Thank you very much for inviting me.
I want to mention that I was given very short notice, and it's a very huge subject area, so despite knowing and having researched it before, I was a bit concerned. As far as the questions are concerned, it's a huge region, so we'll see how I can handle it. I was thinking that if people wanted, later I could present a short written brief that will reflect on some of the issues that I might be able to just touch on today.
I have presented briefs before, on Afghanistan mainly, when Afghanistan was very high in our priorities, but we don't have that anymore. It's after a long time that I am making the presentation.
I will try to speak for 10 minutes. Pardon me if I am not complete, and I will not be complete, because it's a large subject.
This is only a background briefing on human trafficking in South Asia. The issues I will raise on human trafficking in South Asia will be limited to the following areas: scope of human trafficking, scale and nature of human trafficking, factors promoting human trafficking, and development measures to counter human trafficking in South Asia. I will only touch on that last topic. During the question period, perhaps I can talk a bit more on what measures can be useful.
On the scope of human trafficking, misconstrued definitions of human trafficking and a lack of common terminologies and framework have consistently hampered the fight against human trafficking. Therefore, I use the broader concept of human trafficking embracing trafficking in persons, not sex trafficking only. Exploitation is the overarching theme that subsumes all forms of human trafficking: forced labour and services, child labour, bonded labour, forced prostitution, economic exploitation, war children, and even the removal of organs, all in violation of human rights.
Non-consensual exploitation occurs when people are forced and lured into exploitation. It involves an element of coercion, fraud, or deception. Consensual exploitation occurs when economic vulnerabilities force victims to accept exploitative work arrangements. Consensual exploitation typically results from the victim's lack of access to other economic opportunities and leads to unfair treatment of the exploited. Trafficking in all these forms is found in South Asia.
Trafficking in persons in South Asia is intraregional, internal, within national boundaries, and transnational. Intraregional trafficking for commercial sexual prostitution in the movement of young women and girls from Nepal and Bangladesh to Indian brothels is common. So are transnational movements of all types from South Asia to the Middle East and other countries. Internal trafficking, both consensual and non-consensual, forced and indebted labour, and sexual exploitation of the most virulent type exist in South Asia.
I'll move to the scale of human trafficking. Human trafficking is globally acknowledged as a phenomenon present in all countries of the world with the majority of trafficked victims being from poorer countries. Due to the illegal nature of human trafficking, gathering accurate statistics on the scale of the problem is difficult. The statistics available and quoted most often represent an underestimation.
The 2014 global slavery index estimated that there are over 36 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. Of that 36 million, nearly two-thirds are from Asia, and not South Asia alone. India, Nepal, and Bangladesh have the highest prevalence of human trafficking and are in the list of the top 10 countries with the highest number of known victims. India tops the list with 14 million victims. India is a source, transit and destination region for trafficking. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are source regions, and Bhutan and the Maldives are destination regions.
The dynamics of trafficking reach across the South Asia region, and similarities of patterns are clear, despite different historical and cultural circumstances.
I will move to the nature of human trafficking. Most of the trafficked victims come from the poorest strata of the national population in South Asian countries. Women, adolescents, and children in poverty-stricken conditions are especially vulnerable and powerless and fall prey to traffickers. Lower-caste people have less access to education and employment, and among them women have fewer options. The number of bonded labourers is also high in India. It is a cultural practice in the rural areas, where to repay parents' debts, people are forced into debt bondage. Child labour is a severe problem in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Child labour at low costs is used in hazardous industries, glass bangle making, and circuses.
A new and rising trend of trafficking in human organs has been detected, especially in Bangladesh. The practice of organ—mainly kidney—buying and selling at high costs within and outside national borders for transplantation is increasing.
Children recruited as soldiers and the young unemployed immersed in economic insolvencies recruited as Islamic jihadists are the newest human trafficking victims.
I will now move to the factors promoting human trafficking. Trafficking is exacerbated in South Asia due to weak economies, social and economic inequalities, and socio-cultural traditions. It is quite clear that economic and social exclusion and human deprivation are at the root of human trafficking. Poverty, or the necessity to meet basic needs, in combination with other factors, such as lack of education, a dysfunctional family, social exclusion, and culturally sanctioned discrimination against women and resulting gender discrimination and gender violence, are the most commonly identified factors promoting human trafficking. Young girls from rural areas of Bangladesh, India, and Nepal are trafficked for marriage and sold into prostitution.
Poor governance practices and law and order and non-operational social and criminal justice systems are responsible for promoting traffic. Natural disasters, especially, cause vulnerability in Bangladesh and Nepal.
Sadly, some governments in South Asia impose punitive measures against the trafficked. The phenomenon occurs mostly in cases of women victims of forced prostitution. Girls and women rescued from brothels in India are known to be sexually abused by the police and staff when they are kept in government remand homes.
Corruption and bribes involving public officials, law enforcement agents, lawyers, and traffickers both fuel traffic and hamper efforts to reduce it. In Bangladesh and India, evidence of collusion between organ traders and doctors, and between lawyers and traffickers is found. Trials of trafficking cases do not move without bribes. In India, police, judiciary, and border guards are found to be involved in trafficking and making profits. In Nepal, traffickers have been found to use contacts with politicians, business people, state officials, police, customs officials, and border police to facilitate trafficking and paying bribes for protection and favours. Such corruption perpetuates human trafficking.
I'll just touch on measures to counter human trafficking, which is a development threat.
Human trafficking thrives on poverty and the economic insolvency of those trafficked and also deters development by adversely affecting productivity and efficiency. Human trafficking promotes exploitation that leads to low or no wages, and low employment levels and is a detriment to development.
These negative impacts of exploitation can be handled through interventions in the areas of labour markets, social protection, social development, rule-of-law reforms, and other action measures. Most of these interventions will also have an indirect preventive impact. Poverty reduction programs reducing social, economic, and environmental vulnerabilities bear high potential for eliminating the factors that help promote human trafficking. Other vulnerabilities arising from illiteracy and lack of education, lack of awareness, discriminatory policies, social exclusion, and culturally sanctioned discrimination against women and gender can also be handled through development programming.
Thank you very much.