Human trafficking is increasingly taking center stage as one of the world's most important, yet most invisible crimes. After the fall of communism in 1989 and the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia two years later, political and economic instability in some parts of Central and Eastern Europe provided fertile ground for criminal exploitation of human beings. Sex trafficking became an ever-growing tragedy, but other forms of exploitation, such as forced labor, have also come to the fore. Maida Agovic reports about efforts to counter these problems in the Czech Republic and beyond.
More than four million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking every year, according to estimates of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Czech Republic has not been spared. But official statistics about the numbers of trafficked victims are practically non-existent, as this is an underreported and almost invisible crime.
"La Strada International", a Dutch non-governmental organization that has been active in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe for the past ten years, works to combat this invisibility, raise awareness about this issue, and help the victims return to their normal lives. The best way to achieve this goal is to improve the legal system in individual countries and laws governing human trafficking. Petra Burcikova, the director and national coordinator of La Strada in the Czech Republic, mentions the achievements of the local branch of this organization:
"The development that I am very proud of is the amendment to the criminal code, which came into force in October 2004. Most of La Strada's advocacy work in previous years focused on addressing the fact that the previous definition of human trafficking in the criminal code did not include, for example, trafficking for forced labor, only sex trafficking. It also didn't include internal trafficking, and I'm happy to say that the new amendment of the criminal code includes different forms of human trafficking, and also sanctions trafficking within the national borders."
With rising standards of living and entry into the European Union, the Czech Republic is increasingly becoming a destination for trafficked people. Victims usually originate in less stable and less prosperous regions further east. Petra Burcikova has the details:
"Most of the victims that end up trafficked in the Czech Republic come from the former Soviet Union, mostly Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, some of them from Russia, quite many from Bulgaria, quite a few from Slovakia as well, and in the past two years, we have, for the first time, had clients from Asia, from China and Vietnam. Recently we also had a few clients from Central Asia."
The work of La Strada International has not gone unnoticed. Last week at the MTV Europe Music Awards in Rome, La Strada was awarded the "Free Your Mind Award" for its decade-long activity in the prevention of human trafficking. Previous winners of this prestigious award include organizations such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace.
For more information about the work and achievements of La Strada International, you can log on to their webpage www.strada.cz.
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