Called a modern-day form of slavery, victims of human trafficking are often forced, defrauded or coerced into sexual or labor exploitation. According the U.S. State Department, it is among the fastest growing criminal activities, with more than 700,000 people, mostly women and children, trafficked worldwide annually, including 50,000 persons into the United States. Victims become ensnared into prostitution, pornography and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation or slavery-like labor conditions in factories and fields. This half-day conference focused on trafficking in persons and regional responses to combating this issue.

Haleh Esfandiari, Consulting Director of Middle East Project, opened the forum and introduced Ambassador Nancy Ely-Raphel, former director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Department of State. Ely-Raphel gave a brief overview of human trafficking and described it as "the dark side of globalization," a phrase quoted throughout the conference. Referring to the State Department's second Annual Trafficking in Persons Report, she noted the report includes a three-tiered country list, which evaluates governmental efforts to combat trafficking on the basis of minimum standards. Click here for the full report. Mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the Report serves to assist with policy strategies in combating human trafficking. While admitting that much work needs to be done, she highlighted efforts in countries such as Korea, Romania and Israel, who have aggressively pursued anti-trafficking initiatives. This international problem requires global cooperation. "Governments must think beyond their borders when it comes to trafficking, because traffickers do," Ely-Raphel said.

Andrea Bertone, Associate Director, College Park Scholars International Studies, University of Maryland College Park and Associate Director of Project Hope International, a Washington D.C. NGO rooted in fighting child and female prostitution and trafficking in Southeast Asia and the United States. Bertone remarked on the global impact of trafficking. She linked human trafficking to the transnational social movement and provided a brief history of the movement, from the 1910 Suppression of the White Slave Traffic to the United Nations Trafficking Protocol of 2000. Bertone also commented on the current trafficking movements of the late twentieth, and early twenty-first centuries and emphasized good communication as a strategy for combating trafficking on all levels.

Emek Uçarer, Assistant Professor of Public Relations, Bucknell University, spoke on "Combating Trafficking in Women: NGO Involvement in European Union Policies." Most countries address trafficking as a migration issue, concentrating efforts on legislating barriers to trafficking at the borders, including attempts to tighten border controls, scrutinize visa policies, and deport individuals—primarily the trafficked women—who have been caught. Yet this approach is actually ineffective against crafty traffickers and pays insufficient attention to the social causes and consequences of trafficking, Uçarer said.

An alternative line of reasoning focuses on the sexual exploitation and abuse suffered by trafficked women. It focuses on the criminal behavior of the traffickers and seeks to provide protections for the trafficked. "However, the lack of consensus on key concepts in this debate—prostitution, voluntariness, abuse, coercion—has frustrated contemporary efforts to develop an effective human rights framework to address trafficking in women," she said. Recently, the European Union (EU) launched efforts to combine both the migration and human rights approaches in combating trafficking. In addition to attempting to create an integrated approach, the EU is also establishing formal linkages with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and incorporating their know-how as well as their financial and human resources in to the EU's efforts.

Mohammed Mattar, Co-Director of the Protection Project of the Foreign Policy Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies focused on the trafficking of humans in the Middle East. He commented on the issues distinguishing the Middle East from East Asian countries: arms trafficking, regime change, oil and Islamic fundamentalism. Mattar linked oil to trafficking, since people are often trafficked into Middle Eastern countries to work in the oil industry. Many women from Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Sudan and Sri Lanka are trafficked to the Middle East to work as domestic servants for wealthy oil dependent families. In addition, Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi children as young as two are routinely kidnapped or sold by their parents or relatives to be used as camel jockeys in the Gulf States. Mattar emphasized the difference between exploitative labor and labor trafficking as well as the difference between smuggling of migrants, a crime against the State, and illegal trafficking, a crime against the individual. And although prostitution is illegal according to the Koran, it is legal in many Islamic countries including Turkey, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Lebanon. If faith-based organizations are made aware of the current trafficking situation, they will fight in the struggle since the Koran advocates the eradiation of slavery, thus human trafficking, Mattar suggested.

Anita Sharma, Director of the Conflict Prevention Project, introduced Panel II as a forum for regional experiences. Opening the forum was Keith Sherper, an independent consultant who spoke on, "Combating Trafficking: The Albanian Experience." The soaring unemployment rate and lack of opportunities has left many women to the mercy of corrupt police who aid traffickers. He noted that NGOs, mainly in Italy, as well as on the national level, have been created to help women regain their health and security, and give them an opportunity for economic independence.

Ruth Pojman, Anti-trafficking Advisor to the Europe and Eurasia Bureau of USAID spoke of her own research and opinions regarding human trafficking in Eurasia. Often called a modern slavery, trafficking in human beings is a highly profitable, dangerous, illegal global business. Estimates suggest that about a quarter of the 700,000 to 2 million women and children who are trafficked for sexual exploitation are from the CIS and Central Eastern Europe, she said. Furthermore, in this part of the world, trafficking is more likely to be linked to organized crime. Studies also show a correlation between economic dislocation and trafficking. Often when victims attempt to emigrate to earn money they are approached by a pimp who offers to make the necessary travel arrangements if they borrow money and agree to work off the debt. While some women understand that this arrangement includes prostitution or forced labor, many do not, and almost all face humiliation, violence and psychological trauma. Groups such as the International Organization for Migration and governments in Central Asia are addressing the issue; in particular, the Kyrgyz government has set up a government commission headed by the Committee for Women, Family and Youth.

Christina Arnold, Director of Project Hope International, a Washington D.C. NGO dedicated to combating human trafficking, focused her remarks on Thailand and the role of Thai NGOs and implementation programs for victims. In particular, Project Hope International (PHI) works in partnership with the Thai NGO Fight Against Child Exploitation (FACE), to assist the creation and maintenance of rehabilitation facilities for children who have been trafficked. It sponsors recovery homes in the northeast (Udornthani), the eastern seaboard region (Rayong) and South (Songkla) of Thailand. Thailand was ranked in Tier 2 in recognition of its efforts to protect victims and to implement measures that prevent trafficking in persons.

As emphasized by many speakers, the key to combating human trafficking is an integrated approach, where governments, NGOs and people develop an international response. This requires not only political leadership but also comprehensive approaches to the prevention and assistance to victims of trafficking. Furthermore, international cooperation requires the sharing of data and experiences of others and this conference suggested that opportunities to highlight best practices and strategies against human trafficking are welcome.

By Lauren Farrell and Anita Sharma.