Awareness Brings Small Victories in Battle Against Human Trafficking

There is progress in the fight against human trafficking in Asia, according to Carol Yost, director of the Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program. Yost, who spoke at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C., on April 14, identified several signs of hope in efforts to tackle the enormous human trafficking calamity in South Asia.

Human trafficking involves the transport and coercion of human beings, particularly women, into providing sexual and other services, with thousands of cases occurring each year in Asia alone. But human trafficking also affects girls, boys, and men and is ultimately a human rights issue, according to Yost. The U.S. State Department estimates that worldwide, 600,000 to 800,000 men, women, and children are trafficked across international borders each year, approximately 80 percent of whom are women and girls and up to 50 percent are minors.

Nearly every country in the world is affected by the human trafficking trade, according to a report released by the United Nations on April 24. Unfortunately, many governments are reluctant to admit their country’s involvement in human trafficking, making accurate data collection and therefore understanding of the problem difficult.

In her presentation at SAIS, Yost admitted that international efforts to fight human trafficking are still in the preliminary stages. But she noted that the proliferation of small-scale initiatives as well as the recent high-profile media attention to these issues—both in Asia and internationally—are significant signs of progress. Countries are increasingly adopting legislation on the issue, and there were 438 prosecutions and 338 convictions in East Asia in 2004, according to the U.S. State Department—an enormous victory in a region where some countries previously did not have a single prosecution.

Education, too, is an area that has shown tremendous improvement in recent years, said Yost, though more work is needed. The Asia Foundation launched an English and Thai website to provide local judges and prosecutors in Thailand an opportunity to learn about the laws and issues surrounding trafficking. Many Thai prosecutors have acknowledged that they do not know what trafficking is, much less how to address it.

This and other creative initiatives in Indonesia, Laos, Nepal, the Philippines, Vietnam, and elsewhere are being instituted and replicated across international borders. Such regional coordination, Yost stressed, is desperately needed to address human trafficking on a large scale. Coordination is also essential at the local level among people and organizations who can address the varying needs of trafficking victims, including shelters, hospitals, prosecutors, and police. The increased availability of the Internet in many Asian countries is helping this cause by providing access to information and assistance.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking poses a host of problems for sustainable development and the rule of law, as illicit profits are used for corruption, other criminal activities and, in some cases, terrorism. The assistance, support, and rehabilitation of victims are also significant problems, particularly in countries where resources are limited, and in the case of trafficked children, where the need is most acute. Additionally, the spread of HIV/AIDS among victims trafficked into prostitution makes victim support and repatriation a public health issue.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.