Today human trafficking for labour or sexual exploitation is the fastest growing organised criminal activity in the world. The effects of the Soviet Union collapse on Central Asia has been a major catalyst in fueling this expansion due to a breakdown in political and social structure and war and poverty that ensued.
The region of Central Asia comprises of five main independent republics of the former Soviet Union. With a total population of over 67 million people, the countries include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (sometimes Afghanistan is also included in this region).
The Soviet Union collapse in 1991 had a profound effect on the political, economic and social structure of these countries as they struggled to come to grips with the transition to independence. For many years these countries had been under the strong social structure of the Soviet Union and the separation meant they had to reorganize their political and social systems and develop their own economies. A number of civil wars broke out which ultimately left many of these countries in turmoil and extreme poverty. Millions of people were left displaced, jobless and in turn, highly vulnerable to sex trafficking.
While progress has been made to restructure these countries, the effects of the Soviet collapse is still felt today and trafficking has thrived on the vulnerability of people desperate to find work. Traffickers are drawing on a seemingly endless supply of impoverished and vulnerable women and girls in particular.
Trafficking for sex slavery is also thriving under porous border controls, corruption and lucrative spin offs within governmental ranks. In most Asian countries there is a lack of political will to stamp out trafficking due to personal affiliations with this activity and the financial incentives to be gained. With the weakening of post Soviet nations, criminal groups assumed the roles that the state used to play, asserting their own form of authoritarianism. These mafia groups infiltrated the financial and political institutions which are still saturated today with corrupt officials who get big pay offs from sex traffickers.
“Invest in a Life” has a particular focus at this point on Tajikistan which is one of the poorest countries in this region. The founder of “Invest in a Life”, Marina Kurban, has a personal connection with this country as she was born there and grew up in a home affected by the realities of poverty and war. Her story can be read here.
Currently “Invest in a Life” supports three families in Tajikistan who are former victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.
People in desperate situations will take extreme measures to care for their families and women and girls in particular are very vulnerable. One of the women “Invest in a Life” supports shares her story of being deceived into the promise of a job in Russia. This is a very common ploy of traffickers as they arrange transportation from one country to another under the false pretense of ‘a better life’. With renewed hope and excitement, people immediately take up what appears to be an escape from their current reality only to arrive at their destination, have their passports seized and imprisoned to work as sex slaves in brothels. The woman named ‘Hope’ that “Invest in A Life” supports managed to escape her captives but this is very, very rare. Even though Hope managed to escape, the social shame of her ordeal had other dire consequences as you will read in her story.
Many ploys have been used to recruit more educated victims including marriage and employment agencies, fake modelling agencies, film production studios and work and study abroad opportunities. Because legitimate opportunities exist in these areas, it’s often difficult to separate the fraudulent advertisements from the credible ones and these advertisements are rarely vetted.
The expansion of sex trafficking in Central Asia has also been fueled by a growing demand for these women and children in the US and EU countries. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the rise in demand for Slavic (Russian) women that began in the 1990’s is the “fourth wave” of sexual slavery. The first wave of sex slaves was Thai and Filipino women in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. This was followed by the second wave of Dominicans and Colombians in the mid 1980’s. The late 1980’s gave rise to the third wave of women from Nigeria. Beginning with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the global sex industry created a tremendous demand for Slavic women and children that represents the fourth wave of sexual slavery that exists to this day.
Sex trafficking is a complex issue weaved with deception, exploitation of vulnerability and greed. It is driven by money and a sickening demand of people willing to pay for sex. Central Asia is one of the fastest growing regions for sex trafficking and unless we all start adding a voice to raise awareness, curtail demand and influence criminal laws, this tide of exploitation of daughters, wives and children won’t stop. The time is now and there is certainly hope for these nations to enter a new era free of the snares of sex trafficking.
Human trafficking: A global perspective by Louise Shelley
International Organization for Migration