'A battle against evil': Australia urged to act on sex trafficking

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (AAP) Source: AP

Australia remains a destination for women and girls subjected to sex trafficking, according to a new report from the US State Department.

The annual global Trafficking in Persons Report rates Australia and New Zealand in the top tier of nations who comply with the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking.

Both countries are being urged to step up their efforts to stop the trade, by authorities as well as US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry launched the latest report on human trafficking, saying countries must “never, ever allow a price tag to be attached to the heart and soul” of a person.

“It's a battle against evil, and it's quite remarkable that in the year 2015 we face a modern version of slavery,” he said.

"The purpose of this document is not to scold, it's not to name and shame. It is to enlighten and to energise and most importantly to empower people and by issuing it, we want to bring to the public's attention the full nature and scope of a $150 billion illicit trafficking industry."

On the issue of human trafficking in Australia, the report stated that Australia was primarily a destination country for women and girls subjected to sex trafficking and “increasingly for women and men subjected to forced labour”.

“Child sex trafficking occurs involving a small number of Australian citizens, primarily teenage girls, as well as foreign victims exploited within the country,” it read.

Australia has been praised for a program administered by the Australian Red Cross that provides income support, safe accommodation and legal assistance, among other services, to victims.

But the report described Australia's anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts as "modest".

Australian Federal Police investigated 87 alleged trafficking cases in 2014 - an increase from 46 the previous year - but it did not convict any traffickers.

The report mentioned unscrupulous employers and labour agencies which subject some people from Asia and the Pacific to forced labour in Australia's agriculture, construction and hospitality industries.

Jennifer Burn, of the Anti-Slavery Project at the University of Technology Sydney, said many cases of trafficking may go unreported.

Ms Burn said cases of migrant workers working in the agricultural area and international students may be vulnerable.

“One of the other areas we're focusing on is this emerging area of forced marriage,” she said.

“We recognise that forced marriage is a practice that's similar to slavery."

The report stated that some victims are women who migrate to Australia for arranged marriages and are subjected to domestic servitude.

Ms Burn said exploitation within families is particularly difficult to monitor.

"For example, women sponsored to Australia through the partner visa migration scheme, and then forced into something that is such extreme labour exploitation that it is in fact forced labour,” she said.

“But it's within the context of family - sometimes the family business for instance - that can be a very difficult area to understand and identify."

The US State Department's Sarah Sewall said while the report highlights the continuing need to boost efforts to combat trafficking, it also showed progress has been made.

"Over the past 15 years, 167 states are now party to the anti-trafficking keystone - the UN Palermo Protocol,” she said.

“Over 100 countries have passed anti-trafficking laws and many have established specialised law-enforcement units, specialised victim assistance mechanisms and public awareness campaigns.

“Globally, human trafficking has moved from a rarely discussed issue, to become a global priority."

Source: SBS