International Trade in Human Slaves Is Flourishing

The trade in human slaves is growing worldwide, according to the U.S. Interagency Task Force on Trafficking in Women. In fact, says that commission, slave-running now ranks third in total revenues among all criminal enterprises, outranked only by drugs and weapons smuggling. Last year, experts believe, at least one million human slaves, mostly women but including many children, were traded on the illicit market for total revenues estimated at 7 billion to 17 billion dollars.Anita Botti, chairman of the Interagency Task Force, says that about one quarter of the human slaves come from Southeast Asia and another 15 to 20 percent from parts of the former Soviet Union. About five to ten percent of the slave traffic ends up in the United States, according to William Yeomans of the U.S. Justice Department.Many slaves are trapped by false promises, told they will be relocated to a better country with a job and prospects for the future. After being transported in cramped and filthy shipping containers, the new arrivals are told they have been sold to someone for whom they must work a number of years to win their freedom. They may be separated from loved ones and threatened with torture, starvation or death if they refuse to comply. Often unable to speak the local language, and having entered the country illegally, they have no recourse with local authorities.Many slaves work in sweatshops for little more than scraps of food; many others are forced into prostitution and pornography. Children are often turned into sex slaves.An Asian conference of 23 nations met in Manila, the Philippines, in late March to discuss ways to crack the slave trade, while a U.S. Senate subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian affairs held concurrent hearings in Washington to address the trade in sex slaves, which is growing in the U.S. as well as other countries. Two women from Russia and another from Mexico told the Senators that they had been recruited on false pretenses, then bound over to brothels where they were forced to service 15 to 20 customers per day and fed drugs to dull the pain.While this particular form of criminal enterprise evokes universal revulsion and condemnation, it is not easy to stop and is likely to increase. Growing numbers of destitute young people throughout the world are willing to grab at the promise of a new life in a new place. When the reality turns out to be slavery, the victims are trapped by fear, shame, ignorance of local law enforcement, even the hope that their situation will somehow improve if they just do what they're told. The slave-runners operate in deep shadow, often protected by powerful and well-connected bosses.Loopholes in current law make it difficult to prosecute some slave-runners in the U.S. even if they can be identified. Several U.S. Senators also said they suspect that some economically impoverished nations are quietly encouraging, even profiting from, the slave traffic.

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