(HN, December 12, 2010) The Egyptian Government plans to intensify its battle against the widespread trafficking of human organs and humans, including moving against the widening practice of under-age marriages that are the equivalent of human slavery.
Starting with a forum this weekend in Luxor chaired by First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, the country will follow-up with its first national anti-human trafficking plan. It is to enter into force as of January 2011 and extend to to January 2013, and is based on four main points: prevention, protection, prosecution and participation. Mubarak made the annoucement at a news conference.
Human trafficking is an enormous problem in Egypt. Canadian investigative journalist Victor Malarek identified the country - and especially the Sinai Peninsula - as a major transit point for women from Eastern Europe being trafficked. Malarek, in his book The Natashas, has documented cases of Slavic women smuggled via Egypt into Israel and forced into prostitution, often with the collusion of Israeli police.
Mubarak hinted at the large scope of the problem - saying that, given the unprecedented growing threat posed by this crime, it was a must for Egypt to adopt its own combat strategy.
Human trafficking has mushroomed into a global, trans-national menace that imposed itself on the world community's agenda, she said.
The trafficking of human organs is also proliferating - especially among poor, urban dwellers in Egypt - who sell the items to specialized hospitals and labs, the government found in a national study on human trafficking.
Another problem is under-age marriage for the purpose of prostitution or human slavery: a government study obtained by HUMNEWS says that girls as young as 14 years old, in a bid to escape poverty, are wed to wealthy men from the Gulf States.
The forum - held with the UN and attended by Hollywood celebrities - is held also to mark the ten-year anniversary of the UN Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, which was launched on Dec. 12, 2000. The protocol focused the attention of the global community on combating human trafficking and called for the criminalization of all acts of trafficking, including forced labor, slavery, and slavery-like practices.
Human trafficking is the third most profitable illegal business after weapons and drugs nowadays. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates the total market value of human trafficking at $32 billion. And an estimated 2.4 million people are currently victims of this modern slavery - from at least 127 countries and have been found to be exploited in 137 states.
Most victims are between the ages of 18 and 24, and an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year, UN figures show.
At the forum, UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov urged for action from business: "The private sector has so much to offer in terms of resources, knowledge and influence to combat human trafficking. Raising awareness both within the workforce and the general community on trafficking is critical, and businesses have a moral and legal responsibility to ensure that all aspects of their operations are "traffic-free" - from employees, to suppliers, to partners".
Joy Ngozi Ezeilo - the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons - has said there is absence of accurate data on trafficking in persons, especially women and children which has made it impossible to measure the magnitude or scale of human trafficking in Egypt. "While acknowledging that quality data may be scarce in the field, it also breeds concern because...many stakeholders describe Egypt as a transit country but this classification is done without any backup statistics," she said.
Ezeilo also said human trafficking is much more of a domestic problem in Egypt. "There is a growing trend of sexual and economic exploitation of young Egyptian girls by their families and brokers, who execute marriages that are also popularly known as 'seasonal or temporary' marriage. These types of marriages sometimes provide a smokescreen for providing sexual services to foreign men."
Though one observer in Egypt said the problem is far more grave than the Government or UN is admitting. "We are a country of origin, transit and destination but the government decided that we are only a country of origin. We have the worst forms of exploitation - and they (the Government) still insist that we have none."
- HUMNEWS staff, files