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Monday, December 14, 1998 Published at 14:59 GMT

World: South Asia

A 'trade in human misery'

Villagers are targeted during hard times

By South Asia Correspondent Mike Wooldridge

The trafficking of women and children is increasing dramatically in Asia, according to a new United Nations report.

India is said to be a major hub for what the report describes as a "trade in human misery".

The report estimates that in India alone more than 2 million women are involved in commercial sex work - one in four below the age of 18.

It says political will and government commitment is the most important factor in combating trafficking.

The report says trafficking in women and children is one of the worst and most brazen abuses of human rights.

It calls the illegal trade a "blot on our collective consciousness as we prepare to enter the new millennium" and a matter of shame that it thrives half a century after the adoption of the declaration of human rights by the global community.

History and traditions

The report, from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem), acknowledges that it is deeply embedded in the history and traditions of many societies.

But what is new, it says, is the unscrupulous and massive scale of the problem, exacerbated by globalisation and lucrative tourism and sex industries.

The Asian trafficking networks are highly organised - traffickers are adept at avoiding detection - and because many of the women and children involved are illegal migrants, they remain silent for fear of reprisals.

Unifem says traffickers are particularly active during periods of economic hardship in villages, such as the pre-harvest season.

The agency says that while reliable figures are hard to come by, it has been estimated that around 200,000 Nepalese women and girls have been sold into prostitution in India and there has been trafficking on a similar scale from Bangladesh.

But the growth of the problem is Asia-wide and sexual exploitation of boys is not uncommon.

Women and children illegally trafficked become involved in many other industries too, such as carpet and garment manufacturing and brick making, often ending up working long hours for low wages.

Unifem says a comprehensive approach is needed, including more effective policing at borders and raising awareness in the tourism industry, but with political will the key factor.

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