Last Updated: Friday, 24 October 2014, 15:39 GMT

Victims in Uzbekistan raise awareness about female trafficking dangers

Publisher EurasiaNet
Author Alfred Kueppers
Publication Date 19 August 2003
Cite as EurasiaNet, Victims in Uzbekistan raise awareness about female trafficking dangers, 19 August 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/46a4851f1e.html [accessed 26 October 2014]
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Alfred Kueppers: 8/19/03

Artur Samari

Mansura Begbayeva is an attractive young woman with shoulder length brown hair and a grim smile. She has a dark story to tell. Begbayeva is one of hundreds of Uzbek women who have been duped into working in the global sex industry. Now she seeks to prevent other young women from making the same mistake.

Begbayeva's ordeal began in 2002. Following a divorce, she found herself homeless – living on the streets with her two young sons. After two weeks of uncertainty, an acquaintance told her about job possibilities in the sex industry in the United Arab Emirates. Such work would prove a source of easy money, assured the acquaintance, who put her in touch with an Uzbek couple that arranged such trips.

The 28-year-old flew from Uzbekistan to the United Arab Emirates with the couple. Upon arrival, they took her passport and told her she owed them $5,000. "Of course, they told me I would get rich and that I would be able to send money to my children," she said later. "Now I can only say that I don't want this to happen to other girls."

A US State Department report issued in June documented the practice of "trafficking in persons," most of whom are forced to work in the global sex industry. In the report, the State Department named Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkey as countries where trafficking has gone on with virtual impunity.

Begbayeva sought to escape her situation almost immediately. Her initial attempt to flee failed, and she suffered a severe beating when caught. Ultimately, she managed to return to her native Samarkand roughly seven months after her departure for Dubai.

According to local anti-trafficking activists, it is relatively easy and cheap for traffickers to ship young Central Asian women to rich nations as human cargo. Activists say that Israel, Malaysia, and Western Europe are major centers of sex slavery, and that women like Begbayeva often find themselves held hostage within hours of their arrival at their destination. A few small non-governmental organizations are beginning to warn young women of the dangers of the sex industry, and assist others trapped abroad.

Victoria Ashirova, director of Samarkand's Ayol Resource Center for Women and Family, offers programs to raise awareness among at-risk Uzbeks, especially orphans and the rural poor. Many Uzbeks still consider the topic of female trafficking too shameful to discuss openly. "We don't keep statistics, but we know it is increasing," Ashirova says.

Ashirova ties female trafficking to Uzbekistan's steep poverty rate. Between 40 and 80 percent of Uzbekistan's citizens get by on less than a dollar a day, the State Department says. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive.] Ashirova claims that many rural mothers are so desperate that they are willing to consign their children to traffickers without understanding the consequences of their actions.

"I spoke to one of the pimps, who told me that mothers offered her their daughters," Ashirova said. "But when they receive $100, they don't think of it as selling their daughters." According to Ashirova, mothers rationalize the exchange as a way to make ends meet until a daughter marries or finds work abroad. The government denies exit visas to unaccompanied young women, but this does not prevent them from leaving. "Most of them use a false passport." Ashirova added.

Nodira Karimova runs the Future Generation Center, which offers a trafficking hotline in an unmarked office one block from Katortol, Tashkent's red-light district. Her staff sniffs out possible trafficking operations advertising in newspapers with names like "White Dream Co. LTD" and seeks to repatriate young women caught in sex slavery. "All the girls we talk to from Katortol say that they know girls who have come back with a lot of money," she said, holding a White Dream contract. "But I've never met one."

Begbayeva, who grew up in a Samarkand orphanage, estimated that she had sex with 25 men per day, mostly migrant laborers from South Asia. Most of her earnings were confiscated by pimps. She eventually earned back the $5,000 she "owed" the traffickers, she says, "and maybe that's why they didn't try to catch me." These days, Begbayeva finds life to be a constant struggle. She has found occasional work as a housepainter, but she says that after a month's work, she has received no pay.

Editor's Note: Alfred Kueppers is a freelance journalist based in Central Asia. Artur Samari is a freelance journalist based in Samarkand.

Posted August 19, 2003 © Eurasianet

Copyright notice: All EurasiaNet material © Open Society Institute

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