Forum highlights human-trafficking menace in EU

by Tomoko Otake

The May 1 expansion of the European Union was hailed as an economic boost for Europe, yet there is a dark side to this story.

Experts speaking at a UNICEF symposium held in Tokyo last week noted that the increase in the flow of people within the EU also means greater business opportunities for traffickers of children, especially from poorer countries.

The plight of Asian girls subjected to sexual exploitation drew global attention to the issue of human-trafficking in the early 1980s.

Since the 1990s, however, an increasing number of European children have been recruited into the sex trade, according to Agnes Chan, a singer and ambassador of the Japan Committee for UNICEF, who visited the Eastern European nation of Moldova last month to investigate the problem.

Chan said that Japan, which has a large number of foreign prostitutes, is no small part of the equation. She said that during her visit, citizens told her that a local job magazine had an ad soliciting women to “work in Japan as dancers.”

Philip O’Brien, the regional director at UNICEF Europe, urged Japan to swiftly ratify two optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that aim to protect children from sale, prostitution and pornography.

Japan signed the two protocols in May 2002. It needs to make related domestic laws in line with the protocols for them to be ratified, and two bills that would amend existing prostitution and child-welfare laws are now pending before the Diet.

The poorer nations of Europe, including Moldova, are now facing a serious human-trafficking problem, as their floundering economies have pushed people to seek jobs elsewhere, according to Ana Chirsanov, a counselor for victims of sexual exploitation at a rehabilitation center in Moldova.

Chirsanov said a quarter of Moldova’s population of 4.3 million work outside the country, a majority of them women.

“They can’t find proper clothing for their children. They can’t send them to schools,” she said. “They want to escape the dire poverty, so they pin their hopes on jobs outside the country.”

Brokers usually recruit girls from the poorest families in farming villages, duping them to work in the sex trade by saying they can find them work as maids or waitresses, Chirsanov said.

She cited the case of a 15-year-old girl who took her “friend” to Moscow at her neighbor’s request. The friend turned out to be a broker. Later, a customer took her to another site, where she was repeatedly raped by 20 construction workers for two weeks. Although she managed to escape, she wandered alone in a forest for three days before police found her.

Victims of sexual exploitation are so traumatized that by the time they reach Chirsanov’s rehabilitation center, they are hysterical, aggressive and depressed, she said, adding that many suffer nightmares and often try to commit suicide.

According to O’Brien, an estimated 1 million women, including many children, are trafficked into the sex industry each year.