By Nita Bhalla
NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - Asia and Pacific nations must enact and enforce laws to punish the buyers of prostituted sex who are promoting a trade which is forcing thousands of young girls into the industry every year, trafficked survivors say.
The region is the largest venue for human trafficking in the world, according to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with most girls and women used for sexual exploitation.
While anti-trafficking laws exist in most countries, a group of women -- many of whom have spent years working under duress as prostitutes -- have met for the first time to collectively call on governments to not only enforce penalties on the profiteers of the trade, but also those demanding it.
"This is the first time survivors are coming together internationally," said Ruchira Gupta, president of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an Indian charity working against human trafficking, which co-hosted a recent meeting with the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW).
"The fact that they have broken their silence in spite of the re-trauma and possible stigma shows that they desperately want the law to be amended on their behalf. They want those who rape them repeatedly to be punished not as revenge but as a deterrent to the perpetuation of the sex industry."
Around 70 women from countries across the region met in New Delhi last week to share their experiences and reject demands by some civil society groups to legalise prostitution, saying it served the demand side of sex trafficking.
Millions of adults and children are in forced and bonded labour and commercial sexual servitude globally, with activists estimating that 80 percent of these trans-national victims are women and girls.
Traffickers often abduct from or take advantage of impoverished communities, luring girls and women with promises of jobs as maids or nannies in wealthy households. But, activists say, the reality is very different.
Girls sent to foreign towns and cities often end up as involuntary sex workers, sometimes detained in a room by their employers and forced into unprotected sex with multiple partners.
But gender rights campaigners and women who have survived and escaped this cycle of sexual violence say it is the victims who are criminalised, while the customers, pimps and brothel owners go free.
"As long as there is a buyer, the prostitution system can never be dismantled," said Fatima Nat Dhuniya from the impoverished eastern Indian state of Bihar, who was forced into prostitution by her husband and his family.
"Nobody is our owner -- not the husband, not the father, not the pimp, not the buyer, not the sex industry."