A conference in Bangkok is promoting greater regional cooperation in the fight against human trafficking in the Mekong River region. Speakers called on regional governments to end corruption and strengthen law enforcement.
Speakers at the opening session of the conference Monday warned that corruption and weak law enforcement are hampering efforts to combat human trafficking.
Melanne Verveer, chair of the U.S.-based group Vital Voices Global Partnership, said law enforcement agencies in the so-called Greater Mekong Sub-region, or GMS, are not doing their job.
"Law enforcement turns a blind eye," she said. "In countries with weak law enforcement, victims are not protected and their rights are violated. Justice needs to be exacted and the traffickers and the organized crime syndicates that are behind them need to be prosecuted."
The Asian Development Bank has estimated that 700,000 people are trafficked annually in the region, for forced labor or the sex trade.
Julia Ormond, the English actress, goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, says says the number of victims is probably higher, and she says trafficking syndicates are increasingly targeting children.
"We know that criminals are shifting from the trafficking of weapons and drugs to the trafficking of people - especially children, because it's easier to get away with," she said.
Ormond spoke of female victims she met in Cambodia.
"I met with girls and women from many shelters. Girls so young it was hard to comprehend their fate. Girls as young as five, seven and 12, who had been victims of rape and sold into forced prostitution," she said.
Thailand is a source of human victims, as well as a transit point and a destination. The Thai Government has introduced laws on the prevention and suppression of the traffic, but Watana Muangsook, the social development and human security minister, says more regional cooperation is needed.
"Human trafficking is not just a problem of a single country but it is a cross-border crime," he said. "Even though the Thai Government had put our best efforts by all means, we still need the collaboration and participation from all countries within and outside the GMS region."
Other Asia countries involved in the trafficking of humans include Afghanistan, India, China, Taiwan, Burma, the Philippines and Vietnam.