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Women play prominent role in human trafficking

Published on 14/02/2009

Vienna -- Women play an unexpectedly large role in human trafficking, and many of those involved are former victims, the United Nations found in its first global report on the subject published Thursday.

"Surprisingly, in 30 percent of the countries which provided information … women make up the largest proportion of traffickers," the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said. "Indeed, female offenders have a more prominent role in trafficking in persons than in any other crime. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, females account for more than 60 percent of convictions for trafficking in persons.”

"In these regions, women trafficking women is the norm," said UNODC chief Antonio Maria Costa. "It is shocking that former victims become traffickers. We need to understand the psychological, financial and coercive reasons why women recruit other women into slavery."

Costa added that a “type of revenge” might motivate the women

The UNODC’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons gathered data from 155 countries to try and assess the scope of human trafficking and what was being done to fight it.

The report found that while the number of convictions for human trafficking was increasing worldwide, most countries had very low conviction rates.

The justice systems of many countries "belittle the seriousness of the crime," Costa added.

As of the 2007 and 2008 calendar year, two out of every five countries covered by the report had not reported a single conviction.

"Either these countries are blind to the problem, or they are ill-equipped to deal with it, or both," Costa said.

According to the report, 79 percent of human trafficking is for sexual exploitation and 18 percent is for forced labor.

But forced labor was less frequently detected and reported, the UNODC found.

"We only see the monster’s tail," Costa said. "How many hundreds of thousands of victims are slaving away in sweat shops, fields, mines, factories, or trapped in domestic servitude? Their numbers will surely swell as the economic crisis deepens the pool of potential victims and increases demand for cheap goods and services."

Nearly 20 percent of all trafficking victims were children, the report added.

But in some parts of Africa and southeast Asia, children are the majority, being forced to sew luxury goods, pick cocoa or beg. They were also the victims of sexual exploitation and were enslaved in war zones.

"Boys who learn to kill before they can read, girls coerced into sex slavery before they become women," Costa said. "The exploitation of children is the most dramatic aspect of a crime that shames us all."

Costa said that the report "increases our understanding of modern slave markets, yet it also exposes our ignorance."

The problem appeared to be getting worse, "but we cannot prove it for lack of data and many governments are obstructing (us)."

He called on governments, the private sector and the public to step up the fight against human trafficking.

"It’s sick that we should even need to write a report about slavery in the 21st century," he said. "More must be done to reduce the vulnerability of victims, increase the risks to traffickers, and lower demand for the goods and services of modern-day slaves."