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Former UN Official: Female Trafficking Still Rampant in Post-Conflict Countries - 2003-10-02

Former Finnish defense minister Elisabeth Rehn is trying to raise awareness about the exploitation of women around the world. Ms. Rehn says governments and the international community are partly to blame for the continued trafficking of women.

The former U.N. undersecretary-general says she is shocked by the scope of female trafficking operations in poor, eastern European countries. In a news conference Wednesday, Ms. Rehn described how young girls and women are sex workers in back rooms of cafes and restaurants in countries such as Moldova, Ukraine and Romania. "They often believe that they are going to be hair dressers or waitresses, but they end up in sex slavery," she said. "They are bought by somebody, like cattle on the market, and then they are owned." But Ms. Rehn adds that the problem occurs all over the world, and is more rampant in countries that are rebuilding from wars or have weak governments. "The real problem is in the fact that the traffickers, they are not only trafficking women and girls. They are also in the organized crime, and unfortunately, the corruption in many, many of these post-conflict countries still is so, so dominant," she said. "So those who are in political power also are dependent on the organized crime for financing."

The former U.N. official believes the only way to fix that problem is through elections. But Ms. Rehn points out that not only governments are to blame for perpetuating the illegal sex industry. She says many of the women she has interviewed say diplomats, non-governmental workers and even religious group employees solicit their services.

Ms. Rehn calls on the international community to do its part to train workers and soldiers on how to treat women, as well as set an example. "It's very important that the international community - U.N., EU, all organizations - are also appointing women to the strong positions and the high positions," she said. Ms. Rehn points out then the women in places such as Kosovo, Liberia and even Iraq can say to themselves if she can do it, I can too.