A global battle against trafficking

Persistent law enforcement is the only measure that can root out trafficking from the UAE.

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In the twisted world of trafficking, life carries little value other than the price it commands. Instead of a man, woman or child, traffickers see a commodity.

Human trafficking has become one of the world's most lucrative industries, with profits reaching $32 billion a year, dragging developing countries such as the Emirates into a difficult battle.

This week's forum on human trafficking in Abu Dhabi confirmed that the problem continues to grow. Whether police are prosecuting more cases or the number of offences has grown, instances of documented trafficking have risen steadily since 2007, with 43 reported in 2009.

According to the US state department, this may represent a mere fraction of crimes; as the Emirates functions as both a transit hub and destination for people from all over the world, it is difficult to combat trafficking or measure the effectiveness of policies that combat it.

The four-pronged action plan of the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking remains the UAE's biggest policy success in this arena so far. Created four years ago, in part because of how trafficking was becoming a blemish on the UAE's record, the Committee has since launched seminars, training courses and awareness campaigns to improve the government's anti-trafficking efforts.

The Ministry of Labour has also done its part to protect workers by implementing a Wage Protection System and an anonymous complaints system through its website. Its labour trafficking unit, which was created last year, as well as Dubai's two-year old trafficking task force, have also actively pursued prosecution: of the 36 sex trafficking cases taken to court last year, the vast majority resulted in convictions.

Despite these efforts, criminals continue to evade authorities. The laws that exist on the books are often not evenly enforced. As human rights advocates argued at this week's forum, harsher jail sentences and stricter enforcement of labour laws are required to curtail the trade in human beings and the violence against them that so often follows.

The Emirates has shown a commitment to guard against the abuse of workers and build its capacity to engage in the global battle against trafficking. The UAE must continue this fight so that everyone who enters this country is treated with dignity, not as a commodity.