Human trafficking is a problem that, even in 2006, affects hundreds of thousands of people. Most victims are made completely dependent on their traffickers, and go on to live in slave-like conditions. Last month the German Institute for Human Rights opened a series of events under the title ‘Slavery Today’. It aims to raise awareness about contemporary slavery and its roots, and develop strategies to better protect human rights.
Helga Konrad, a human trafficking expert at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, believes when most people hear the term ‘human trafficking,’ they think of forced prostitution. Konrad who was in Berlin this week notes that other forms of slavery, like forced labour, exploitation, extortion and forced marriages are often overlooked.
“The core of the human trafficking problem is not just that people are being transported from one country to another against their will,” she said. “The core is the exploitation involved, the slavery aspect. Victims are robbed of their freedom. They’re stuck in a situation they can’t escape.”
Helga Konrad explains that human trafficking isn’t new -- it’s just the victims’ countries of origin that change from time to time.
Not just a single crime
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, many modern-day slaves came from Eastern Europe, where people struggled to come to terms with market economics and globalisation.
More recently, social unrest and weak law enforcement led the Balkans to become a human-trafficking flash-point.
But Konrad says it isn’t always easy to map the international flow of exploitation.
“Every country is affected by human trafficking -- either as a source, a transit country, or a destination -- or more commonly, a combination of all three,” she said. "Russia, for example, is a major source of human trafficking for forced prostitution, and a transit country too. But Russia is also a destination for forced labor as well."
Human trafficking is not just a single crime. It’s a string of criminal activities that begins with so-called ‘recruiters’ who lure victims, often still minors, into leaving home with false promises. Then there are the transporters who smuggle them across borders before delivering them to pimps or slave-masters.
Konrad says European governments need to intensify international co-operation and act against all three phases of the human trafficking process. She adds that they also need to do more to help victims, for example, by giving them residence permits and social support after they escape.
World Cup might increase trafficking
Already a few countries such as Britain, the US and Sweden have expressed concern over increased sex slavery during the World Cup in Germany next month. US legislators brought up the issue with German officials while British police are warning the estimated 100,000 British fans attending the matches to avoid prostitutes.
It is estimated that about three million will attend the World Cup. In Germany, where prostitution is legal, it is estimated that about 40,000 women are at risk of forced prostitution because of increased smuggling to meet demand.