Organized crime traffickers are adding women to the list of goods they can smuggle across borders, causing a rise in the global "slave trade."
As a result, the European Union announced measures Tuesday at the conclusion of a two-day conference to combat the illegal trafficking of women, including a witness-protection program for those who testify against their exploiters.Anita Gradin, the EU commissoner who organized the Vienna gathering, said she will present a more detailed plan of action to both the EU's council of ministers and to the European parliament.
Ireland will keep the issue on the political agenda after it assumes the EU's rotating presidency on July 1, said John Byrne, an Irish Justice Department official specializing in immigration issues.
Historically, women slaves have come from Asia, Africa and Latin America. But as economic and social support systems crumbled with the end of communist regimes, women from central and eastern Europe have headed west, experts at the conference said Monday.
"The slave trade in women is growing," said Gradin. "Women are bought and sold like cattle. No part of the world seems exempt."
Estimates of the number of women smuggled from developing countries range from 200,000 to 500,000. The women are lured on promises of well-paid jobs, but are then forced into the sex trade.
In Vienna, 80 percent of the dancers in sex clubs come from central and eastern Europe, according to an EU report. In Milan, Italy, 80 percent of prostitutes are foreigners.
Experts say their ranks have grown dramatically in the past five years.
Trafficking in women is less risky than smuggling drugs, trading arms or laundering money since risks are low and profits high, she said.
"Today, it is a global business, creating huge profits for trafficking and crime syndicates," said James Purcell, who directs the International Organization for Migration.