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    United Nations
    Economic and Social Council

    Distr.: General
    3 March 1999
    Original: English

    NGO in Consultative Status (Category II) with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations

    Statement regarding Health and Trafficking of Women
    prepared for the 43rd session of the
    Commission on the Status of Women

    As the world commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, it is sad to note that many thousands of individuals throughout the world are stripped of their basic rights every day. Trafficked women are neither free nor are they equal in dignity and rights. Trafficked women are enslaved and held in servitude. They are subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment, and they are denied the right to a standard of living adequate for health. All in direct contrast to the articles of the declaration.

    At the 42nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women, governments and NGO's expressed outrage at the growing industry of trafficking in girls and young women. International Conferences and expert meetings were held to formulate and discuss solutions. Yet, inconceivable as it is, many governments still choose to ignore the reality that abuses of human rights are taking place with even greater frequency now than before. Women, often not even treated as second class citizens, are regarded as mere commodities to be bought, sold, and finally discarded after use by traffickers. Healthcare, even within the structured environs of brothels, is an afterthought, and in many cases non-existent. The risk of disease is borne wholly by the "sex-worker" or slave inasmuch as preventative measures are discouraged and often denied. Where condoms are not permitted, disease proliferates and there is no concern on the part of the brothel owners and traffickers about the health risks to the workers. Pregnancy is often not a deterrent to the clients, and that puts additional risk on the unborn child. The women are, after all, replaceable there are always more where the last one came from. Customer preferences dictate demand, while the brothel owners and traffickers control supply. Profit drives the growth of the industry, and the women control nothing, least of all their own health.

    The Platform for Action, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995) identified "Women and Health" as the critical areas of concern and defined five strategic objectives, one of which is to undertake gender sensitive initiatives that address sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, and sexual and reproductive health issue. There has been an explosive growth in the numbers of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases among the young women especially among sex-workers and victims of trafficking in Central and Eastern Europe. In Ukraine alone there has been a 440% increase in reported cases of HIV/AIDS in the last two years.

    The health hazards are most evident in the rise of reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases among women forced to work in the sex-trade, but these are not limited to physical afflictions, nor are they restricted to only that sector of society. In fact, society as a whole is exposed when disease is carried into the home by the men who avail themselves of such sexual services and serve to threaten the health of their wives and children. Physical abuses of the trafficked victims ranging from threats and beatings to drugging and starvation are reported to have left women crippled and emotionally scarred for life. The devastating psychological effects on trafficked women, even if eventually released, are immeasurable. Suicides are not uncommon, sexually transmitted diseases are being spread at a faster rate, and the death toll due to HIV/AIDS is rising.

    Practical solutions for these issues can include, among other things, easy access to public health facilities for women working in the sex-trade. In cases where women are able to free themselves of bondage, appropriate assistance from law-enforcement officials must be offered. Many of these women, especially those who find themselves in foreign countries without the proper credentials, are often incarcerated rather than returned home, and access to medical services, again, either limited or denied. Availability of medical and psychiatric rehabilitation, as well as financial and legal assistance for those who escape, are all integral to workable solutions that address the issue. Support for existing rehabilitation programs and facilities in countries that traffickers source for their supply of young women are key elements of any plan to tackle the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.

    In 50 years, societal values have not come far enough to affect the necessary fundamental changes in attitude towards women, a critical step in the process of recognizing women's equality to men with the same basic rights as men. The dynamic involvement of government, law enforcement, medical communities and society as a whole are essential to the effort of eliminating the threat of trafficking of women and reversing the perception of women as commodities.

    The World Federation of Ukrainian Women's Organizations supports the draft resolution for the Commission on the Status of Women 1999, WOMEN'S HEALTH THROUGHOUT THE LIFE SPAN, in calling for the urgent implementation of the health objectives of the Platform for Action and other relevant international agreements in order to ensure progress in women's health, and to include among these initiatives the health and rehabilitation of the enslaved women who have no voice.


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