x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Human trafficking a national scourge

Sexual slavery and trading in people are dark deeds that occur in the open, but are difficult to spot and even harder to police. That is why Dubai's efforts should serve as an example to other emirates.

Criminals prefer anonymity, but even victims can hide in plain sight. This is especially true for crimes of human trafficking and forced prostitution - deplorable acts that terrorise countless women across the country.

Government officials have worked feverishly in recent years to find justice for the nation's most vulnerable. And yet, law enforcement officials readily acknowledge they still struggle to spot victims, and put offenders behind bars.

"I personally do not know much about this crime," one policewoman from Dubai told The National, "and many of my colleagues cannot distinguish between a human trafficking victim and prostitution."

What might seem logically self-evident on paper is not always also so in practice. Sexual slavery and trading in people are dark deeds that occur in the open, but are difficult to spot and even harder to police.

Authorities in Dubai are working to change this. As we reported yesterday, a recent training programme, organised in cooperation with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, seeks to help female police officers develop skills necessary to prevent abuse. Maj Gen Khamis al Mazeina, deputy head of Dubai Police, says it is logical to train female members of his force in these tactics, because they are "better positioned to deal with this crime because of its sensitive nature".

Dubai's efforts are laudable, and should serve as an example to agencies in other emirates. But rooting out the perpetrators of these crimes will take a long, sustained effort.

Cooperation from countries where victims originate is key, as are beefed up awareness programmes at home. According to the Government's most recent report on human trafficking, victims as young as 12 have been forced into prostitution in the Emirates, while the vast majority of women rescued are found only after they've been forced into sexual slavery. What's more, women who do find refuge in established shelters number in the dozens, likely only a fraction of total victims.

As Sarah Shuhail, executive director of the Ewaa Shelters for Women and Children, told The National last year, the ultimate goal is "to tell more people that everyone has the right to live in dignity". Programmes like Ewaa, and police training in Dubai, help get this message out.