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Study visit to Uzbekistan.

Foundation for Women (FFW) has provided assistance to women and children who are detained in the Bangkok Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) since 1999. Besides providing immediate needs to them, FFW also helps identify trafficked victims and facilitates their access to social and legal services. During the year 2002-2003 FFW has found that Uzbek women are the majority among migrant women from Central Asia. In order to learn more about their situation, FFW organised a series of group discussions with Uzbek women in 2003. FFW has prepared a report on the situation of Uzbek women based on the finding and information from women participating in the discussions in order to raise public awareness on the plight of these women as migrant and trafficked women. The information that the women shared in the discussion reflects the elements of human trafficking and confirms that most of the women while migrating for work with consent have become victims of trafficking in the destination country. Since the number of Uzbek women travel to or transit in Thailand has been increased every year, it is crucial to understand the root causes of this problem and seeking cooperation with organisations in Uzbekistan. With the generous support from ICCO, FFW could organise a study visit to Uzbekistan during 14-23 October 2003.

Prior to the October visit, Ms. Nodira Karimova, the Director of Future Generation a women organisation in Tashkent came for a visit in Bangkok. The purpose of her visit was learning about the situation of trafficking of women in Thailand and initiating contact with local groups for assisting Uzbek women. FFW had prepared visit programme for her and also organised a public meeting to disseminate the FFW's report on the situation of Uzbek women in Thailand and the prevention programmes conducted by the Future Generation in Uzbekistan. Subsequently, the Future Generation organised programme of FFW's study trip in Uzbekis tan including hosting consultation meeting with governmental and non-governmental organisations to share views on trafficking of women in Uzbekistan. Tashkent the present capital and Samarkand the old capital were chosen for the visit. This is due to the fact that most of the women detained in the IDC came from these two areas. Besides having meetings and visiting organisations in the two cities, FFW also had meeting with the returnees who live in Tashkent and Samarkand.

The information gained from the meetings with various agencies in Tashkent and Samarkand has given FFW clearer picture about the situation and the attempts having been made in Uzbekistan to tackling the problem of trafficking. The following narrative report with illustration would reveal the socio-economic and political situation as well as the emerging concern of different agencies to prevent trafficking of women and children in Uzbekistan.

General Social and Economic Situation in Uzbekistan

After becoming independent state, Uzbekistan has developed a close link with the U.S. government. The flow of welcoming US flag raised on the post at the side of Uzbek's flag can be seen in front of most buildings in Uzbekistan. The reports of the international organizations (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch 2003) have clearly stated that the relationship between Uzbekistan and U.S. has become closer after the Uzbek government agreed to have the U.S. military base in Tashkent for an attack in Afghanistan as part of the war against international terrorism.

The governmental and nongovernmental organisations have in their office the picture of President Islam Karmic. The President has taken his office since national independence in 1991. He gained 91.1% popularity in the latest election of January 27, 2003. The term of presidency has been extended from 5 years to 7 years. Uzbekistan is a country of ethnic diversity. There are people with different outlooks particularly in Tashkent. Besides the Russians and the Central Asian (Uzbek, Kazakhs tan and Tajik), there are the North Korean migrants who were rounded by the Soviet troop during the 2nd World War. These non-Uzbek ethnic groups, though having Uzbek nationality, have become marginalised after the enforcing of nationalist policy such as using Uzbek as national language and giving preference to Uzbek natives to hold positions in the government. The population of Uzbekistan can be classified as follows; Uzbek 80%, Russian 5.5%, Tajik 5%, Kazak 3% Karakulpak 2.5%, Tatar 1.5% and others 2.5%. Besides ethnic tension, Uzbekistan has encountered other problems such as terrorism, inflation, human rights violation and undemocratic rule.

Since the independence from Soviet Union in September 1, 1991, the Uzbek government has worked so hard to build the national unity by recalling the prosperous history of King Armir Temur the great king who was able to fight and occupy Uzbek land. He established Uzbekistan as an Islamic kingdom with advanced science and army.

The cotton fields are along the highway from Tashkent to Samarkand. Cotton production or "white gold" was major export during the time of the Socialist Republic (1924-1991). The intensive production of cotton required the heavy use of chemical and hazardous substances, which affected the environment and the health of cotton growers.

After the independence in 1991, Uzbekistan has developed other national resources such as mining and petroleum but cotton is still the major export, ranking the second of the world export.

The foreign investment has grown rapidly in Uzbekistan, particularly in Tashkent. The transnational companies like Samsung, Hyundai and L.G have local plants to manufacture products for local market and export. Even having foreign investment unemployment rate is still high and people live in poverty. The country is located in dry climate with only 11% of cultivate land and over 60 per cent of people live in rural area.

Uzbekistan is the main petroleum and gold producing as well as chemical and machinery in the region. The economy is centrally planned by the government. Due to foreign deficit, high inflation rate and bad investment atmosphere the economic growth between 2001-2002 could not achieve the planned target.

Poverty and social problems are aggravating in Uzbekistan. Corruption, unemployment, domestic violence is also rampant. The basic human rights including freedom of expression are not ensured by the current regime. As reported by Human Rights Watch, the Office of President has warned newspaper editors to stop reporting news on social problems such as poverty and unemployment.

The full course of Uzbek lunch is about US $ 7. General public cannot afford to have it since their earning is only US$ 20 per month.

Labor Market on the Road Side

Along the road in Samarkand, there are women and men offering their labour to passers by. They are peasants and/or agricultural workers who look for new employers for daily or long-term work contract. Some of the women seasonal workers, according to report, are sexually abused, exploited and cheated by their employer.

Visiting Uzbek National Women's Committee

The National Women's Committee was formed in 1999 to report and advice the government on issues relating to women. The 2003 U.S. Human Trafficking Report, which put Uzbekistan in tier 3 (the lowest attempt to combat human trafficking), has pushed the authority and the private organisations to pay attention to the problem of women and children trafficking. With the support of international governments and organisations, many programmes have initiated and there are newly formed NGOs working on the problem.

Situation of Migration and Trafficking of Women and Children

Though there is lacking of systematic national survey or study of human trafficking in Uzbekistan, the information gained from the participating organisations reveals the serious magnitude of women trafficking. There is well-organised network to recruit women from their home -town and transport them overseas. The restrictive measures of destinations countries on migration policy such as Arab Emirates and Israel force women to pay a higher price and depend more on the traffickers. Some women have to spend nights and days walking in the desert and a number of them are vulnerable to being raped during the journey.

Most of the participating organizations consider unemployment and economic hardship as the major factors pushing women to leave their country. According to the report of Ayol, the women's NGO in Samarkand, about 80% of women who work overseas were based on the sharing of information and exchanging of views in the meetings in Tashkent and Samarkand, one can see that most of the participating organizations consider unemployment and economic hardship as the major factors pushing women to leave their country. According to the report of Ayol, the women's NGO in Samarkand, about 80% of women who work overseas are unemployed. Most of them travel with people whom they know and promise to find them overseas employment. They know nothing about immigration, labour laws or conditions of living/working overseas and are trapped into the situation akin to slavery. With the growing awareness on the problem of trafficking of women a small number of NGOs in Tashkent and Samarkand started the advocacy work to prevent young women from being lured in the trafficking network, and provide assistance to trafficked victims. There is a growing request from the family of migrant women for tracing and/or facilitate their home return.

unemployed. Most of them travel with people whom they know and promise to find them overseas employment. They know nothing about immigration, labour laws or conditions of living/working overseas and are trapped into the situation akin to slavery. With the growing awareness on the problem of trafficking of women a small number of NGOs in Tashkent and Samarkand started the advocacy work to prevent young women from being lured in the trafficking network, and provide assistance to trafficked victims. There is a growing request from the family of migrant women for tracing and/or facilitate their home return.

Most of the organizations have focused their activities on prevention and awareness-raising in the potential communities. Their prime target group is high school students however they realize that such activities cannot solve the root causes of the problem that are unemployment and deprived economic situation of young women and their family. Moreover, students from poor socioeconomic background have less opportunity to continue higher education since their family cannot afford to pay the entrance (bribery) fee. With low education they cannot get stable with reasonable paid job. For those who have family burden, overseas labour migration is a vital option.

Uzbek Women's Network

Uzbek government had proclaimed the year 1999 as women's year and the Women's Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan was formed in that year. The National Women's Committee was set up to oversee the women's issues. The central committee has office in Tashkent and the branch offices are spread in all region, districts, sub-districts and villages. At present, there are over 3 million members. According to UNDP report on Uzbek women's situation, the Committee and its branches should be officially considered as governmental agency. The President of the Committee holds a position of Deputy Prime Minister. The tasks of this committee are to implement women policy and report to the Prime Minister for consideration and formulation of national women policy. The representatives from NGOs have been part of the sub-committee to monitor and investigate women and children rights.

In relations to human trafficking the National Committee gives advices to the government in the formulation of national action plan and laws against human trafficking.

Besides the official network of the National Women's Committee, there are newly formed NGOs with support from international funding agencies to work on problems facing women and children. During the time of visit, there is only one organization, the Future Generation, which providing assistance to trafficked victims and doing advocacy work in different towns. Their services include telephone counseling to potential migrants, women health and clinical care, follow-up cases and rescue victims by collaborating with organisations in destination country including Thailand. They also work with sex workers on prevention of HIV/AIDs. Future Generation has two branch offices in Samarkand and Jizzak.

NGOs based in Samarkand work more directly with women and children who have family and social problems. They work more closely with each other and have better coordination than in Tashkent. All of the NGOs receive support from the international funding agencies. They start to pay attention to the problem of trafficking but do not yet develop special programme against human trafficking.

The organisation like Ayol works with drug addicted teenagers and recently started to include raising awareness on the problem of human trafficking. Ayol helped two trafficked women to press charge against traffickers from other town. The court proceeding was failed, as the two women did not want to appear before the court to give testimony for fear of reprisal. During the court proceeding they referred women to stay in the shelter of UMID another organisation in Samarkand.

The chairperson of UMID is a woman doctor who provides women clinical care. The services provided by UMID are very crucial. It provides shelter and other social services to women who commit suicide by burning themselves. The comprehensive services include clinical treatment, psychological and physical recovery. It also defends women in the lawsuit against violent family members. According to UMID, domestic violence and suicide are widespread in the rural areas. The early marriage and unequal inheritance giving property only to son are the main causes of this form of violence against women. Woman has been considered as husband's property. Such practices deprive women, who fail in married life and become divorced, a support system in the family and community. Most of women become homeless and live in difficult condition and some of them finally commit suicide by self-immolation. UMID provides shelter and care not only to women but also to their accompanied children, including assisting them to build a new life. UMID also cooperates with other local agency like Ayol to providing shelter for trafficked victims who are taking legal case against their traffickers.

Besides these local organizations that provide direct services to women, there are organisations in Samarkand that help build capacity to NGOs and local groups. Public Initiatives Support Center, for example, runs information service center where any groups can come and use their information technological devices. The Centre also organizes meeting, training on organizational management (finance accounting and proposal preparing) as well as empowering Mahala to take the role of community surveillance on human trafficking.

The Role of Mahala

Mahala is the traditional Islam local administration system. In any community with the population of 800-900 has Mahala committee. Community members vote for the Mahalla committees member. The committee's role is to administrate community for the well being of people. The members are highly respected persons in the community therefore they can play a significant role in preventing human trafficking and assisting trafficked women and children. Unfortunately, today the government has intervened and taken control of Mahala. Their committee members are not any more respectful persons in the community but they can be local influential people who participating in Mahala with personal interests. Participants in the Samarkand's meeting revealed that some Mahalla members are themselves agents recruiting local women who are in destitution for domestic work and sex work overseas. Nonetheless, participants still believe and suggest that Mahala should play central role in IEC activities with community and family to make them aware on trafficking and also stop family sending their daughters into prostitution.

Besides Mahala there is a network of women organisations that is the Union of Women NGOs in Samarkand. It is an assembly of Samarkand NGOs working on women issues. Members are informed about women in the community who want to go and/ or return from abroad. But the union does not yet initiate any activities directly addressing trafficking of women and children. After sharing information with FFW, they realize the need to work on this problem. The structure of the Union with branches and members in many villages over Samarkand city is a strong asset that will enable the Union to coordinate activities on trafficking prevention and rescue in the near future.

The Role of International Agencies

Apart from the work of local groups, there are many international funding agencies as well as inter-governmental organisations based in Uzbekistan. Nearly all of these organisations pay attention to the problem of human trafficking after the release of the U.S. human trafficking report. According to one inter-governmental agency, the first human trafficking conference was held in May 2003 in Tashkent. The tier 3 classified in the U.S. report has forced the government to take action on this problem.

According to some international agencies, one of the problems in tackling human trafficking is the limited understanding on the problem and the public attitude towards the victims. The Moslem culture has put high value of women on virtue and chastity. Such value is normative rule on women and girl child that can adversely affect the lives of trafficked victims. There is a case of 17-year girl trafficked to South Korea who after staying long time in the shelter for recovery, tried to commit suicide on the way back to home because she felt guilty of bringing shame and dishonour to her family. Therefore, while organizations concentrate on campaigning and awareness raising, they need to alter the gender inequality and promote public understanding on the plight of trafficked women and children as well as provide adequate care for them.

Current Initiatives in Combating Women and Children Trafficking

Uzbekistan has signed but not yet a state party to the 2000 U.N. Trafficking Protocol. Until now there is no national legislation relating to human trafficking. The current law to prosecute traffickers and concerned parties are provisions in the criminal code of the Republic of Uzbekistan, September 22, 1994. There are many provisions in particular the provision 135 (covers the recruitment of people for exploitation) that can apply on the case of trafficking.

The magnitude of the problem and the pressure form the U.S. Government forced the Uzbek government to draft the anti-trafficking law and national plan of action. However the tasks have done within a few months without consulting with other stakeholders. After changing the status from tier 3, the whole process has been suspended. It is not clear to what extent the draft bill will include the definition and victims protection as outlined in the U.N. Trafficking Protocol The organizations that viewed the draft bill commented that it does not cover the human rights protection of victims. It is not clear which national department has drafted the bill and who have been involved in the process.

Apart from drafting the anti-trafficking bill, some government agencies such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has formulated the national action plan but not yet adopted and put in place. The National Women's Committee has refereed to the Prime Minister Order's National Action Plan Therefore there is confusion on the national action plan about the number of the plans and the contents in the plan.

Due to the unclarity on the national legislation and plans and the lack of referral point, most of the victims tend not to take legal redress even they have information on their traffickers or recruiters. Until now there are very few criminal cases against trafficking. Since there is not victim and witness protection in the criminal code that applied to the trafficking case, women are not willing to appear before the criminal court as they are fear of reprisals from their traffickers.

The Needs of the Women Returnees

The information from women returnees and their families reveal a number of problems women facing after sending back from the country of destination. According to women, the authority at the airport has pre-assumption that they have earned lots of money from working in prostitution overseas and wants to extort money from them. A returnee from Thailand who refused to give money was detained for many hours until she was allowed to return home. Further, the attitudes of people in the community toward women make it difficult for them to start a new life. Some women have internalized the traditional religious value on women and feel ashamed that they bring disgrace to their family. Committing suicide has become solution to some returnees. The gender inequality that denies women higher education has limited their employment opportunity. After being abroad, some women lost contact with their families and friends, and are alienated to their changing society. Most of the returnees want to migrate again if there is possibility. A mother of three daughters has decided to take her second daughter to work with her in South Korea even she does not have clear information on the kind and condition of work awaiting for them. She believes this will be better than to remain unemployed in her hometown.

In terms of practical assistance, women want to have someone to meet them at the airport to prevent harassment and abuse from authority. They want to be treated in the same way like other passengers and do not want to be interrogated by government officials. A shelter is another need because they may not be able to return home soon after arrival. They want to have medical treatment and some counseling before meeting their family. Women who have passed traumatic experience need to have long- term psychological recovery and guidance to live a new life.

Due to the limited source of assistance, the returnees have formed their own informal network to help each other in reintegrating to the society and/or to look for new opportunity to work overseas. All believe that they need to gain more information before making decision to work overseas as they do not want to be exploited and fall into the situation of trafficked women again. Some returnees have become volunteers of the Future Generation to provide hotline counseling, and participate in the advocacy programme by sharing their experience overseas to prevent young women from being trafficked. They want to know about immigration and labour laws of the country where they want to migrate. So far, they cannot get this kind of information from any Uzbek agencies.

Conclusion of the Visit

The study trip has facilitated the better understanding of the situation of trafficking of women

in Uzbekistan, and the efforts of different agencies to find solution to the problem. The meetings with women returnees reflect their needs and areas that local agencies can respond. We found that the Uzbek groups both GOs and NGOs have close contact with European- based organisations and many of them have participated in international seminars and training on this problem. The international interaction and knowledge gained should be good basis for them to formulate national programme and map out activities pertinent to the need of trafficked women. So far there is only one organisation--Future Generation that has taken this role with support from external funding agency. The organisation can extend, with participation of returnees, more services to trafficked women and their families. The returnees' desire to migrate again reflects the need to provide more information on safe migration and to regulate the labour migration of Uzbek women/men to prevent the exploitation of unscrupulous agency.
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Publication:Voices of Thai Women
Geographic Code:9UZBE
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Previous Article:The situation of Uzbek women in Thailand.
Next Article:Editorial note.

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