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Opium Trade in Afghanistan Linked to Human Trafficking

The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration says there is a connection between the illegal trade of drugs in Afghanistan and human trafficking. IOM is holding a three-day workshop in the Afghan capital, Kabul, to make government officials more aware of the problem and the need for them to take action.

The International Organization for Migration says given the scale of problems facing Afghanistan, human trafficking does not come out on top. But the organization notes that larger issues like the ongoing insurgency, illegal drugs, and massive poverty help create the conditions in which human trafficking thrive.

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium. A new U.N. report shows opium cultivation has been rising sharply.

The Head of IOM's Counter Trafficking Department, Richard Danziguer, tells VOA there is a link between various forms of organized crime, such as the illegal drug trade and human trafficking.

"When there is criminal activity, especially drug trafficking, weapon trafficking, often we will find there is a link to human trafficking as well," he said. "And, then some people actually are forced into working for the opium godfathers, if you will, working as practically slave labor in the fields cultivating the poppy."

According to the 2006 State Department Report on Trafficking in Persons, Afghanistan is a source country for women and children.

The IOM says children are trafficked within the country to work as beggars or as bonded labor in the brick kiln and carpet making industries. It says women and girls are kidnapped or sold for forced marriages. They are pushed into prostitution and sometimes used to settle debts or to resolve conflicts.

Internationally, IOM says Afghan women and girls are being trafficked primarily to Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

Danziguer says it is very difficult to get figures on how many people are trafficked because it is an illicit activity and few victims are identified or come forward.

"Any of the global figures you may have heard which range from 600,000 to several million-none of them are scientific figures and this is one of the issues, we along with other organizations, are constantly trying to get a handle on how we can get a better idea of what the scale of the problem is-first of all at the global level and, of course, the national levels as well," he said.

IOM says it will take years to tackle the root causes of human trafficking, such as poverty. But it notes there are measures governments can take to address the problem in the short term.

For example, it says government officials at all levels must be made aware of the problem and law enforcement officers must be taught how to identify trafficking and how to investigate cases. It says families must be educated about the potential dangers of going abroad for work and women must learn that they have human rights that must be respected.