Victims of trafficking & HIV
Lured from the hills of Nepal, Nisha found herself sold to a brothel in Mumbai at 11. Two years later, she had contracted HIV. She had been entertaining five to ten customers a day for those two years.
At 19, the slightly-built Rakhi is the mother of a three-year-old. She conceived her daughter when she was sold to a brothel in Mumbai. She also contracted HIV. Nisha and Rakhi shared their stories at the South Asia Court of Women on the Violence of Trafficking and HIV/AIDS in Dhaka held a few years ago. And they are among the thousands of women, who are victims of both trafficking and HIV in the South Asian region. It is now being increasingly realised that trafficking for sexual exploitation is tied up with increased vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.
But why haven`t South Asians nations been able to tackle the two together? Regional experts and representatives of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and UNAIDS believe that the questionable quality of interventions, poor outreach and lack of procedures like counselling are the reasons for the proliferation of both trafficking and HIV/AIDS.
According to Vandana Mahajan, Senior Programme Officer, UNIFEM India, “Strong linkages exist between these issues. Trafficking for sexual exploitation is tied up with increased vulnerability to HIV/AIDS…and the HIV/AIDS epidemic intensifies poverty, which increases vulnerability to trafficking. Both issues have roots in poverty and gender inequality. Clearly, we have to devise integrated strategies, which can make an impact on trafficking as well as on HIV/AIDS.”
There is growing recognition among nations that human trafficking needs to be tackled as a specific crime. The UN Protocol on `Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children`, 2000, which is implemented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), offers practical help to states with drafting laws, creating comprehensive national anti-trafficking strategies, and assisting with resources to implement them.
Even the SAARC Secretariat has created a Regional Task Force to implement Conventions relating to trafficking of women and children, providing a forum for discussion and planning to integrate trafficking, women and child welfare, and HIV/AIDS in the domestic and foreign policies of South Asian countries. The UNIFEM has formed a South Asia Anti-Trafficking Think Tank that comprises governmental representatives, NGOs, UN agencies and inter-governmental organisations, to engage in dialogue, raise key cross-border issues and help coordinate policy and implementation in the region.
Yet despite all these measures at a recent `Regional Consultation on HIV/AIDS and Anti Human Trafficking` in New Delhi, Dr Munir Raza Ahmed, Social Mobilisation Adviser, UNAIDS, Bangladesh, confessed, “The quality of our interventions is still questionable. We have sex worker programmes covering brothels, hotels and home-based sector, but the outreach is poor. …We have no comprehensive database or monitoring system on trafficking.” On the positive side Ahmed described the services the government and NGOs are trying to provide to MARPs (Most At Risk Populations) that aim at prevention through measures like improving the health system, integrating gender awareness and providing youth-friendly services. But he was quick to add, “We have not yet situated these programmes in the context of poverty. The demand for trafficked persons comes from affluent sections, yet we have no behaviour change programmes targeting these sections.”
Bangladesh is not the only nation at fault. The fact is that none of the countries have even begun tackling the problem from the demand side: They are just beginning to realise the need to target the `MMM`- Mobile Men with Money – who are the basic category of buyers of trafficked women and children. Tackling the MMM will in itself have to be a transnational campaign, since the richer countries, particularly the US and several European countries, are typically destination countries, while the Asian and African nations are typically the areas of origin. Vulnerable countries like Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka have instituted legislation that targets trafficking – which is vital to tackle the problem – but there is a lack of enforcement.
Nepal has a Human Trafficking (Control) Act, 2007, and Women and Child Service Centres in over 25 police stations across the country. Yet, in 2006, the police registered only 97 cases of trafficking and 36 convictions took place. According to Sangeeta Thapa, Country Programme Coordinator, UNIFEM Nepal, though public policy in Nepal is sensitive to gender, not much impact has been made in challenging patriarchy and gender inequality in the country. “The vulnerability of women to trafficking and HIV/AIDS is not clearly understood. Female sex worker are looked at more as vectors, than as victims. Economic disempowerment and the lack of inheritance and land rights are not being sufficiently addressed. We have significant seasonal migration within Nepal, but the linkages between migration, trafficking and HIV/ AIDS are not fully understood. But we do have opportunities. A new Constitution is being evolved with non-discrimination as one of its central values,” she said.
Besides a lack of understanding, experts at the regional consultation also expressed logistic problems. Saghir Bukhari, Programme Specialist, UNIFEM Pakistan, felt that due to security issues it is difficult for organisations to reach out to approximately half of Pakistan. Here, too, a gender scan of programmes has indicated the need to integrate gender issues, but the way to do it is not clear. “Women”, he noted, “are mostly invisible in the programming. We have a strategic framework, but it has yet to be translated into action. Gender-based violence and trafficking are not being addressed at all in the context of the national HIV/AIDS programmes…” However, Pakistan has made some headway by passing a Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance (PACHTO), in 2002; its Federal Investigation Agency registered 1,826 cases under PACHTO between 2003 and 2006. But of these cases, only 254 have been decided, with 222 sentences and 32 acquittals.
Even in India – considered a destination country for cross-border trafficking – while 12,665 persons were arrested for trafficking, 7,075 were convicted in 20005 under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (IPTA). Some 26,000 women were sheltered in Swadhar short-stay homes – run by NGOs and as part of the Ministry of Women and Child`s Swadhar scheme – but these are inadequate in terms of numbers as well as quality of services provided. Only, four states have set up Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTU) – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Goa and West Bengal.
In the absence of comprehensive tracking, it is impossible to get definitive statistics. But these numbers are, most likely, barely the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, in countries like the Maldives, trafficking is not even recognised as a specific offence. According to Anna Liboro-Senga, UN Coordination Specialist, Maldives, a significant degree of internal migration exists within the country, with reports of trafficking, but no steps have yet been initiated in public policy.
Though Afghanistan has undertaken some policy and implementation, with 287 victims identified in 2006 and 370 persons convicted for trafficking of persons, Sri Lanka has a law on Prevention of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution (2005) but no arrests or convictions have been made so far. In Bhutan, where the Penal Code identifies trafficking of a person `for any purpose` as a crime, there has so far been no arrests or convictions.
The `Global Report on Trafficking in Persons` (UNODC February 2009) notes that, worldwide, nations are just starting to view trafficking as a specific crime, and public policy as well as judicial systems are struggling to match up to the need. As UNODC`s Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa, put it, “The crisis we face of fragmented knowledge and disjointed response intensifies a crime that shames us all.”
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