DUBAI // Emiratis have only "very basic" knowledge about human trafficking, a survey has found.
"Most don't realise there is a difference between a forced prostitution and one by choice," said Mohammed Hussein Al Hammadi, secretary-general of the Emirates Human Rights Association, which conducted the survey.
Mr Al Hammadi, who is also head of the human trafficking committee at the association and a member of the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking, said the community should be better informed.
"People tend not to be sympathetic to human trafficking-related stories, and that is something we are working hard to change," he said. "We want to change attitudes and instil a sense of responsibility and understanding."
Along with national surveys and lectures, the association releases pamphlets with updates on the services available to victims and how people can help them.
"The community needs to be an active agent in stopping any human rights violations," Mr Al Hammadi said.
"We have an arrangement with several law offices, where we provide the victim with a free lawyer to help with their legal issues."
Four shelters have opened in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah for victims of abuse and trafficking, and HRA is conducting lectures to explain that human trafficking "is more than just buying and selling of a woman".
"There is the black market trade in human organs, holding someone against their will, and many forms of abuse," he said.
In addition to releasing updated human trafficking reports and surveys, the HRA will also send its report on prisons to officials within weeks.
"We are trying hard to build confidence and trust between us and the officials and us and the public," Mr Al Hammadi said.
Despite broad efforts in recent years, the UAE has been criticised by rights groups for its record on human trafficking and labour rights.
"The problem with international organisations, they focus too much on the negative and not enough on the subtle changes taking place. The UAE is not perfect, but it keeps improving and changing its laws to help mend existing issues," Mr Al Hammadi said.
An example, he said, was a recent decree allowing Emirati mothers married to non-Emiratis to pass on their citizenship to their children once they reach 18.
"Step by step, things are getting better," he said.