| Trade in misery
Trafficking of women and children and their inclusion into the sex trade and sweatshop labour is a burgeoning form of organized crime. In recent years, this has become the flip side of globalization. The international organization for migration estimates that the global trafficking industry generates up to $ 8 billions each year from what may be described as “trade in human misery”. Both the factors of increasing demand and supply ruthlessly drive the trafficking industry. Some key factors behind the trade are inadequate employment opportunities, lack of social safety net, globalization, feminization of poverty, rise in sex tourism and so on.
Today, several international criminal organizations are more heavily involved in trafficking of women and children than ever before. International trafficking is a highly organized activity, involving a sophisticated international network of procurers, document forgers, escorts, corrupt officials and so on. The number of organized groups engaged in trafficking is likely to further increase in the coming years because it is becoming a highly lucrative and low-risk operation.
According to an estimate prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency on the magnitude of global trafficking of women and children, several international crime syndicates are involved in it. Take for example Japanese organized crime groups like Yakuja, which is involved in the trade in a big way. Local brokers approach women in their home countries and offer well-paid jobs in legitimate professions abroad. Once in Japan, they are sent to their actual employers who have purchased rights from brokers at the source country.
The international organization for migration reports that Russian organized crime groups control European prostitution industries such as those in Poland and Germany. One major Russian crime syndicate, Mogilevich, owns night-clubs in Prague, Riga and Kiev and are engaged in trafficking women and children and forcing them into prostitution in these clubs. Russian traffickers, according to one report, have gone so far as to set up career booths in institutes and universities that promise work abroad. Traffickers also provide women with the necessary counterfeit travel documents.
The United Nations development fund for women or UNIFEM states that every year 7 million women and children are trafficked across the globe. The UN development programme, 1999 estimated that about 50,000 women and girls are trafficked annually for sexual exploitation to western Europe alone. Though there is no concrete data on earnings from sex industry, there are country reports that reveal significant profits. An analysis of the Thai economy shows that the earnings from trafficking Thai women to Japan, Germany and Taiwan are close to $ 3 billion. In the United States of America, available data suggest that the traffickers earn about $ 60 million per year from trading in women and children.
The Indian scene is also quite disconcerting. India serves as a source country, transit centre and destination country where thousands of women and girls are trafficked, initiated and exploited in the horrendous flesh trade every year. A study conducted by the End Children’s Prostitution in Asian Tourism, 1991, estimates that there are two million prostitutes in India of whom 20 per cent are minors. At any time, 20,000 girls are transported from one part of the country to another for prostitution. Research on the trafficking of Nepalese women and girls into India shows that around 5,000 to 7,000 Nepalese girls are trafficked yearly into India.
The modus operandi of the traffickers include promise for suitable employment and marriage and at times forcible kidnapping and abduction. In India, social acceptance of prostitution in some communities encourages the clandestine trade. The traffickers target women from refugee camps, girls from large and broken families and lure them with the promise of a better life abroad. Very often on arrival at the destination, travel documents are confiscated and the victims are forced into prostitution or positions of labour and exploitation. They are asked to repay for their transportation cost and living expenses with interest. Women are often controlled through rape, violence and threats about the harm that will be done to members of their family.
An important feature of the trafficking network is an efficient coordination of what appears to be a fragmented process. The actors in the trafficking network collaborate and protect one another. Persons who operate at the recruiting end often do not know the people or their activities at the receiving end. Each actor concentrates on his or her responsibility in a chain of activities that involve recruitment, passage, forging papers and placement in workplaces. Another principle of management in the sex trade is mobility. Women are rotated among different brothels after a fixed period of time. This has twin objectives. One is to disorient the women and the second is to prevent them from establishing long-lasting contact with clients to seek help.
Unfortunately, there is inadequate response from law-enforcement agencies in the respective countries towards trafficking. In many countries it has been found that law enforcement officials are either directly involved or complicit in trafficking. Strong measures are necessary to ensure that the law-enforcers acting in league with traffickers are prosecuted and punished. In India there are many reliable reports on the nexus between brothel-keepers and the police and that between the traffickers engaged in cross-border trafficking and the border security guards.
Often, policemen are also not at all sympathetic to the victims of trafficking. Low priority is accorded to this crime. There are occasional bursts in police activity in which only prostitutes get arrested. The law still cannot touch either the pimps or the customers. Though there is a clear consensus on the fact that laws dealing with trafficking should focus on traffickers and not treat victims as perpetrators, few countries have adopted the requisite legislation and administrative measures for the protection of and assistance to victims of trafficking.
There is also a need to sensitize the law enforcement authorities to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the trafficked persons. These agencies should be encouraged to work along with non-governmental organizations with a view to ensuring that the trafficked victims get full protection and assistance and are able to protect their identity during legal proceeding. They should also look into the proper resettlement or repatriation of the victims.