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OSCE:  European Prostitution Rings Making Millions - 2002-07-22

A new report says criminal gangs are making millions of dollars by forcing women from southeastern Europe into prostitution in European Union countries. While the women are punished when caught, the report says nothing is done to those responsible for running the trade.

The report says human trafficking has become the third biggest criminal business worldwide, after smuggling drugs and selling weapons.

A senior human rights official of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Gerard Stoudman says criminal gangs in southeastern Europe increasingly are favoring the sex trade over drugs, weapons and cigarette smuggling. Selling women, he says, is less risky than these other activities.

"It is because it is good money, but, also because it is low risk because drugs are certainly good money, but it is high risk while trafficking women is something you get away with very easily," he said. "You are not going to spend a long time in jail. This is why we need to insist on the criminalization of the process."

Mr. Stoudman says brothels are flourishing in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzogovina because of the presence of international peacekeepers.

The report is a joint production of the United Nations Children's Fund, the United Nations Human Rights Office and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It says trafficking in human beings only became a problem in southeastern Europe after the fall of the iron curtain because of rising poverty and the ability of people to move more freely across borders.

The report says police and the courts regard the women and children caught up in the sex trade as illegal migrants. When caught, they are treated as criminals and usually deported home, but nothing is done to the people who sent them.

The United Nations top human rights official, Mary Robinson, calls trafficking in human beings a new form of slavery. While it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people are in the sex trade, Ms. Robinson says getting an exact figure is almost impossible. "It is partly because it is an underground, criminalized, corrupt trafficking in vulnerable people who do not have papers," she said. "The whole point is that it is a black market in the worst sense in human beings. Therefore, it is hard to get precise figures."

The report says the sex trade would not thrive if there were no market for it, but it says the countries of destination, such as Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Britain, do little to discourage it.

U.N. officials say the time has come for a European Convention so countries can standardize their laws against trafficking and enact measures to protect its victims.