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I.M.O.W. Team

Human Trafficking

Where Are Our Universal Rights?

Between November 28 and 30, Mary Anne Zammit participated on behalf of the Green Party of Malta in a Mediterranean Network Meeting organized by the European Greens in Nicosia, Cyprus. Zammit presented a paper on human rights in non-European Union countries focusing on human trafficking, a problem common in the Balkans and in the Mediterranean region. This article is inspired by the presentation.

Violence on women is a challenging problem affecting all societies around the globe. One of these forms of violence is the trafficking of women by international crime organizations.

Human trafficking is fast becoming one of the biggest challenges in the Western world. It violates women's basic human rights--most specifically articles 3 and 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as listed;

Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Economic globalization has increased the trafficking of women from poorer countries to wealthier countries. The trafficking is done legally or illegally, and in most cases the women find themselves in forced work and prostitution. The United Nations estimates that around four million people are being trafficked each year globally, amounting to large profits to criminal groups.

The trafficking of human beings is an organized crime with the majority of traffickers linked to Mafia or other international criminal groups. To combat this trafficking, the United Nations proposed in December 2000 the New Convention on transnational organized crime. Later, the Protocol on the Trafficking on Human Beings was introduced to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons--especially women.

The lack of opportunities and poor conditions in the women's respective countries caused by increased corporate globalization and privatization compel them to leave their homes with hopes of finding better jobs. The poverty of women has increased since the collapse of the Iron Curtain, with the economic transition in Central Europe and Eastern Europe prompting many women to migrate for work in Western Europe.

These women turn to all resources, including advertisements in newspapers, and accept positions as maids, factory workers, and dancers in the promise of a better life. But promises are not kept. What appears to be a proper job application and contract with a legitimate employer turns out to be an introduction to the sex industry, in which women find themselves sold for prostitution.

Such is the case of Olga, a 25-year-old woman from Ukraine. Olga responded to an advertisement for a job in Greece as a shop assistant. Olga had hoped the job would bring her a better life and a fulfilling adventure; but a perilous adventure was what awaited her.

On the day Olga was supposed to travel, she found other women waiting with the organizers that were supposed to transport them to Greece. Instead, Olga and the other women found themselves in Bosnia. They were transported from one car to the other crossing unknown territories until they arrived at a club.

Soon after the women were sold and forced into prostitution. If they did not cooperate they would be sold again to more dangerous owners. They were not only being kept in filthy rooms with inadequate facilities, but were exposed to sexually transmitted diseases and grave injuries.

The IOM (International Organization of Migration) have reported about 420,000 women trafficked from Ukraine in recent years, so Olga's story of abuse by human traffickers is one that is becoming too common in her country.

For this sisterhood of forced sex workers from Ukraine, violence and deplorable conditions have dimmed hopes for economic prosperity. Unknowingly, women like Olga ended up as victims of trafficking and forced into the sex industry because of the threat and the execution of violence. This promise of a new life in another country and the new employment renders itself in a forced entry in drug addiction, prostitution, pornography, forced marriages and other sexual services.

If caught by law, these traffickers face harsher and harsher penalties. To make up for this risk, they are paid large sums of money.

Slavery has considerable effects on the individual, most often even traumatic. In most of the cases, the vulnerable population is separated from their families, exposed to psychological and physical abuse, and confined with inadequate food and health care.

There are other stories of women who knew from the start they were going to work in the sex industry as dancers in nightclubs or as prostitutes. Yet, since these women may have entered illegally in the countries, they were enslaved to their traffickers, afraid of turning to local authorities or INTERPOL, the International Criminal Police Organization. Women sex workers have also been exposed to violence and substandard living conditions against their will.

Prostitution and trafficking in women violates women's rights and should be stopped by creating dialogue with the countries concerned as well as ensuring that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Democracy is being respected.

To prevent trafficking, it is crucial to address the social and economic differences that are leading to people blindly accepting the jobs that offer nothing but false promises.

Countries must pay special attention to women who are subject to discrimination or are facing violence or sexual exploitation. This is achieved by the development of structures that support the implementation of gender-focused programs to help and protect these victims and by making sure that the labour market is equal, effective and promotes family-friendly arrangements.

Finally, more development and respect to the Human Rights Conventions cannot be obtained in these countries unless a form of law enforcement to combat these criminal organizations is fully implemented. Each respective state should abide by their obligations to exercise due diligence in the arena of human trafficking. These countries have the duty of identifying traffickers and those involved in controlling and exploiting trafficked persons.

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