Monday, December 28, 2009

The front lines of human trafficking

The border between Myanmar and China is considered a front line of human trafficking. A steady stream of people cross the border in either direction. Sometimes its hard to distinguish between those who were coerced into crossing, those crossing against their will, and those who made their own choice to cross.

From this Article in the Penninsula On-Line, we read more about human trafficking in the Chinese boarder town of Ruili.

On any given afternoon, a steady stream of people scale the six-foot-high fence, unperturbed by the Chinese border guards posted just a hundred yards away. Amid the men from Myanmar looking for day labour, or women coming to sell their vegetables in the wealthier Chinese markets, is traffic far less benign: Myanmar women being brought over for marriages with Chinese men — some forced, some voluntarily arranged through “matchmakers.”

Babies being brought into China to be sold. And Chinese women from poorer inland areas being moved in the opposite direction, often ending up in Southeast Asia’s sex industry. In the shadowy world of human trafficking, say government officials and advisers with foreign aid agencies, China has become a source country, a destination country and a transit country all at once.

“Some of the Yunnan women and girls think they’ll get a better job in Thailand,” said Kathleen Speake, chief technical adviser for the United Nations’ International Labor Office in Beijing. People from Myanmar “are coming into China. We’re looking at being trafficked for adoption, and women being trafficked for marriage.”

No firm numbers are available on the extent of trafficking. Kirsten di Martino, a project officer in Beijing for UNICEF, said that from 2000 to 2007, China’s public security bureau investigated 44,000 cases of trafficking, rescuing about 130,000 women and children.

But, she added, “this is just the tip of the iceberg.” China, she said, “is very big, and has a lot of border — and has a whole lot of problems.” Here in Ruili, two criminal gangs were cracked and 14 women rescued in the first half of the year, said Meng Yilian, who works for the newly formed group China-Myanmar Cooperation Against Human Trafficking. Myanmar is also known as Burma.

“In the villages bordering Myanmar, there are some people working as matchmakers,” she said. “And some of them are human traffickers. It’s hard to tell who are the matchmakers and who are the traffickers.” Matchmaking, which falls into a legally murky terrain, is rooted in Chinese tradition, which allows a man to make a gift to a woman’s family in exchange for marriage.

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