November 28, 2000

Slavery is widespread, reports international crime conference

                  BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) -- Top global crime busters warned on Tuesday that
                  a surge in the international smuggling of women, children and slave laborers,
                  could be the world's fastest growing organized criminal activity.

                  Modern slavery, in the form of women and children sold into prostitution in the
                  developed world or desperate people that go to extremes for a better life in the
                  first world, is fast becoming a serious threat, delegates at a U.N.-sponsored
                  conference said.

                  "This is the fastest growing form of organized crime," said Pino Arlacchi, head
                  of the based U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNDCP),
                  which is hosting the meeting.

                  He was opening the first ever International Seminar on the Trafficking of Human
                  Beings where crime experts and human rights groups will wrestle with the
                  scourge in which four million people are smuggled each year, according to

                  In the backdrop of the meeting was the images of such horrendous events as a
                  container load of dozens of dead Chinese who were found at Britain's port of
                  Dover this year, having died of suffocation on their journey from China.

                  "Trafficking in human beings is one of the most globalized markets in the world
                  today," said Arlacchi, who won fame in the early 1990s for busting Italian mafia
                  rings. "Almost no country is immune from it."

                  Calling the problem, a "new form of slavery," Arlacchi warned that traditional
                  crime rings could increasingly turn to smuggling humans and away from other
                  activities as many countries have few institutional means to fight it.

                  Most nations have focused on the problem of illegal immigrants and not the
                  criminals taking advantage of them.

                  Delegates hope the meeting can start the work of adopting an international
                  strategy to fight trafficking in humans to be adopted at a global forum in 2002.

                  Speakers at the meeting warned that the problem extends well beyond the
                  international sex industry, to trafficking in children for adoption, women forced
                  into marriage, humans smuggled for organs and outright slavery with forced

                  Above all, the lure of a new life in the United States or Europe, attracts
                  thousands of poor into the clutches of international crime rings that charge
                  thousands of dollars to ship their human cargoes.

                  Often the hopefuls end up in the shark-infested waters of the South China Sea,
                  lost forever, said Hamish McCulloch, an expert in trafficking of humans at
                  Interpol in Paris.

                  "Human beings are treated as nothing more than commodities by the traffickers,"
                  said McCulloch. He estimated the criminals behind human trafficking make $9
                  billion a year.

                  Host country Brazil, the world's fifth largest country with massive isolated farm
                  lands, itself faces huge problems both with internal slavery and the illegal
                  trafficking of women to Europe and the United States.

                  "Arlacchi will find a country with great problems of violence," Brazil's Justice
                  Minister Jose Gregori told delegates, stressing that Brazil is ready for change.

                  "We have started to act, we are no longer standing still," he said.

                  Brazil's Labor Ministry has rescued almost 2,000 rural workers from slave labor
                  in the past five years but human rights workers say the resources devoted to the
                  work are sorely needed, leaving hundreds more to fall through the net.

                  The meeting's organizers said 75,000 Brazilian women work in Europe as
                  prostitutes, most of them smuggled.

                     Copyright 2000 Reuters.