Trafficking of Women in South Asia: A Sketch

By Mishra, Mira | Contributions to Nepalese Studies, January 2002 | Go to article overview

Trafficking of Women in South Asia: A Sketch


Mishra, Mira, Contributions to Nepalese Studies


This brief note seeks to draw a sketch of the regime of trafficking in South Asia, particularly in relation to the trafficking of girls and women for prostitution. To this end, it enters the theme by describing and examining the conceptualizations and interventions on trafficking, and explores "complicitness" in trafficking and the relationship between trafficking and prostitution. Above all, it sketches a preliminary "model" of the regimes of demand and supply of trafficking.

Introduction

Trafficking in persons, particularly women and girls, has received sporadic and intermittent attention from different states and interstate organs for quite some time. The 1895 treaty on the prevention of "trafficking in women" in Paris, the 1904 international agreement on the suppression of the "White Slave Trade", which aimed to "combat the procuring of women and girls for immoral purposes", the 1949 United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others were some such steps. Of the many recent interstate initiatives for controlling trafficking, among others, are the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the adoption, by the UN, in 1994, of the resolution on the "traffic in women and girls" (see Wijers and Chew 1997: Chapter 2 for an extended treatment). Following a period in which trafficking had become nearly synonymous with prostitution, the 1995 Beijing Conference identified many other forms, aspects and conditions (e.g. false marriage, forced labor) of trafficking.

However, what constitutes trafficking of human beings has been a matter of much discussion and fairly heated debate and controversy. Definitions differ in the extent to which they are inclusive, the extent to which they are detailed, the extent to which they are gender specific and the extent to which they are sensitive to the regional context. The UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson (UN 1999) views "debt bondage, forced prostitution and false marriage" as different expressions of trafficking, a definition which is a somewhat inclusive but sketchy, i.e. lacking in detail. Some definitions are relatively inclusive as well as detailed. The UN (A/Res/49/166 adopted on December 23, 1994), for example, views trafficking as "the illicit and clandestine movement of persons across national and international borders, largely from developing countries and some countries with economies in transition, with the end goal of forcing women and girls into sexually or economically oppressive and exploitative situations for the profit of recruiters, traffickers and crime syndicates, as well as other illegal activities related to trafficking such as forced domestic labor, false marriage, clandestine employment and false adoption". Still some other definitions are detailed in a legally oriented way: [Trafficking includes] "All acts and attempted acts, attempted recruitment, transportation within or across borders, purchase, sale, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person involving the use of deception and coercion including the use or threat of force or the abuse of authority or debt bondage for the purpose of placing or holding such persons, whether for pay or not, in involuntary servitude (domestic, sexual or reproductive), in forced or bonded labor, or in slave-like conditions, in a community other than the one in which such person lived at the time of the original deception, coercion or debt bondage (GAATW 1999: 11). Finally, some other definitions are somewhat more sensitive to the South Asian context and but at the same time much too restrictive. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), for example, agrees that trafficking in the region is of a specific character, shows great concern against trafficking and also agrees that combating trafficking in women and children remains urgent. But, at the same time, it views trafficking solely in the context of prostitution (see the SAARC convention on "combating trafficking on women and children for prostitution"). …

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