New project joins Czech Republic in fight against trafficking in persons

Earlier this week, the US Department of State released its fourth annual "Trafficking in Persons Report". In its assessment, it stated the Czech Republic is a source, transit, and destination country for women trafficked for sexual exploitation. The report advises Czech authorities to use trafficking legislation to give stronger penalties to convicted trafficker as convictions and sentences remain low. But as Mark Fernandes reports, the Czech Republic is on the right track, getting a much needed boost this month to fight people trafficking. The European Commission has released 700,000 Euros for a project that brings together experts from Britain, Holland and the Czech Republic.

Trafficking is a world which is increasingly made up of sophisticated and ruthless international gangs. To combat the problem a new 15-month collaboration between Czech Republic, Holland, and Britain will bring together police and nongovernmental organizations who work directly with the victims of traffickers. Petra Kutalkova is a prevention manager at La Strada, an international organization which aids victims of trafficking. She sees trafficking as a significant problem facing the Czech Republic.

"La Strada in the Czech Republic does not tackle the problem of child prostitution. We primarily focus on trafficking in persons, which we consider a serious violation of human rights. As far as victims of this crime are concerned, it is a sad fact that they do exist in the Czech Republic."

While people trafficking is an ongoing problem in the Czech Republic it hardly makes the news. Ms. Kutalkova explains why there are seldom any statistics about how big the problem is:

"People always want to know the figures but it's difficult to get the statistics because people trafficking is part of organised crime that happens illegally. So the information is not easily accessible. Of course there are statistics on cases that have been investigated by the police and were brought to court and we also have our own figures regarding the number of women who we've helped. But that's probably the main reason why there is so little information."

La Strada recently launched its own counselling centre earlier this spring. It also provides a safe place for victims of the trade, as well as, a hotline for those in need of help. Ms. Kutalkova says that La Strada's expertise would be ideal for the new collaboration between the Czech Republic, Holland, and Britain.

"We know that Holland and Britain are currently working on a project, which the Czech government is getting involved with. Should La Strada be approached by them, we will be happy to offer our know-how. We have experience with training police officers, we've also co-operated quite a bit with officers from the Commission Against Organised Crime, who we've also trained. We can also offer our know-how in the area of the prevention of people trafficking and providing social services to victims. Any amount of money invested in the fight against people trafficking is a good way to go to change the situation."

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