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Protecting Women

Emma Wynne interviewed Katrin AdamsJuly 23, 2007

The 39th Session of the UN Committee of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) begins Monday. DW-WORLD.DE talked to an expert about victims of human trafficking.

Prostitute on a German street
Is Germany meeting its UN obligations to women?Image: BilderBox

Katrin Adams is the executive officer of KOK – a German NGO working to combat exploitation and support women trafficked to Germany.

DW-WORLD.DE: What does your organization do to fight trafficking of women?

Katrin Adams: We have two main areas that we concentrate on. Firstly, combating trafficking in women and secondly, combating violence against women in the process of migration. We are a network of 37 member organizations – women’s organizations and counseling centers. We are a specialist lobby in Berlin and we lobby for improvement of the individual situations of the victims of human trafficking.

What does the UN Convention say on human trafficking?

They have a specialized article, which is article 6, which says that state parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of trafficking of women and exploitation by prostitution of women.

How useful is the convention in practice?

A female victim of trafficking in Moscow
A survivor of trafficking in MoscowImage: AP

The convention is very useful in that it has a reporting system. That means that governments have to report on their specific improvements on their work when it comes to the implementation of the standards set in the convention.

With regards article 6 it means that states have to tell you something and they have to summarize what they have done to reach these objectives set out in article 6. For us as an NGO it is a good opportunity for us to lobby for our demands because normally the committee accepts the shadow reports. A shadow report is prepared by NGOs in which they give addition information and comment on the government reports.

Do you prepare shadow reports?

We, the KOK, normally comment very specifically on article 6 in a shadow report. We would comment on the report submitted by Germany. We work at a very national level. That means we concentrate on the situation of victims of human trafficking here in Germany. This year the government released its report, including a section on article 6. At the moment we are critically reviewing what they have said and we will definitely comment critically on what the government says.

Why will you be critical of the German government?

Because there has been some legislation passed this year by parliament which will enter into force in autumn. That special legislation has, in our opinion, some flaws when it comes to an adequate treatment of victims of human trafficking. We think Germany should do better.

What is the extent of trafficking in women to Germany?

Unfortunately I can’t give you as a definite answer on that because we think the numbers that are known about are only a fraction of what is actually happening. The numbers that are most reliable are those published by the Federal Criminal Office. The number of victims officially known about in 2005 was 642. But we are working on the basis that the actual number is much higher.

What sort of cases are these?

Symbolic photo of violence against women
KOK also campaigns on violence against womenImage: dpa

We have a lot very different cases. There is no single procedure. Normally women are brought into Germany and they have been deceived or threatened. They are promised that they will get work in restaurants or bars and then they discover they have to work as prostitutes.

Some women do come to Germany knowing that they might be working as prostitutes and then find the work conditions are exploitative, which they wouldn’t have been aware of before they came. When it comes to trafficking in human beings, there is also the issue of being forced into labor or marriage, that’s an issue that has not really been dealt with a lot.

Where are these women mostly coming from?

Mostly from countries in eastern Europe, although the numbers of women that are being forced into prostitution that are Germans and being trafficked within Germany is rising too.

When your organization and the UN CEDAW committee are critical of the German government, how much notice do they take?

Normally, what the committee does is adopt concluding comments, and as far as I know they are being taken seriously. That means that the government tries to consider what the committee says and act accordingly. In some cases it’s just political goodwill and nothing actually happens but in some cases the observations and concluding comments are quite useful and there is actually change in the political environment.

What sort of changes would you like to see the government implement to protect women who have been trafficked to Germany?

Integration der islamischen Welt
Demanding education to rebuild women's livesImage: dpa

What we would like to see is women who have been trafficked become entitled to permanent residency in Germany. At the moment the legal conditions are quite strict when it comes to getting residency. Secondly, coverage of basic needs including medical treatment and psychological help is often not provided.

We would like them to have a legal right to this basic coverage. Another important point is access to further education, especially language courses, so that women who decide to stay here once they have been released have an opportunity to build a normal life. We are lobbying too for access to the labor market.

Is it possible to prevent women being trafficked to Germany?

This is more the work of NGOs in the countries of origin. We are in contact with networks of NGOs in these countries. If there is a need and if we can help by supporting these NGOs in that specific countries then we do what we can, but it’s not one of our main activities.