Notes from the Field

Combating Human Trafficking throughout Asia

June 17, 2009

Human trafficking is one of the most egregious human rights abuses. Each year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked within their own countries or abroad into exploitative, abusive, and often illegal labor sectors. Many trafficking victims are forced into sexual slavery, domestic servitude, or hard labor and suffer from both physical and psychological abuse. Official statistics are hard to determine because of the illicit nature of trafficking. However, the International Labor Organization estimates that there are 12.3 million people in forced or bonded labor, forced child labor, or sexual servitude at any given time. Furthermore, an estimated 80 percent of transnational trafficking victims are women and girls.

Asia Foundation programs focus on the prevention of trafficking, the protection and reintegration of survivors, and the prosecution of traffickers. We work with local partners on the ground throughout Asia to implement our programs.

In Nepal, for example, we provide vocational training to teach women and girls marketable trades like becoming welders or mechanics, and then we provide microcredit loans and equipment to help them start up their own businesses. They can become financially stable, and models for other women to find their own ways to succeed in traditionally male-dominated jobs.

In Mongolia we’ve made progress prosecuting traffickers and strengthening the legal framework surrounding human trafficking. Our local partners successfully advocated for the ratification of the UN Convention on International Organized Crime and its Palermo Protocol on Trafficking, which is a legally binding mechanism that officially defines human trafficking, and binds its signatories to take measures to combat human trafficking. In addition, we successfully backed the amendment and ratification of articles in Mongolia’s criminal code that redefine prosecution boundaries associated with trafficking. We worked with police, prosecutors, and judges to make sure they knew about the new criminal codes and that they could prosecute traffickers under these new codes. This contributed to a significant increase in the number of trafficking cases that were investigated throughout the duration of the project.

And in Cambodia, our anti-trafficking programs have achieved significant results toward increased protection of victims. The program works closely with the Royal Government of Cambodia, through the High Level Working Group to Combat Trafficking and the Anti Human Trafficking Unit to strengthen the capacity of the police and social service workers on victim protection, investigative techniques, and ensuring a rights-based framework for rescue of trafficked victims. We’ve collaborated with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY) and NGO partners to develop the National Minimum Standards for Protection of Victims of Trafficking. These will be adopted as the official policy guideline on victim support and care by MoSVY.

While our partners have made significant gains in combating human trafficking, more work remains. The United States Department of State just released its 2009 Trafficking in Persons report, which each year details the human trafficking situation in many countries worldwide. Countries are rated on a three-tiered scale determined by how severe the problem is and how their government is responding. Each year, countries move up or down the scale, gaining or losing ground based in part on their anti-trafficking initiatives. Some remain in the same tier year after year, unable to change the status quo due to a lack of resources, a lack of political will, or both. The publishing of the annual report is a harsh reminder that human trafficking continues to affect the lives of millions every day.

These programs are made possible through the generous support of the United States Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development.

Hallie Schiffman-Shilo is The Asia Foundation’s Program Assistant for the Women’s Empowerment Program based in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at hshilo@asiafound.org-dc.org.

View all posts by Hallie Schiffman-Shilo

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