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HIV link to human trafficking

10th September 2007

The widespread trafficking of women and girls in a global industry worth US$5-7 billion dollars annually is closely linked to the spread of HIV/AIDS, a recent UN report has shown.

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Between 300,000 and 450,000 people are thought to be trafficked in Asia every year, more than half of them in South Asia, according to the UN Development Programme.

While the problem has received increasing attention from policy-makers over the past decade, the links between human trafficking and HIV/AIDS have only been identified fairly recently.

HIV and human trafficking share many factors, including gender inequality, poverty, lack of economic opportunities for women, stigma and discrimination, rights violations and a life without dignity.

For example, in South Asia, 35% of the region's people live below the poverty line. Low levels of literacy, porous borders, migration of male populations and a high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections through commercial sex are characteristics which contribute both to human trafficking, and to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Male resistance to condom use, stigmas related to sexuality, weak public health infrastructure and the disempowerment of women and girls add to the picture.

Against such a background, the dual vulnerabilities of women and girls in the region to trafficking and HIV demand urgent attention, according to a Rapid Assessment Study conducted by the UNDP.

An editorial in The Lancet called for a global clampdown on "this affront to dignity, human rights, and health."

It said a good start would be to implement HIV programmes which included both the prevention of trafficking and the rescue of people who had been trafficked.

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