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Trafficking can turn anyone's child into a commodity

INTERNATIONAL organizations are shrill in their warnings: up to four million women and children are smuggled across international borders and sold into slavery every year, a lucrative "business" that "earns" traffickers billions of dollars.

INTERNATIONAL organizations are shrill in their warnings: up to four million women and children are smuggled across international borders and sold into slavery every year, a lucrative "business" that "earns" traffickers billions of dollars. Some estimate that the profits gained by human trafficking far exceed those pocketed by drug smugglers. Poverty, legal limbo and political chaos are the best fertilizers to nourish the seeds of this heinous crime.

UNICEF says that in Africa, people constitute the most frequently traded "commodity". Millions go through the hands of human traffickers.

Slovakia is no longer in a position to pretend that human trafficking does not concern the country.

If anything, Central Europe, which serves as a gateway to the wealthy West, should take advantage of its strategic position and wage an effective fight against the trafficking phenomenon.

Unfortunately, Slovaks often hide their head in the sand, unaware of the problem.

Slovaks need to start read ing between the lines. A police blotter that reports an illegal payment made by Michal N. to Veronika Z. in exchange for escorting Veronika's 19-year-old daughter to Germany is probably an example of one of the most serious criminal abuses: human trafficking.

In 2002, when the Slovak media broke the story of a young Slovak woman selling her newborn to Germany for Sk100,000 (€30,000), a minor public debate emerged that threw light on the definition of human trafficking. Unarguably, more public awareness is needed.

Slovakia is considered a transit country for human traffickers and to a lesser extent, a source country for women and girls trafficked primarily to western and central European countries, as well as Japan, for the purpose of sexual exploitation, reads the US State Department's 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report.

The US Congress, in observance of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, requires the Secretary of State to submit this report by June each year.

According to the report, victims from the former Soviet Union states (especially Moldova and Ukraine) and the Balkan region are trafficked through Slovakia.

The report states that the Slovak government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, though admits that Slovakia is making significant efforts to do so.

The report suggests that Slovakia's victim assistance and protection efforts as well as its trafficking prevention programmes are inadequate.

The report does mention that the Slovak government recently amended its criminal code to conform to international legal instruments by introducing sufficiently severe penalties for engaging in internal as well as cross-border trafficking for the purposes of sexual and labour exploitation.

But the report also says that Slovakia lags behind in victim protection measures. Slovakia's specialized anti-trafficking unit noted that the lack of English-language ability among Slovak police officials continues to limit joint investigations.

Slovak officials admit that the number of human trafficking cases is increasing in Slovakia. However, it is impossible to accurately guess the number of victims. Officially, the police documented 27 cases of human trafficking last year.

In 2004, the issue of human trafficking grabbed the public's attention for few days after the Slovak police disbanded an international group of organized traffickers. The police said that some of the members were Slovak celebrities.

Fifteen Slovaks found selling women under the veil of a hostess agency were charged with human trafficking.

The group had organized casting calls for girls, promising them travel around the globe, exclusive treatment and high payment. The agency prepared a portfolio for the "winners" and offered the girls to clients all over the world, including those in Japan, the USA, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Great Britain. The contracts the girls were forced to sign included a duty to provide sexual services.

Perhaps many mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters felt that it could easily have been their loved one who, chasing the dream of becoming a model, was forced into prostitution or slavery.

So many lives are broken based on an advertisement that seems legitimate coupled with a strong desire for glamour and good pay.

In Slovakia, many of us might witness human trafficking and not know it; we are simply unclear on the definition of human trafficking and what, exactly, constitutes a crime.

For the record, the United Nations defines trafficking in persons as follows: the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

By Beata Balogová

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