Police in Taoyuan recently announced they had busted a smuggling ring run by a former national taekwondo athlete who had brought young women into Taiwan from southeast Asian countries and China under the pretense of arranged marriages but then forced them into prostitution. One of the women was an AIDS patient from Indonesia who has been in Taiwan for five years and had engaged in unprotected sex with customers more than 10,000 times.
This case is not only a warning for Taiwan's AIDS prevention efforts, but also clearly demonstrates that there is still much work to be done in Taiwan's battle to curb international human trafficking.
While the Taiwanese media have been focusing on the continuing political scandals over President Chen Shui-bian's (
Taiwan's ability to prevent human trafficking has been particularly poor. Taiwan is now listed on the US' tier-two watchlist, which for a country that claims to be founded on the principle of human rights is an ugly and embarrassing turn of events.
The lowered rating was prompted by several cases of exploitation of foreign workers in Taiwan. Thai laborers building the Kaohsiung Rapid Transit System rioted last year, claiming that their employers had maltreated them, while a Vietnamese family caretaker in Tainan accused her employers of sexual abuse.
The US report says that half of the 350,000 foreign workers in Taiwan are not protected by the Labor Standards Law (勞基法) and as there is no legal oversight mechanism, many marriage agencies have become fronts for groups dealing women into forced prostitution.
Populations have always migrated from one country to another, but modern advances in transportation technology have led to a dramatic increase. In recent years, more and more foreign women -- many of whom were minors -- were smuggled into Taiwan having been promised husbands, only to end up as prostitutes.
Human trafficking has become more international and better organized. Exploitation and control inevitably come along with it, as women brought to a foreign place often have no support or means of asking for help or escaping.
As a result, the international community has begun to pass legislation to stop the spread of human trafficking. In November 2000, the UN supplemented its Convention against Transnational Organized Crime with its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, while the US passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in the same year.
Other countries have followed suit as the "three Ps" policy -- protection of victims, prosecution of criminals and prevention of human trafficking -- has become commonly accepted.
In the last two years, the Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation has been actively involved in human trafficking prevention, establishing channels for international cooperation and taking practical steps to provide help to victims of human trafficking. It has also worked to provide victims with professional training and advocates the formation of an oversight policy.
More than half of the victims in Taiwan have been brought via underground banks run by human trafficking syndicates, through arranged marriage brokers or suppliers of foreign labor. They are brought to Taiwan, the US, Japan or other countries under the pretext of working, getting married, visiting relatives, touring, studying or performing, but they are exploited on every level and stripped of their freedoms.
Some victims are forced to become sex workers without receiving any compensation. Instead they must deal with strict supervision and the threat of violence. Foreign laborers are conscripted into long-term commitments, swapped between employers without warning, never receive any pay and are always at risk of being turned into sex workers.
UN research has shown that international human trafficking has become a global threat. As criminal groups integrate their operations, their illegal earnings are now on par with the illicit drug smuggling and arms dealing industries.
Countries around the world have realized that they need to make legal adjustments to more effectively investigate, prosecute and convict human traffickers and reduce the demand for human trafficking. They have to change biased gender attitudes in importing countries and stimulate international cooperation between exporting countries, importing countries and the countries in between through which victims are transported.
The government and private organizations have to integrate their resources. Last week, the Cabinet passed a plan to prevent human trafficking, which is an important promise from the government to the international community. To protect human rights, and to absolve Taiwan's tarnished name, we should not be absent from the global fight to stop human trafficking.
Sandy Yeh is the president of the Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation.
Translated by Marc Langer
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