Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The Rise in Human Trafficking and the Role of Organized Crime

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The Rise in Human Trafficking and the Role of Organized Crime

Article excerpt

The trafficking of women and children from their home countries abroad for purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor is growing at an alarming rate.(1) Some estimates put the total number of women and children transported from their homes and sold into slavery throughout the world at roughly one million per year.(2) At least four factors are facilitating the growth of this phenomenon: the globalization of the economy, the increased demand for personal services in the developed world, the continuing rise in unemployment among women, and the rapid and unregulated enticement and movement of human capital via the Internet. It is a sad commentary on the state of the global economy at the end of the twentieth century that women and children are being traded as quickly as commodities, stocks, and bonds without adequate legal and humanitarian protection. This phenomenon can easily be called the "commodification of persons."(3)

Unfortunately, these problems in the Russian Federation are part of a larger global trend. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, ending seventy years of centralized political and economic controls and at least fifty years of a comfortable social contract that guaranteed employment and social security for all, unemployment in Russia has hit the entire population extremely hard. Half of Russian adults are out of work and only a quarter of those employed are getting paid on a regular basis, according to some estimates.(4) The population that is hardest hit by unemployment and poverty is women and the children they support. These bleak labor trends have flowed nicely into the hands and coffers of criminal organizations seeking to exploit the fluid and chaotic situation by luring desperate, jobless women and their children--in many cases unknowingly--into forced prostitution, sweatshop labor, and domestic servitude. In the wake of globalization and weakening of the state, criminal organizations have assumed the roles that the state previously played and, as Louise Shelley points out, have asserted their own form of authoritarianism. Not only do the criminal organizations exploit the chaos and high unemployment in Russia, they actively intimidate the populace in a manner not unlike the coercive KGB informants and operatives of the Soviet era.(5) Criminal organizations have penetrated the financial structures and political circles and block efforts to foster the growth of civil society in Russia. At present, Russia appears to be not only penetrated, but ruled, by corrupt officials and financial oligarchs and involved in crime and corruption at all levels of society. This corrupt environment, combined with a still nascent sense of legal consciousness and high levels of unemployment and poverty, is literally inviting criminal organizations to rule the country and cripple efforts to create economic and political institutions capable of serving the Russian citizenry.

By most accounts, human trafficking is a highly attractive business for criminal groups because it is low in risk and high in payoffs. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that perhaps 3,000 Russian mobsters control gangs in American cities that involve the forced prostitution of more than 8,000 women, many of whom are of Slavic origin.(6) As German investigator Leo Keidel puts it: "Human trafficking is, without a doubt, a major branch of organized crime."(7) Keidel notes that human trafficking is a highly organized activity that ranks fifth in the hierarchy of organized criminal activities in Germany.(8) In 1995, there were twenty-one cases of human trafficking in Baden-Wurttemburg alone tied to organized crime, as reported by the Landeskrirninalamt. According to one UN estimate, criminal organizations generate up to $3.5 billion per year in profits from illegal migrant trafficking alone.(9) As the head of operations for a UN crime prevention center remarked bluntly, regarding trafficking in women from the former Soviet Union, "The earnings are incredible. …

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