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Cyprus Sex Trade Sets off Alarm Bells Over Risk to Minors, Teenage Girls

The plight of women being sold into sex slavery in Cyprus has been highlighted at a conference in Nicosia. Non-governmental groups meeting in the capital said that the slavery trade, specializing in the traffic of women, is booming. In Nicosia, Nathan Morley has this report for VOA.

Every year, thousands of women come to Cyprus from poorer countries hoping for a better life and expecting jobs such as house cleaning and child care. Instead, most of them end up being forced into prostitution and enduring physical and mental abuse.

The problem was first highlighted five years ago when a report by the Cyprus Ombudswoman claimed that more than 2,000 women passed through Cyprus annually, and were forced into prostitution in European and Arab countries.

At the time, then Justice Minister Doros Theodorou in a VOA interview that 97 percent of the women were fully aware that they were brought here to work as sex slaves.

Since then the situation in Cyprus has spiraled almost out of control, with police saying that in the past 10 months they had spoken with 54 victims of sexual exploitation, including 11 on whom force was used to make them work.

It's thought hundreds, maybe even thousands of women are kept as prisoners unable to alert authorities to their plight.

Michele Cercone, E.U. spokesman for Justice, Freedom, and Security, told VOA News that the trade in human cargo is big business in Europe.

"Of course we are aware of the fact that through new technologies and new forms of organized crime that human trafficking is becoming more profitable for the organized crime groups that are exploiting these people," he said.

He also said that the E.U. is gravely concerned that minors are becoming victims of the human slavery industry.

"We know that children are particularly targeted, so we are doing our utmost to limit and prevent this sort of crime," said Cercone.

The deteriorating situation with the sex trade in Cyprus is a cause of concern, both in Nicosia and at the E.U. human rights offices in Brussels.

Cyprus has been a full E.U. member since 2004, and its blind eye approach to the murky sex trade is understood to have caused alarm among many other E.U. states.

Latest data suggests that up to 120,000 women are smuggled into Western Europe, mainly from central and eastern Europe, and forced into prostitution.