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Human trafficking in Burma ‘a major problem’

June 17, 2009 (DVB), Human trafficking within Burma remains "significant", whilst trafficking of young women into forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation is a "major problem", according to a US state department report.

The Trafficking in Persons report cited statistics released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that estimate that at least 12.3 million people worldwide are in forced labour, bonded labour or commercial sexual exploitation.

Many Burmese women and children are being trafficked to Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, South Korea, China and Malaysia, the latter two often for forced marriage.

Within Burma, however, the problem was "significant". Trafficking of girls for the purpose of prostitution "persisted as a major problem, particularly in urban areas", and was seen to drive Burma's reputation as "a destination country for child sex tourism".

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the phenomenon as "modern slavery" that "weakens legitimate economies, fuels violence, threatens public health and safety, shatters families, and shreds the social fabric that is necessary for progress."

The report also highlighted the ongoing phenomenon of forced recruitment of children into armed ethnic groups and the Burmese army, the latter largely as a result of increasing cases of desertion of adult soldiers.

The recruitment of child soldiers is often seen as a means of maintaining the Burmese army's troop levels, with children often bearing the brunt of its frequent recruitment drives.

"The military junta's gross economic mismanagement, human rights abuses, and its continued widespread use of forced labor are among the top causal factors for Burma's significant trafficking problem," the report said.

Complainants of forced labour are ostensibly protected under the 'supplementary understanding' agreement the ILO has with the Burmese government, although in 15 of the 152 cases reported to the ILO since 1997, the organization has received information alleging harassment or reprisals by government authorities.

Earlier this month the ILO called a revision of a clause in the Burmese constitution that justified use of forced labour "in duties assigned by the Union in accord with the law in the interest of the public".

In 2002 Human Rights Watch named the Burmese government as the world's leading recruiter of child soldiers.

The US report did note however that the regime had made "significant efforts" with regards to tackling commercial sexual exploitation, although overall the government "is not making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking".

Reporting by Francis Wade


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