Monday, July 21, 2008

Ukraine takes steps to curb trafficking

From the Kyiv Post:

With no money, no husband, a sick mother and two children, Natalia became an ideal target for a human trafficking network that has claimed an estimated 100,000 victims in independent Ukraine.

Natalia’s journey took the 38yearold woman from her hometown in western Ukraine, to a brothel in Western Europe for six months and back again to her native country, where she is now working at a printing house.
While Ukraine continues to be a haven for traffickers, the situation is not entirely bleak and there is progress to report.

According to a recent U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, the Ukrainian government is doing a better job of punishing convicted traffickers, both through convictions and longer prison sentences. The government is also improving its prosecution of labor traffickers, training the judiciary and carrying out prevention strategies.

However, the State Department criticized the Ukrainian government for not doing enough to help victims. A weak witness protection program and a bias against sex trafficking victims which discourages many from testifying in courts, according to the report.

For example, Natalia, which is not her real name, is afraid to press charges against the woman who deceived her and then recruited her into the network where she was sexually exploited...

From 2000 to 2008, IOM assisted 5,214 Ukrainians who were trafficked for sexual and labor exploitation.

Jeffrey Labovitz, chief of mission in Ukraine for IOM, says trafficking in Ukraine remains an “acute problem” and says the government needs to take more responsibility to decrease the number of trafficked victims.

“They need to go after the big fish,” says Labovitz, speaking about the lack of prosecution against the traffickers, who adds that weak prosecution of traffickers prevents Ukraine from getting a top ranking for combating the problem.

The organization helps victims reintegrate into society and provides them with shelter, medical, psychological, legal and job placement assistance. It also runs five centers for migrant advice throughout the country where Ukrainians can get information on workers’ rights, contract terms, visas and fraudulent schemes used to lure workers abroad.

Labovitz believes that Ukraine has, over the last few years, improved its efforts to deal with trafficking by setting up a countertrafficking department within the Interior Ministry that employs over 300 employees. He also points to the statistics and says 90 percent of Ukrainians understand what trafficking is, a significant increase over the last five years, when only 60 percent of Ukrainians knew what trafficking was, he says.

Labovitz says partnerships to reduce human trafficking are crucial. “You need the government, civic society, corporate Ukraine and international organizations working together to get the maximum effect,” he said. Joint efforts remain essential to tackling this problem and over the years more partnerships have been formed between the public and private sector.
Partnership programs between international organizations and the government have helped Ukraine rise from the Tier 2 watch list, a type of “red flag,” to Tier 2, a slight improvement...

New partnerships between the public and private sector are a recent phenomenon and more companies are climbing on board to raise awareness of trafficking. A new campaign was launched by Ukrainian oil company Galnaftogas in February 2008 that includes countertrafficking billboards at 12 OKKO gas stations in Lviv, Volyn and Zakarpattya oblasts warning travelers of human trafficking. In addition, three leading mobile companies Kyivstar, Life, MTS, have joined forces and set up a tollfree number “527” that provides information and assistance on trafficking to callers. Microsoft Ukraine has also donated software to seven nongovernmental organizations meant to train trafficked victims and help them with their job skills. MTV Ukraine has been involved by donating airtime for public service announcements informing viewers of the dangers of working abroad...

Natalia’s story

Despite a steadily improving economy that is reducing financial desperation, Natalia’s story is still all too common in Ukraine. Millions of people still remain mired in poverty or lowwage jobs in tiny villages scattered throughout the nation.

The IOM, which assisted Natalia, set up an interview between her and the Kyiv Post on the condition that her real name and other identifying information not be used. She is a woman with shortbrown hair, skyblue eyes and two gold teeth. Wearing an all-white crochet dress and a gold cross around her neck, her nails are not painted and her makeup is minimal.

Like many deceived victims, Natalia said she was destitute when a young woman approached her as she was working in a local market in her hometown. The woman asked if she was interested in working abroad.

“She promised good money,” says Natalia in a shaky voice, her mascara watering as tears begin to trickle down her face.

“This woman knew I had no money, no husband, a sick mother and two children and she knew I was desperate,” she says. Natalia was told she would work in the home of a family in a Western European nation.

It turned out to be a lie.

“When I arrived, I asked where the family was, where the washing machine was and all the other things I would need to help around the house. Suddenly a large man dressed in black threw cheap lingerie at me and said I had to work to pay off the cost of my travel, and that’s when I knew I had been trafficked. I knew I had been trafficked on the first day.”

Natalia worked with five other women from Ukraine and Moldova in a small apartment, where she was forced to service up to four men a day, she says. She worked in slavelike conditions for six months until she got pregnant and begged to be sent back to Ukraine by one of her customers, who refused to pay for an abortion. The abortion had to wait until she returned to Ukraine.

*Photo courtesy of IOM Mission in Ukraine

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