Below is a short summary of some of the key issues from the report by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, in accordance with Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2000/45. This is an addendum to the report from her mission to Bangladesh, Nepal and India on the issue of trafficking of women and girls. Read the full text. Please note that this is not an official UN summary.
At the invitation of the Governments of Bangladesh, Nepal and India, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences visited Dhaka, Kathmandu, Bhairahwa in Rupandehi district, Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta from 28 October to 15 November 2000 to study the issue of trafficking in women and girls in the region. The present report is intended as a case study to complement the Special Rapporteur's previous report on trafficking in women, women's migration and violence against women, submitted to the Commission on Human Rights at its fifty-fifth session (E/CN.4/2000/68). The Special Rapporteur was reassured that the Governments of Nepal, Bangladesh and India were politically committed to the eradication of trafficking in the South Asian region. She was concerned, however, that some of the national measures being contemplated to combat trafficking were in violation of basic human rights principles. She also impressed upon the Governments of the region the need to bring the proposed SAARC Convention on Trafficking into line with accepted international standards and agreed international language.
Trafficking of girls and women appears to have become a thriving industry in the countries of South Asia. However, hard data are not available with regard to the actual numbers involved in sex work or being trafficked across borders. Nepalese NGOs estimate that between 5,000 and 10,000 girls a year are trafficked from Nepal to India every year. No survey has been done in any of these countries to ascertain their actual numbers. They are trafficked for a variety of purposes: the primary purpose of trafficking in the region is for forced prostitution, but girls, boys and women are also trafficked for domestic service, organ harvesting, forced begging, forced labour in sweatshops, work as camel jockeys or for forced marriage. Traffickers use deception, fraud, intimidation, drugs and violence to take vulnerable people across borders and are reimbursed for their services. They work alone, in small gangs, or part of an organized crime syndicate. Trafficking of girls and women often follows the same routes as legitimate migration. As one commentator told the Special Rapporteur, "traffickers fish in the stream of migration". This makes trafficking a difficult crime to detect.
The causes of trafficking are manifold and remain of great concern for the sending countries of the region. In her discussions with the women as well as with activists, the Special Rapporteur noted that poverty was a major factor and that many of these women were either sold into prostitution or left their homes to escape poverty. Other factors contributing to trafficking were traditional practices in certain villages and among certain castes whereby young girls were sold into concubinage for feudal lords or into prostitution. Social discrimination against women was also responsible for women leaving home. Lack of access to inheritance, land and employment and the practice of polygamy made women easy prey for traffickers who exploit their desire to migrate. Child marriage and unilateral divorce also make women extremely vulnerable to the whims of male partners. This discrimination was often given as the reason why women did not wish to return to their homes once they had been rescued. The discrimination against women that is prevalent in South Asia runs parallel to an ideology that asserts that women are vulnerable, like children, and need protection. The Special Rapporteur was told that some of the more drastic measures taken to curtail women's freedom of movement are in their interest and for their "protection". The notion of protection is perhaps most problematic when it comes to the practice of "protective custody". Protective custody is only marginally better than being in prison.
The Special Rapporteur's recommendations include international, regional and national measures against trafficking. She stated that the international community must continue to play a proactive role in preventing trafficking in the South Asian region and that more resources should be given to the Governments of the region to meet this problem of human servitude and forced labour. Furthermore, the countries of the SAARC region should join efforts to collect comprehensive data on trafficking. There should be a central database and a regional survey to assess the nature of the problems, the numbers involved, the profile of the trafficking victim, the profile of the trafficker and the response of national Governments. She also recommended that a SAARC convention on trafficking be encouraged and that there should be an intergovernmental regional task force on trafficking to plan and implement a concerted strategy for the region. In addition, there should be an interregional police task force to fight trafficking, track traffickers and gather intelligence on trafficking rings. The Governments of the region should also each have a national plan of action to combat trafficking and there should be a monitoring mechanism involving Government, non-governmental organizations and international agencies. Furthermore, Governments should refrain from enacting regulations and orders that restrict the free movement of women under the guise of fighting trafficking. Instead, measures aimed at educating women about their rights and raising awareness about conditions in receiving countries should be compulsory. The respective embassies in receiving countries should be proactive in providing assistance to women and girl victims of trafficking. Protective custody as a means of dealing with victims of trafficking should be reconsidered. The Special Rapporteur also recommended that extensive support be given to NGOs working in this field, and that NGOs working with the children of the sex workers should be given special encouragement along with those who work with the victims of trafficking.