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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 January 2008, 16:56 GMT
Uzbek ministers tackle sex trade
By Ian MacWilliam
BBC News

Uzbekistan map
Sex trafficking has made a rare appearance on the agenda of a government meeting in Uzbekistan.

The trafficking of women for the sex trade is a widespread problem throughout Central Asia, but is seldom talked about openly by Uzbek officials. The meeting, held in the capital, Tashkent, highlights growing concern about the issue.

People-trafficking is a problem in many former Soviet republics, driven by poverty and a lack of jobs at home.

Uzbekistan publishes no figures about the scale of people-smuggling from the republic, but a police representative said a special unit of more than 100 agents was fighting the problem.

He said the number of cases was growing by up to 120 annually - but analysts say that officials habitually under-report negative statistics in Uzbekistan.

An official from the state prosecutor's office accused some government institutions of being indifferent to the fate of the victims of human trafficking.

The Uzbek economy has stagnated for the past several years because of bureaucracy and corruption.

Reports suggest that up to a million Uzbeks - possibly more - have left the country to work in Russia, Kazakhstan and elsewhere.

The government releases no official figures on how many people work abroad.

Tricked into sex work

Europe, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea are common destinations for Central Asian women who end up working abroad in the sex trade.

An Uzbek businesswoman from Samarkand, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the BBC about women working in Dubai.

She said she encountered young women there from Tashkent, Bukhara, Ferghana and other parts of Uzbekistan working in the sex trade there in a hotel where she was staying.

She said there were also Uzbek women doctors who had come to treat the Uzbek sex workers, carrying out abortions and other treatments.

Some women from former Soviet republics knowingly go abroad to work in the sex trade.

Most, however, are tricked by criminal groups who promise them legitimate work as nannies, or in clubs and restaurants.

Once overseas, their passports are taken away and they are forced to work in brothels.

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