Human trafficking on the rise
GENEVA, Switzerland -- Forced labour and human trafficking is increasing across the world, a United Nations study says.
Women, children and migrants were most at risk, with demand for domestic staff and workers in the sex industry responsible for fuelling the trade.
"The growth of forced labour worldwide is deeply disturbing," said Juan Somavia, director general of the U.N. International Labour Organisation.
"The emerging picture is one where slavery, oppression and exploitation of society's most vulnerable members have by no means been consigned to the past."
He called on the world to "re-examine its conscience and instigate action to abolish forced labour and the often terrible living and working conditions that accompany it."
Most countries in the world were either sending countries, transit countries or receiving countries, the United Nations body said in the 128-page report.
Although the Geneva-based ILO gave no overall figures, it said the United States was believed to be the destination for 50,000 trafficked women and children each year alone, with New York and California the main entry points.
The report said slavery was increasingly rare but still found in a few countries.
"The wholesale abduction of individuals and communities in such conflict-torn societies as Liberia, Mauritania, Sierra Leone and Sudan is not uncommon," the report said.
According to the ILO, domestic workers in many countries were trapped into forced labour -- prevented from leaving employers' homes -- through tactics such as withholding pay or identity documents.
In many countries in South Asia and Central and South America, millions are living in conditions of debt bondage -- tied to their employers by unpayable debts.
In the sex industry, workers were also forced to stay in the job through debt.
"The person may enter into an agreement with the recruiting agent on an apparently voluntary basis ... but conditions at the destination point are likely to involve coercion, including physical restrictions on freedom of movement, abuse or violence, and fraud," it said.
"Victims frequently find themselves trapped in debt bondage and other slavery-like conditions."
Europe has seen an explosion of trafficking since the break-up of the former Soviet Union, with men and women from eastern Europe and the Balkans constituting the vast majority of those on the move, according to the ILO.
"Poverty, unemployment, civil disorder, political repression and gender and racial discrimination make for an all too propitious environment for traffickers' exploitation of vulnerable people."
Authorities had difficulty detecting the trade as it is often carried out by international gangs who find it less dangerous than drug smuggling.
People smugglers have rarely been caught and the punishments handed down were usually lighter than for drug smuggling, the ILO said.
Main destinations were the large cities of Western Europe, Israel, Japan and the U.S., the report said.
The report pointed to Myanmar, or Burma, as the "prime instance of an extreme case of forced labour."
The country is subject to ILO sanctions following revelations of widespread use of forced labour for infrastructure projects or by the military.
In a recent high-profile incident of trafficking, 43 children and young adults were set adrift in a ship off the Benin coast.
The accounts of children removed from the ship when it docked confirmed the ship was involved in child trafficking, the U.N. children's fund and an aid group concluded.
But both organisations stopped short of alleging that any of the 43 children and young adults aboard was destined for slavery.
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