Selling Souls: Officials under pressure to step up the fight against people trafficking

By Marianna Grigoryan & Sara Khojoyan
ArmeniaNow reporters
 
Every Friday, 40 women from Vanadzor take a bus to Turkey. Half of them do not return.

Some of the women become victims of human trafficking there, according to the President of the Association of Audio-Visual Journalists Arzuman Harutyunyan. As part of a Trafficking Awareness Campaign program he uses a special information web portal, to raise public awareness of the issue. (see www.antitrafficking.info)

A panel said Armenia has a human trafficking problem
Stepan Vardanyants, chief of the Second Division of the Police Department against Organized Crime, says that the real number of Armenians who are trafficked in Turkey is being hidden for political reasons.  

Numerous investigations in recent years have shown that, for purposes of sexual exploitation, women from Armenia are mainly taken to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), while labor exploitation mainly occurs in Russia.

According to the Armenian Embassy in the UAE, only a few dozen Armenian women are currently being subjected to sexual exploitation in that country. Others say the true figure is far higher.

A “well-paid job” is very often the bait used to persuade women in difficult social situations to travel abroad. State and independent representatives who are waging a struggle against trafficking avoid citing specific trafficking figures for Armenia, relying instead on the number of court cases involving this crime.

In the first nine months of 2006, 33 criminal cases were instituted in Armenia in connection with sexual and labor exploitation of people, of which nine were under Article 132 of the Penal Code – a new law that provides for prison sentences of between four and six years.

This article is one of the steps taken by Armenia to combat human trafficking in recent years, along with other measures such as raising public awareness and bringing national legislation into line with international standards.

The reform, along with grants and programs to reduce trafficking, were largely the product of the 2002 U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons report to Congress.

According to the 2002 report, Armenia ranked among the third-class of countries in tackling the problem. This meant that trafficking was not given sufficient attention by the Government and the sphere was completely uncontrolled.

“The government failed to vigorously investigate and prosecute ongoing and widespread allegations of public officials' complicity in trafficking,” the report of the U.S. Department of State reads.

“Accusatory and tactless attitudes towards trafficking victims continue to remain problematic among officials in Armenia, especially in the judiciary.”

In reply to this report, Armenia’s Prime Minister ordered an interdepartmental commission to study the trafficking problem and make proposals to address it.

“There is no country in the world that can boast of having completely solved the problem of trafficking. But the US Government is concerned over the state of the anti-trafficking struggle in Armenia, as Armenia is in our list of second-level countries, with a risk of joining the third level countries,” said Julie Finley, the US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, during discussions in Yerevan this week on national strategies and action plans to combat trafficking.

However, members of the interdepartmental commission say the program will help to “control” the problem.

Experts say within the scope of the program, continuous works will be carried out to raise public awareness of the problem.

Specialists working at different ministries and structures involved in the fight against trafficking will have a chance to get training. Besides, plans are being made to improve migration policy and legislation.

“Armenia is in the leading position in the region as far as the struggle against trafficking is concerned, since in neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan they haven’t even accomplished legislative reforms yet,” the Interdepartmental Anti-Trafficking Commission Chairman Valery Mkrtumyan says.

The governments of Norway and the Netherlands allocated to Armenia a grant of $650,000 for anti-trafficking reforms, legislation, awareness programs, as well as for a telephone hotline service in 2004-2006.

Specialists in the field say that another $1 million will be necessary for the development and implementation of a second program for 2007-2009 that would make efforts to tackle the problem more apparent.

 

 





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