Friday, April 27, 2001

500,000 forced prostitutes working in the Balkans

VIENNA — Large numbers of international peacekeepers create a lucrative market for the sex trade in the Balkans, say European human rights experts, and criminal gangs are cashing in with forced prostitution.

'The influx of men in uniforms creates a market for sex work' — Helga Konrad

Gerard Stoudmann, human rights director for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, says Balkan countries aren't doing enough to curb forced prostitution.

"The countries in the region still consider this as a very secondary problem, if not a necessary evil or a source of benefit," he told a news conference.

Stoudmann said indifference and corruption were hampering efforts to curb the problem. He intimated that peacekeepers in the region might also be to blame. He didn't say how, but said he would present evidence in the future.

An international conference on forced prostitution began in Vienna on Friday.

Criminal gangs force young women and girls to become prostitutes, often by kidnapping them and taking them to another country. Sometimes, the gangs promise a better life abroad, then take away the women's passports and force them to buy their freedom by selling sex.

Stoudmann said the problems are worst in Albania and Montenegro, but also very bad in Kosovo and Bosnia where international countries have forces stationed. That's a point picked up on by Helga Konrad, who heads a regional task force on human trafficking.

"I am sure that the influx of men in uniforms creates a market for sex work," she told the news conference. "And, of course, traffickers take advantage of the situation."

Konrad says studies have shown about 30 per cent of international peacekeeping troops purchase the services of women forced into prostitution.

She also said as many as 500,000 young women and girls are working as prostitutes against their will in the Balkans.

— Written by CBC News Online staff

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Created: May 24, 2001
Last modified: September 1, 2001
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