Minister of the Interior Anne Holmlund (Nat. Coalition Party) requested a report on what might be done to improve the lot of Thai women in Finland after a furore two years ago over revelations that Thai massage parlours used as fronts for prostitution.

“We still do not know how many are genuinely marginalised”, admits Tiina Pesonen, the writer of the report.

Foreigners who come to Finland through marriage do not have access to official integration services, and sometimes their husbands deliberately try to prevent their foreign wives from adapting to their new environment, the ministry’s report says.

Domestic violence in Thai-Finnish families is commonplace, the report finds. It is also one reason why many Thai women end in the sex trade.

The women are afraid to file for divorce because they fear that they will lose their residence permits. Consequently, they often prefer to go underground, especially if they have children. In a divorce, the children usually stay with the husbands.

The women are usually unaware that even after a separation, they can get a new residence permit if children are involved, or if there are other important humanitarian reasons.

Police also have differing views on the obligations that officials have in helping those in trouble.

Helsingin Sanomat has learned that even many high-ranking police officials believe that once the reason for applying for the permit disappears, the permit itself is nullified.

The report suggests that if police were to act more diligently to help victims of domestic violence to get assistance, and to grant new residence permits, then the women might not feel that they need to go into commercial sex.

Minority Ombudsman Johanna Suurpää proposed to the police already last autumn that there should be more uniform standards for granting residence permits, and that more consideration should be given to the humanitarian aspects of each situation, within the framework of the law.

The Police Department of the Ministry of the Interior has been urged to instruct local police dealing with permit issues on procedures, but nothing has happened.

Last week, acting permit administration chief Minna Gråsten said that local police will be given instructions by the end of May. Helsingin Sanomat has repeatedly asked the Interior Ministry’s Police Department what the police have done to help Thai women who are in a vulnerable position.

Gråsten admits that the police should have more sensitivity to recognise the situations of those who have become victims of domestic violence.

Social worker Miira Hartikainen, who works at a women’s shelter, and who has written a study on domestic violence suffered by Thai women, confirms that violence is commonplace in Thai-Finnish marriages.

Finnish spouses do not always understand that their wives are expected to send money to the families back at home in Thailand. Finnish men do not always understand that a marriage with a foreigner is seen as a joint project by the wife and her family.

Remittances from abroad are seen as one way to secure a parents’ old age in Thailand. Usually the money is used to build a house with enough space for the whole family.

Sometimes women who are married end up as sex workers, either secretly, or sometimes with their Finnish husbands’ knowledge.

Vanitsi Tirkkonen, a Thai project worker for the Monika organisation, which helps women of different nationalities in Finland, tries to help her compatriots. She says that none of the women whom she has met actually want to work in massage parlours. They find that sex work pushes them further away from mainstream society.

Minna Huovinen, who has worked with Thai women at the Pro-tukipiste, which promotes the civil and human rights of sex workers, says that women who come to the organisation for help often have their lives in a mess. Sometimes they have been pushed outside their own communities and really feel alone.

The condition of victims of forced labour worldwide may be unrecognised because many states and organisations see it only in the light of a fight against prostitution.

The relation between prostitution and trafficking was one of the most controversial subjects debated at an international conference on trafficking called by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Palermo, Italy May 21-22.

“When we talk about trafficking, we shouldn’t treat its different forms as separate issues,” Nerea Bilbatua, regional programme officer for Europe at the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women told participants. “The focus has been on trafficking for sexual exploitation, but we should also focus on trafficking outside the sex industry, because in many countries, national laws only deal with sexual exploitation.

“This means that, for instance, a victim of trafficking working in domestic service or a restaurant does not have access to the kind of assistance available to victims of sexual exploitation, and that is unjust,” Bilbatua told IPS.

Some justify the focus on prostitution on the basis of statistical evidence. “Official UN data has it that 75 percent of trafficking involves women and children being sexually exploited,” Marilyn La Tona, head of the delegation from the Vienna International Alliance of Women to the UN told IPS.

These statistics were energetically attacked by John Davis, research fellow at the Sussex Centre for Migration Research. “It’s corrupt data, these numbers are highly speculative and only help create moral panic,” he said in response to La Tona.

“There is research and evidence on vulnerability and migration, and none was taken into account for the convention. It has collapsed into anti- prostitution,” said Davis, who believes the anti-prostitution lobby has hijacked the issue of trafficking, and is profiting from it.

“Those doing the real work on forced labour are sitting in the back of the queue, and all the money is going to the sex issue,” Davis said.

“Many governments treat sexual exploitation differently from labour exploitation,” Bilbatua told IPS. “Statistics show mostly women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation, which reinforces the idea of trafficking as above all a problem of sexual exploitation and that this is the most important aspect of it, but this is because nobody goes to other places, like fields, to verify other forms of exploitation.”

Bilbatua agreed with Davis in that sexual trafficking statistics are not trustworthy. “You are never sure where these numbers come from, and from an academic point of view they are not very credible.”

Experts increasingly believe the number of people in non-sexual forced labour may be grossly underestimated, and that trafficking for sexual work is not as dominant in overall forced labour as previously believed.

Behind the debate lies a deep disagreement over the nature of prostitution and its legality. “I and other organisations consider that even when we speak of voluntary sexual work, behind there is always some criminal adjustments; this is why even states like Holland are starting to review their laws on freedom of sexual laws,” La Tona told IPS.

The activist defended the Swedish model, which punishes the client as the perpetrator of the crime. “You need to stop the request from the market, if demand is high you have more sexual slaves being brought in,” she said.

Hundreds of thousands of sexual workers are said to be lured into migrating with promises of decent work, marriage or through threats of violence or blackmail. Still, some believe that many of these women know they will become prostitutes, even if unaware of the exact conditions of their work.

Davis brought in his own experience to argue against La Tona and like- minded activists. “My mother was a prostitute when we were very poor. The only ones who gave her problems were policemen, never clients or pimps,” he told the conference.

The academic, who has carried out research amid alleged Albanian victims of trafficking, attacked the view of prostitutes as always gullible victims of manipulative traffickers.

“Working women exchange sex for money for all sorts of reasons,” Davis said. “People ending up in prison as traffickers are the Moldovan prostitutes who paid the train ticket for the other six fellow prostitutes travelling with them, so if this is about sending sex working women to prison for 18 years, I don’t want to have nothing to do with it.”

While some security has finally arrived for the women of Basra, deep-rooted extremism remains an obstacle as they attempt to rebuild their lives

Lamis Munshed grew up in a house of music, filled with tambourines, lutes and newly carved guitars, and the scent of freshly cut timber hanging in the air like incense. But that was before the militias over-ran Basra, outlawing most sport and music and confining women like her to their homes.

“That was our livelihood,” the 26-year-old said of the vocation her father was ordered to abandon, leading to the family’s income being slashed. Although security has improved, her father is too fearful of the militias’ return to start up his business again – but Lamis, at least, has been able to restart her studies, walk down the streets and dare to dream again.

Even so, as British troops depart Basra, her life is far short of the utopia she had envisaged when Challenger tanks first rolled into town six years ago. “When the British came first to Basra, the people’s reaction to them was fine,” she said. “Then it started to change, because of the different ideologies and the outsiders who came to Iraq to settle an account with America and the Iraqi people. We were the victims.”

Before the Saddam years and even during them, Iraq blazed a trail in the education of women, with highly qualified females earning prominent positions in many public roles as well as academia and medicine. It was hailed as a hub of learning across the region and a relatively progressive beacon which women in neighbouring states could some day hope to emulate.

But it has never been easy to be a woman in Basra. Under Saddam’s rule, women in the southern city had a much more restricted life than their counterparts in other Iraqi regions.

Basran society had always lagged behind, in attitudes, as well as in tangibles. And when the British arrived in 2003, it seemed at first as though things might change for the better. “It was nice to know there was no longer a dictator looking over us,” said Basma al-Waili, an elderly Basran.

But within a couple of years, the British soldiers had retreated to their bases. Militias filled the void, bringing with them hardline Islamic teachings that made life insufferable for Basra women. Their city and the surrounding areas were ravaged by an insurgency that placed it high among the most violent enclaves in an impossibly brutal country. Many of the basic tenets of family life were simply put on hold. Ambition had to wait. Now, again, the possibility of improvement is beginning to seep into women’s minds.

“We suffered a lot,” said Dr Nisrine Salem, 38, a physician at Basra hospital. “For 35 years we were too terrified to express our opinion. Since 2003, the change has been substantial, but we are still suffering. It’s like when a child is born, he comes from darkness to light. Now we are thinking of studying and travelling, and learning more from researchers and experts.”

Salem feels less opposition from society these days to her role as a professional. “I think women enjoy around 80-90% more liberation than before,” she said. “Basra women have seized their freedom and in many ways we have broken the chains that once bound us … The British gave us security. Now it’s up to us.”

But many other women are far less bullish, believing tribal customs and long-hated societal laws have been legitimised by the enforcement of four years of puritanical Islamic law.

Eham al-Zubeidi, 33, women’s advocate, said the departing troops unwittingly ushered in such regressive moves throughout society. “The coalition forces were responsible for the terrorists crossing our borders,” she claimed. “They turned the streets into graveyards for many women and children.

“The will of Iraqis to save their lives made them stand on their feet again, but we still need to fight prejudice and ignorance in our society. We will succeed … After 2004-05, it was very difficult for women – and it was also harder for the men. There were extra burdens on both sides. People were very tired psychologically, healthcare was crushed. There was no hope. But we have … prevailed. Our land will always create and regenerate.”

“Basra was a sad city over the last six years,” said science student Yisra Mohammed Al-Rubaiy, 22. “All you ever heard was that someone who you know was killed. There was a soundtrack of gunshots or clashes and there were so many problems for women. You cannot imagine the numbers of women who were killed. But now we as women can say the greatest part of the threat has gone, and I hope it will never return.”

Intesar Salem, 48, a secondary school teacher, said breaking the hold of fundamental Islam was a partial key to a budding regeneration she sees now. However, she said attitudes needed to change to stabilise the gains. “We want to separate religion and state in Iraq. We do not want to distinguish between Iraqis on the basis of nationality and religion, gender and race. We want equality for all inhabitants of Iraq and we want equality for women.”

Iraqi women still have a long path to travel. The United Nations Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit says only 18% of women participate in the labour force nationwide, and 24% of women are illiterate. Illiteracy rates are at least three times higher for women over 50, with around 18% of Iraqi girls aged 18-29 unable to read or write.

“My daughters have stopped going to school altogether,” said Kareema Saber, 34, a widowed pensioner with eight children. “They left because I cannot pay for them.” Her three school-aged boys are still attending classes.

Mona Massoud, director of the Iraqi Women’s League, said education was under chronic stress, because many teachers have fled and families who had kept their children from school now wanted them to catch up on lost years of learning. “There are no new kindergartens, the schools are very crowded,” she said. “There are three shifts of children attending schools each day. The militias and the military raids caused chaos in education.”

Vocational training is also under pressure. Many women need to work because the family’s main income earner was killed, but there are a tiny number of training facilities to meet demand.

“Now women have an opportunity to participate more, but there is a quota,” said Massoud. “We are teaching women how to use the computer, and sewing and hair-dressing. They are only small projects, but they are a start for greater participation.”

Kareema Hassan, a social affairs officer in the Basra governorate, said: “Large numbers of women have begun coming to our centre asking for jobs. Many of them are widows, they don’t ask for money, they want to work.” A small number of government and council grants are available, but nowhere near enough to cater for demand.

“We are trying many ways to reduce the effects of unemployment and we are also trying to reduce illiteracy rates,” Hassan added. “Basra society has begun to accept women working to help men. They are getting better salaries, but not by much.”

That is some comfort to students such as Hiba Karim, 21, who attends a college in central Basra. But she still worries intently about her future in the new Iraq.

“We still have many fears. When I go to college I wear a hijab. I am very scared of extremist parties, but I can learn and study. I hope to get work. Security has improved dramatically here. The real war which targeted women has ended, but our fears still exist because Basra is a tribal society and it is restricted by religious and tribal tradition. But I can say that the women of Basra have finally started to breathe the freedom.”

Suha Abbas, 24, a recent engineering graduate, is still looking for a job two years after graduating. “Young women here have the same problems as other Iraqi women,” she says. “Most companies prefer to employ men only. We don’t have an equal chance.

“Security has improved, but not everywhere. It seems unbelievable that in some districts, women doctors, teachers and activists have been assassinated for not wearing hijabs. But it’s true … In Basra, a woman can go to college and work, but she cannot drive a car, go out for the evening, or play sport.”

Assma Abdul Majeed, 32, an Arabic teacher, said piecemeal gains would be close to pointless without a revolutionary approach to shifting centuries of tradition and a blind acceptance of crimes against women, such as violence, which remains pervasive in Basra society.

The United Nations report found that one in five married women throughout the country had been a victim of violence. Prosecuting a violent husband is almost unheard of, because of a woman’s reluctance to bring “shame” on her family by going to the police and because of cumbersome laws that require two witnesses to support any accusation.

Zainab al-Zubeidi, 40, who runs a women’s charity in Basra, said: “Violence is a very, very big problem, especially in the tribes. We have established a violence against women network. But there is also a role for women themselves. If they don’t want to change, how can we change them?”

But, she continued: “If I have to compare, or choose I would go with life as it is now. We know that sacrifices have to be made … It is the price we pay for something they really want, in our case freedom. It was worth every drop of blood spilled on this land. It is our fate and our future. Women in Iraq are becoming more visible on many stages. They need that and have earned it.”

Part of a longer article at

See also:
* Iraqi babies for sale: people trafficking crisis grows as gangs exploit poor families and corrupt system
* Six gay men shot to death in Iraq by tribe members
* Will Iraq Crack Down on Sex Trafficking?
* Iraq’s Unspeakable Crime: Mothers Pimping Daughters