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An estimated 700,000 to 4 million people around the world are being trafficked for labor and sexual exploitation each year. Human trafficking is the fastest-growing source of profit for organized crime.
The United Nations declared August 23 an international day of remembrance for the abolition of slavery. But the trade in human beings is an ongoing problem around the world.
Compared to the drugs and arms trades, however, it is more difficult to track down perpetrators in the multibillion-dollar trafficking business. Victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation are not always identified as such and can even face unjust criminal prosecution themselves.
The International Organization for Migration estimates that between 700,000 to 4 million people are trafficked across national borders every year. But IOM spokesman Jean Philippe Chauzy said the secret nature of the trade means no one knows exactly how many people are trafficked worldwide.
A voice for the voiceless
Charlotte Awino was held as a sex slave for eight years. When she recently talked to the UN Humans Rights council in Geneva, she said she came as a representive for those exploited and left voiceless by human trafficking. Awino called on the international community to help the victims.
"No one is there for them," she said. "And, nothing is being done, even if they escape back home."
Awino was 14 years old when the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army abducted her from her boarding school in 1996.
Awino was 22 years old and had two children by the time she managed to escape.
A global problem
Sexual exploitation has been affecting women in countries around the world – including Western Europe and the United States.
Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Women are sold into prostitution in many countriesKikka Cerpa was forced into a life of prostitution after her boyfriend persuaded her to leave Venezuela and go to New York in 1992.
Cerpa said she was beaten and raped and spent three years working in the sex trade to pay off her boyfriend's debts.
A customer helped Cerpa escape but then then forced her to become his personal slave. She lived with him for 10 years and had two daughters.
With the help of an organization called Sanctuary for Families, Cerpa managed to free herself from the pimps and madams who had controlled her life. She sought a court order of protection after her escape, but her daughters were taken away from her and she was accused of being a criminal.
Exploited for labor
Though sex trafficking has generally attracted the most international media attention, labor exploitation is also prevalent on a global scale. The International Organization for Migration reports that millions of women, men and children are forced to work in sweatshops, construction, agriculture, as street beggars and in other hazardous jobs for little or no pay.
Kumar Ramjali was duped with the promise of a good job with good money. He said a Jordanian company recruited him in his native Nepal in 2004 to work in the United States.
But instead, Ramjali was sent to Iraq, where he was forced to work at a US military base against his will. He said his passport was confiscated and he was not allowed to leave for four years.
Jana, a 30-year-old Bosnian national, also fell victim to an employment scam. After moving to to Slovenia to continue her studies, she attended a job interview with an accounting firm arranged by a newly made female friend.
Jana said the men dragged her out of the office and when she resisted, they became extremely violent.
"I was raped and beaten many times," she said. "Afterwards, I was taken to some place, blindfolded and repeatedly raped and drugged with heroin for a few days." Later, Jana said she began to receive clients – between six and 10 each day for four months.
Prevention and punishment
After her escape in 2005, Jana became an advocate against trafficking. Human rights organizations say a variety of approaches are needed to tackle the issue, including information campaigns to help prevent trafficking.
Experts and survivors agree that more work must be done to provide legal assistance and protection for the victims – and to make sure that perpetrators are the ones who are prosecuted and punished for their crimes.
Author: Lisa Schlein (arp)
Editor: Anke Rasper