Slavery is “alive and well” in Kazakhstan

According to guest speakers at American Corner in Astana, Kazakhstan, human trafficking or slavery is the second most profitable type of crime after drugs. The UN have statistics that report 5 million people become victims in human trafficking every year and the traffickers make about 8 billion dollars in income.   According to one of my students who attended this session with Marko Velikonja (International Narcotics and Law Enforcement) and Elena Beskrovnaya (INL Program Manager) mainly men are the victims of forced exploitation – 69.1%.  Sadly, 62% of the victims in Central Asia are exploited within their own countries. Slavery is alive and well in Kazakhstan and without proper awareness and education will continue unabated.

As Marinka Franvolic pointed out earlier when she spoke to my students, at least drugs can be found on the criminal as evidence and it is much easier to prosecute once drug dealers are caught.  Whereas, the victims are going along with their trafficker to a new, unknown destination not knowing they have been deceived. If there is any suspicion, or if the victim becomes alert to the fraud, the trafficker will plead innocent and get off the hook if law enforcement is called upon.  Therefore, a trafficker can get off scott free to victimize someone else since rigid penalties are not in place to strictly enforce those who are caught.

Three kinds of people are involved: victims, traffickers and the providers (transit people).  In the case of prostitution it would include the “johns” or customers. As mentioned earlier, every year five million people fall victim to exploitation (either sexual or hard labor with little or no pay) in the following kind of work:

Tobacco, cotton fields

Building construction

Child labor

Begging in street

Forced marriages

Prostitution

Pornography

Surrogate maternity

Transplantation of organs

Who are these victims in Kazakhstan? They are usually the vulnerable people in the rural areas who are poor and jobless. Often they are heads of households who want to provide for their families.  Also, orphan children who have lived in orphanages all their lives but are turned out to fend for themselves at age 18 fall victim.  Basically it happens to uneducated people who have no skills in remote villages but it can happen to educated people as well.

The main tactic, after the victim has either been lied to or lathered with praise about their skills, abilities or beauty (cases of finding young girls at bars who are attractive and/or dance well), is to take away all of their documents once to their final destination.   The smart victims who are equipped with hotline numbers with the International Organization of Migrants (IOM) can get out of their slavery before they are exploited or raped by calling (8 8000 8000 15) free of charge.  The police hotline for dealing with human trafficking is 1 16 16.  Many Non governmental organizations throughout Kazakhstan exist and the phone numbers were given from 14 places: Astana, Aktobe, Aktau, Almaty, Zhezkazgan, Karaganada, Kokshetau, Kostanay, Krgyzlorda, Petropavlovsk, Taldykhorghan, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Shymkent, Taraz.  If I’m not mistaken most of these cities are in the northern part of Kazakhstan with the exception of 4-5 cities that are in the south.  What does that mean? More trafficking is happening closer to Russia OR more awareness and shelters with NGOs are in the north of Kazakhstan to help victims?

As it turns out, most traffickers are business people (owners of saunas, clubs, cafes, tourist and model agencies, farms, etc.)  Also, traffickers are former victims who are promised their freedom if they can bring in 2-3 more “victims” in exchange. Also, they are former convicts and corrupt government officials.

(to be continued)

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