A recent report by DePaul University's International Human Rights Law Institute finds 80 percent of those sold into sexual slavery are under 24, with some as young as 6. An estimated 30,000 die annually from abuse, torture, neglect and disease.
"The phenomenon is fueled by poverty and indifference to the rights of women and children, as well as conflict and political upheaval in various parts of the world," reports the institute, engaged in a three-year study of worldwide sexual exploitation. "The advent of globalization has exacerbated the problem by creating what some call market opportunities for traffickers in human beings and for their exploiters.
"Liberalized borders and ease of movement of people across them have made international trafficking in persons a profitable criminal activity."
About half of those sold into servitude were sold internationally, the report said, but the countries to which they were taken do not consider them victims. Rather, they are considered illegal aliens subject to imprisonment and deportation.
"The victims have no one to turn to for help," the report found. "Law enforcers are frequently in collusion with the traffickers and exploiters and victims who seek to escape are returned to their captors by those from whom they sought protection. Their despondency and despair is beyond description."
The researchers said the victims often are addicted to drugs as a means of controlling them and forcing them to perform certain acts.
The researchers found trafficking patterns differ in different areas of the world.
Statistical estimates indicate 300,000 women have been sold into the sex trade in Western Europe in the last 10 years, and since 1990, 80,000 women and children from Myanmar (formerly Burma), Cambodia, Laos and China have been sold into Thailand's sex industry.
Among the other findings:
Institute President M. Cherif Bassiouni said compiling such statistics "will make it impossible for governments and international organizations to continue their ignorance and denial of this problem and the terrible toll it takes on the lives of the world's most vulnerable people. This investigation will lay the groundwork for an effective, national, regional and international means to combat the phenomenon and to put an end to this cruel form of human slavery."
"Adding to this shameful lack of interest by governments is the fact that there are no regional treaties concerning this phenomenon, even though there are many regional organizations that deal with a variety of problems concerning their respective regions," the report said.
The research blames desperate economic conditions for the practice with traffickers preying on families so poor they are willing to sell a child for a few hundred dollars - a year's income.
"The lure of a relatively well-paying job in a foreign country which does not require language or other skills, such as domestic help, is enough to lead many unsuspecting women and children into the hands of the recruiters and traffickers," the report said.
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