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7/12/04 - HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN SOUTH ASIA - 2004-07-12

Neeta Lama of Nepal is now back with her parents. The thirteen-year-old girl was recently rescued from forced labor in an Indian circus, according to The Washington Times newspaper. Neeta was sold to circus owners in 2002 by her father. Neeta told her rescuers, members of several non-governmental human rights groups, that she and other child performers were terribly abused by circus owners and managers. "I cannot remember how many times I was raped," she said.

Neeta Lama is one of the more than six-hundred-thousand people estimated to be trafficked across international borders each year.

Stopping this horrific traffic is a high priority for the United States, says Secretary of State Colin Powell:

"The more you learn about the most vulnerable among us who are savaged by these crimes, the harder it is to look the other way, and the easier it is to understand the President's [Bush’s] determination that we act to put a stop to all trafficking in persons. We're talking about women and girls, as young as six years old, trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation; men trafficked into forced labor; children trafficked as child soldiers. The victims are not few, and the vast majority are women and children."

Efforts are being made to stop the exploitation of children in particular. The United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF, is seeking to demobilize some eight-thousand child soldiers in Afghanistan. Since February, more than two-thousand-two-hundred child soldiers between the ages of fourteen and eighteen have reportedly been disarmed and demobilized in eight Afghan provinces. UNICEF officials say the program is expected to be expanded to six provinces in central Afghanistan and five provinces in the north before the end of this year.

Elsewhere in the region, the U.S. State Department says in a recent report that Pakistan "does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so." The U.S. State Department has also identified Bangladesh as a country of origin and transit for the trafficking of women and children. But unlike Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, the report says Bangladesh "is not making significant efforts" to combat trafficking in persons.