Wednesday, April 15, 2009

NGO - Sabah among 3 human trafficking hotspots

Kota Kinabalu: Sabah has earned the dubious distinction of being a hotbed for human trafficking in the country, the victims being women and children forced into prostitution.

The situation, according to the NGO Tenaganita, has become quite serious in Sabah because the problem is being monitored more closely in the peninsula.

Because of that the culprits are moving their modus operandi to Sabah and Sarawak, claimed its Director Dr Irene Fernandez.

She said of the 119 cases of human trafficking in the country, thus far 80 per cent of the victims were rescued in Sabah.

A worrying trend is that among those rescued were children below 16 some as young as 14 and 13, she said.

This means that children are being brought in for forced prostitution," she said at the opening of a two-day workshop on "Role of the Media in Countering Trafficking in Persons" at Likas Square, Tuesday.

She identified Labuan, Sandakan and Limbang as the latest "hotspots" for human trafficking and prostitution in the country based on the victims they rescued who had been forced into prostitution.

She said most of the women and girls rescued were from neighbouring countries like the Philippines and Indonesia as well as from Vietnam and India.

According to her, prostitution is bound to increase whenever there are huge development projects such as the Bakun dam in Sarawak.

In this respect, it is very important to train municipal councils and town councils since they are the authorities with power to approve and revoke trading licences of entertainment outlets.

But at the same time, Fernandez said many Sabahan girls had also fallen victims to trafficking after they were duped by employment agencies who then forced them into prostitution once they reached Singapore.

"Our partner in Singapore said there's been an increasing number of Sabahans forced into prostitution," she said.

However, she said they are facing challenges in this aspect in the Lion City because Singapore has legalised prostitution.

Fernandez said Singapore does not believe that anyone could be forced into prostitution but that Tenaganita is challenging it since there are syndicates operating and forcing foreign women into prostitution. She said there is still much more to do in countering human trafficking.

"Although the police now have a special (human trafficking) unit established in Bukit Aman, we would also need a unit in Sabah," she said.

This is so that the police here would be trained and be knowledgeable in the law effectively and to enforce it in Sabah.

The migration of humans is now so fluid that there must be effort to address it especially in terms of human trafficking, she said.

President of Sabah Journalist Association (SJA), Datuk Joniston Bangkuai, said the media must play its role toward combating human trafficking in the country.

He said that everyone including the Government, private sector and the public must cooperate with the media to overcome the problem.

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