Human trafficking has reached staggering proportions, affecting more than 700,000 people a year, a US State Department report says.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell presented the first annual report, Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, at a press conference on Thursday.
Most of the victims of trafficking are women and children, the report says.
Some are duped, answering advertisements to work in a new country and finding themselves virtual prisoners once they arrive.
Others are coerced by criminals or are sold into a modern form of slavery by a relative, an acquaintance or even a family friend.
The report estimates that 45,000 to 50,000 people are trafficked annually through the United States, a transit rather than destination point.
“Tier three” countries
Democratic Republic of Congo
United Arab Emirates
Mr Powell said a special task force would be set up in the United States “to safeguard the vulnerable, to punish the traffickers, to care for their victims and to prevent future trafficking”.
Victims worldwide “are subjected to threats against their person and family, violence, horrific living conditions and dangerous workplaces,” the report says.
They end up working as cheap labour, some on construction sites, others in clothing factories and many in brothels.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell called the practice an “abomination against humanity” and said Washington would work to put an end to it.
The report lists the root causes for trafficking as “greed, moral turpitude, economics, political instability and transition and social factors”.
Countries not complying
Many countries are working to end the problem, the report says, but it lists 23 that are failing to do so.
Among them, in “tier three”, the lowest category, are close American allies, including Greece, Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Turkey.
Israel, the report says, is a destination point mainly for women trafficked from former Soviet states, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and Asia.
But the report notes that the Israeli Government has “begun to take some steps” to combat the problem.
The report says that in Saudi Arabia, some expatriate workers were “forced into domestic servitude and sexual exploitation”.
It describes Greece as a transit and destination point and says the country “has not yet acknowledged publicly that trafficking is a problem”.
“Tier two” includes 47 countries that have failed to meet minimum standards, but are trying. This category includes China, France and Japan.
And “tier one” countries are those that have been prosecuting perpetrators of illegal trade and protecting victims.
Britain, Canada, Germany and Hong Kong were in this section, along with Austria, Belgium, Colombia, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and Taiwan.
Under legislation passed by the US Congress last year, countries have until 2003 to show that they are serious about ending the practice, otherwise Washington may impose sanctions against them.