The United Nations says trafficking of human beings for prostitution and slave labor has become one of the fastest growing worldwide problems.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime says its new global database indicates that most victims of trafficking in human beings are women and children from poor countries.
The organization says typically people are recruited from moderately poor countries, transported through Central Asia and Eastern Europe and end up in affluent countries. The major regions of origin are Asia, the former Soviet Republics, and Africa.
Many people are tricked by traffickers and told they will have a better life or job. Once at their destination they are deprived of personal documents and enslaved to work as unpaid prostitutes or domestic servants. Many are beaten, and they are often regarded as criminals by the authorities.
Director Kevin Bales, of the Washington-based group called "Free the Slaves," wants to see tougher penalties for what he calls "modern slavery". Mr. Bales, a consultant to the United Nations, says it is important to understand the roots of human trafficking.
"The U.S. and Western Europe, being the richest countries in the World, often have people being trafficked into them from almost all other poorer countries," he said. "But also it means those countries that suffered tremendous shocks either through conflict, like Bosnia, through economic difficulties, like Eastern Europe or Russia or even from environmental destruction like parts of India and Brazil. Those areas which have received these kinds of tumultuous shocks create the situation in which people become vulnerable, economically vulnerable, socially vulnerable, and economically vulnerable, and when they become vulnerable they become desperate and desperation is what human traffickers use to trick people into a situation where they can be trafficked from one country into another."
Mr. Bales wants governments to give more support to the victims.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime says there are more than 700,000 victims of human trafficking each year.