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Page last updated at 04:33 GMT, Monday, 29 June 2009 05:33 UK

Asia's police to tackle sex trade

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Child prostitutes in Thailand
The victims are usually teenage girls

Police officials from across Asia have met in Australia and decided to begin unprecedented joint operations to target the trafficking of sex slaves.

The conference has heard that the trade in young women is far more organised than first thought.

The authorities believe most of the victims smuggled to Australia are women from South East Asia.

Victims of trafficking are often duped or coerced by threats of violence into travelling to Australia.

Once there, they are forced to work in the sex industry.

Many are effectively held hostage because of huge debts they owe to criminals.

New approach

At a meeting in Sydney, security officials from across Asia have agreed to intensify their efforts to combat this sophisticated trade in people.

New joint cross-border investigations will be undertaken and Australian federal police commander Ramzi Jabbour believes that increased regional cooperation will make a difference.

"By bringing together all the intelligence into a central point, we're able to potentially identify organisers or facilitators that are common amongst a variety of trafficking victims," he said.

"If we were working in isolation; the Malays working on their own, the Thais working on their own; they may never actually see the fact that one or two organisers are actually behind these criminal syndicates," he added.

There is no reliable information about the number of people smuggled into Australia each year, although various estimates put the figure at about 1,000.

Successful prosecutions are rare but Australian authorities have set up a specialist unit to investigate allegations of slavery.

Charities have said that other victims of trafficking are forced to work in appalling conditions as domestic servants, farm labourers and on construction sites.



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SEE ALSO
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20 Feb 03 |  Asia-Pacific
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02 Nov 00 |  South Asia
US drive to tackle sex trafficking
24 Feb 03 |  Americas
MSPs pass major sex crime reforms
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