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Photo: Mariya Brovchenko
600.000 victims each year

When I first heard of www.lastradainternational.org I thought it would be some kind of international fan site of Fellini's masterpiece "La Strada" (1954, English: "The Road"). Well, my first presumption turned out to be wrong: "La Strada International" is actually a European network against the trafficking of human beings.

My dictionary states that trafficking means: "to deal or to trade illegally or dishonestly". Human trafficking includes the recruitment of people for the express purpose of exploitation, which varies from forced prostitution, enslavement, domestic servitude, forced removal of organs, begging, forced marriage or illegal adoption (in the case of children). For the "traffickers" involved, this seems quite a lucrative "business". In fact, the UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) estimates the annual revenues from trafficking to range between USD 5 billion to USD 9 billion. According US Government data, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. Approximately 80% are women & girls and up to 50% are minors. The majority of of these victims are forced into commercial sexual exploitation.

La Strada's mission, since its foundation in 1995, has been to combat human trafficking. La Strada networks people from all over the world, but the organization actually consists of nine independent human rights NGOs from the Netherlands, Poland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Moldova, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belarus and Macedonia. What unifies the nine NGO's is their aim to improve the status of women. However, the NGO's act both locally and collaboratively according to the situation.

Photo: Mariya Brovchenko
80% are women and girls

"It is most important that people are aware about the phenomenon of human trafficking and the grave human rights abuse it constitutes. By spreading this information they can prevent trafficking from occurring to others" - says Bregje Blokhuis, project manager of La Strada International - "(Young) people should also be aware in what way they might contribute to trafficking and exploitation, for instance by the products they buy or services they use. By being able to recognize the signs of trafficking and exploitative situations they can, via the various La Strada hotlines, seek advice from experts, which might free someone from a trafficking situation."

If you visit the international web site, you will find a link to the NGO in your home or resident country. You can also find out about the many easy ways to contribute to the organization's activities. You could become a volunteer or an intern for one of the La Strada offices (many of the La Strada offices, especially in Central Europe and the Balkans operate thanks to volunteers). Also, people from countries where La Strada is not represented can contribute by disseminating information and organizing debates and lectures on these issues. More public awareness is needed in order to enlighten the masses to this dark side of international ‘migration'. Another efficient way to engage yourself is by organizing fund raising activities, such as sponsored competitions, evening events, exhibitions etc. - the more creative the better! This money could either be donated to La Strada International, to a specific project or to one of the La Strada offices.

La Strada meets with victims of trafficking every day. Each case is unique, but all somehow share a common purpose - the desire to escape from poverty and the hope of finding a better future. In this vein, it turns out that this web site does indeed have a lot in common with its Italian neo-realist film namesake, as the La Strada organization shares one of the most significant features of Fellini's fine and emotionally rich film - the ability to make us realize how many people are helpless victims of circumstance and that it is our moral responsibility to help.

Further information: www.lastradainternational.org

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