Officials from the six countries of South-East Asia’s Mekong region and observers from the United Nations and other stakeholders opened a two-day meeting in Myanmar today to step up the war on human trafficking, including sexual slavery and labour exploitation.
“It is only through this kind of coordinated approach and solidarity of the counter-trafficking community that we can make a real difference in the lives of people who are suffering the cruel consequences of human trafficking and exploitation,” UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP) regional manager Matthew Friedman told the 7th Senior Officials Meeting of the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking (COMMIT) in Bagan.
The meeting brings together ministers from China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam, along with observers from the UN, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking of Persons Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and donors.
“COMMIT is unique in that it has fostered unprecedented accountability between the Mekong countries over the past six years,” UN Resident Coordinator Bishow Parajuli said. “I believe that this unity may be one of our greatest strengths in tackling some of our biggest challenges.”
According to UN International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates, 9.49 million people were in forced labour in the Asia-Pacific region as of 2005, with a significant number believed to be in the Mekong region.
Since the signing of a memorandum of understanding six years ago, the six countries have put in place legal and cooperative frameworks to prevent human trafficking taking place, prosecute traffickers and exploitative employers and protect victims, helping them return home safely and with dignity.
The Bagan meeting will take a fresh look at regional approaches to counter trafficking, review plans and priorities, and discuss future joint actions, focusing in particular on law enforcement and the recovery and reintegration of victims.