Sri Lanka: Young S. Asian females at highest risk of "trafficking" & greatest vulnerability to HIV Print E-mail
 Wednesday August 22 2007

Study calls for efforts against human trafficking and HIV

UNDP officials and others led by Ms. Caitlin Wiesen, Regional HIV/AIDS Team Leader and Programme Coordinator for Asia Pacific, participate in the release of a study on Human Trafficking and HIV in Colombo on Wednesday. Photo: UNDP

Colombo, Aug. 21: A new independent regional research study commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with financial support from the Government of Japan has revealed an alarming trend of trafficking of girls and women and HIV infection in South Asia, according to an UNDP press release. South Asia accounts for more than half of the 300,000 to 450,000 people estimated to be trafficked in Asia each year.

The study, which was launched here today, has found that a large number of those at the risk of being trafficked in South Asia are young girls and women and they also run the risk of getting infected with HIV. The highest reported incidence of this double burden is in Nepal, Bangladesh and India, the study said. Factors such as gender inequality, violence and lack of economic opportunities for women increase their risk to both trafficking and HIV. Younger girls are at higher risk of trafficking as well as HIV.

According to recent studies by Harvard School of Public Health; in Mumbai one quarter of the trafficked individuals tested positive for HIV while in Nepal, it was close to 40 per cent. The study in Nepal also showed that almost 60 per cent girls under the age of 15 years trafficked into sex work were found to be HIV positive.

Weak governance makes the poor vulnerable to the risk of being trafficked. The absence of effective legislation and policies as well as poor law enforcement and corruption contribute to this.

Trafficking happens both within and across national borders. However, national governments and other stakeholders are yet to give this issue the priority it deserves, mainly because of the shortage of convincing data, the study said. “Information is available with regard to brothel-based sex work, but this reveals nothing about those who practice sex work in other settings,” the study said, adding “researchers need to look beyond sex work, since those who are trafficked for other purposes also find themselves in situations that increase their vulnerability to HIV. The clandestine nature of the phenomenon, criminal linkages and the cross-border spread mask the scale of the problem.”

Titled “Human Trafficking and HIV: Exploring Vulnerabilities and Responses in South Asia,” the analysis in this report is based on rapid assessment studies conducted in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan between 2004 and 2005. These studies explored the links between human trafficking, migration and HIV/AIDS in these countries and reviewed available data, the national laws, policies, strategies and responses.

To address human trafficking and HIV/AIDS the study recommends better coordination in national efforts to address both issues, which are often dealt separately, by focusing on factors such as gender inequalities and violence, social marginalization, poverty, and education. Better conceptual clarity on the issues concerned; integrating trafficking and HIV interventions into key sectors; and laws and policies to address both HIV and trafficking are other recommendations of the Study.

“One of the fundamental weaknesses in explaining and exploring the linkages between trafficking and HIV is lack of adequate data,” said Ms. Caitlin Wiesen, Regional HIV/AIDS Team Leader and Programme Cooridnator for Asia Pacific, UNDP Regional HIV and Development Programme. With Harvard School of Public Health, the Regional Programme is initiating a three-country research study on the linkages between human trafficking and HIV in Asia, she said.

The study was part of UNDP’s 3-year regional project on human trafficking and HIV in South Asia supported by the government of Japan under the UN Trust Fund on Human Security. “Human trafficking and HIV significantly threaten human security. The government of Japan is committed to assisting efforts to reduce vulnerabilities of girls and women to human trafficking and HIV infection in Asia,” said Mr. Masayuki Taga, Counsellor, the Embassy of Japan in Sri Lanka.