LONDON — India, Libya and Myanmar are the world’s most dangerous countries for women exploited by human traffickers and forced to wed, work and sell sex, a global experts’ poll found on Tuesday.
Nigeria and Russia came joint fourth in the Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of about 550 experts in women’s issues on the worst countries for women when it comes to the trade in humans.
From detention centers in Libya and curses cast by priests in Nigeria, to porous borders in Myanmar and visa abuses around the World Cup in Russia, women and girls are increasingly being targeted and trapped by traffickers using a variety of tactics.
Women and girls account for seven in 10 victims of an industry estimated to affect 40 million people worldwide and generate illegal annual profits of $150 billion for traffickers, says the United Nations and rights group Walk Free Foundation.
“They are uniquely vulnerable because of their subordinate status economically, socially and culturally,” said Christa Hayden Sharpe from the charity International Justice Mission.
Women and girls in India face the biggest threat from traffickers because they are still widely considered to be sexual objects and second-class citizens, campaigners said.
About two-thirds of the 15,000 trafficking cases registered by India in 2016 involved female victims – nearly half were under 18 – with most sold into sex work or domestic servitude.
“Trafficking is a global issue, but of all the victims I have seen, I have found those from Southeast Asia, mainly India, the most vulnerable,” said Triveni Acharya of the Indian anti-trafficking charity Rescue Foundation.
“Girls continue to be seen as a burden on parents, inferior to boys,” she added, explaining how many rural girls are lured by traffickers who promise jobs or marriages in major cities.
In Libya, which is split between rival governments while ports are mainly controlled by armed groups who smuggle Africans onto boats heading for Europe, many migrants are detained and suffer forced labor, the United Nations and European Union say.
Reports persist of captured migrants being bought and sold in “slave markets”, according to the UN human rights office.
“The situation of migrant women and girls traveling through Libya is really dire,” said Hanan Salah, a senior researcher focusing on Libya for Human Rights Watch. “I would say that the majority of them face the risk of ill treatment and abuse.”
Women in Myanmar, in the spotlight after the exodus of 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh since insurgent attacks sparked a security crackdown last year, face a different threat from traffickers – being forced into marriages in China.
China is by far the most common destination country for trafficking victims from Myanmar – accounting for two thirds of the 307 cases investigated by the latter’s government in 2016.
A lack of jobs in Myanmar means poor girls and women fall prey to traffickers – many of them female – who take them to China under false pretenses as brides for men in a nation with a gender imbalance due to its one-child policy, campaigners say.
From Witchcraft to World Cup
Thousands of Nigerian women and girls are lured to Europe each year via Libya, made to perform black magic rituals known as ‘juju’ which bind them to their traffickers before they are forced into sex work in Italy, according to the United Nations.
Yet the recent order by a traditional ruler in Edo state revoking the voodoo rituals and warning priests who perform them is changing the nature of trafficking in Nigeria, officials say.
“The new dimension is they (the traffickers) are now telling the girls that they will get them jobs as nurses and househelp in Dubai … (with) travel documents … making it look legal,” said Julie Okah-Donli, head of anti-trafficking agency NAPTIP.
Russia is a major source and destination country for female victims, with local women being sex trafficked to Europe and the Middle East, and arrivals coming from nations such as Thailand, China and Nigeria, said Russian anti-slavery group Alternativa.
While Russia’s strict visa process has long made trafficking women into the nation a difficult endeavor, criminals have been plotting to exploit the World Cup which allows visitors to enter visa-free if they hold a ticket and football fan pass, it said.
“This is a real present for traffickers,” said Julia Siluyanova of Alternativa.
Rounding out the top 10 most dangerous countries for women at the hands of traffickers were the Philippines, Afghanistan, Thailand, Nepal, and Bangladesh and Pakistan in joint tenth.
The poll of 548 people was conducted online, by phone and in person between March 26 and May 4 spread across Europe, Africa, the Americas, South East Asia, South Asia and the Pacific.