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Timor-Leste: NGO warns of rise in human trafficking in country

Lusa - January 17, 2024

The Mahein Security Sector Research and Advocacy Foundation warned on Tuesday that human trafficking is on the rise in Timor-Leste and recommended concerted action between civil society and the authorities to combat the phenomenon.

"Timor-Leste faces a growing crisis: the alarming increase in human trafficking affects vulnerable young people seeking economic security," the non-governmental organisation said in an article.

According to the Mahein Foundation, young Timorese are being lured with "promises of work in Southeast Asia, Europe and the Middle East, with an increasing number falling into the hands of criminal groups".

"In addition, internal trafficking is also widespread, but largely unrecognised by the state and the general public," the organisation points out.

The Mahein Foundation notes that Timor-Leste's socio-economic conditions "encourage" human trafficking, particularly because the economy has not grown "significantly" and job opportunities "remain scarce".

"Many people lack basic education and knowledge of rights and laws, which increases their vulnerability to trafficking and exploitation," it emphasises.

The article warns of the issue of "internal trafficking", which mainly affects young women from rural areas who go to do domestic work for wealthier families.

"This practice, although not widely recognised as 'trafficking', reflects a sad reality in which women and girls from impoverished rural families are sent to work for wealthier households for little or no pay, often in highly exploitative and abusive conditions," the non-governmental organisation denounces.

According to the Mahein Foundation, these women and girls are "lured" with the promise of a salary, financial assistance and education, but end up working excessive hours and face "psychological, physical and sexual abuse" and "inadequate" financial compensation.

"Threatened with serious consequences if they try to leave, they live in a state of semi-imprisonment, just like victims of other forms of human trafficking," explains the organisation.

For the Mahein Foundation, one of the main barriers to combating human trafficking is the lack of law enforcement.

"The PNTL [Timor-Leste national police] lacks the human, financial and technical resources necessary to effectively detect and prevent trafficking activities. In addition, the government has yet to recognise human trafficking as a priority issue," says the article, released to encourage internal debate on the issue.

In order to minimise the phenomenon, both internally and externally, the organisation also advocates an "integrated and multifaceted approach", including strengthening the capacities of the vulnerable persons unit of the Timorese police.

At the same time, the Mahein Foundation argues that efforts need to be stepped up to educate and sensitise the public about human trafficking.

"By addressing the challenges faced by law enforcement authorities, providing support to victims and initiating public debates, we can work towards eradicating this serious human rights violation and ensuring a safer future for its most vulnerable citizens," concludes the organisation.

Source: https://www.macaubusiness.com/timor-leste-ngo-warns-of-rise-in-human-trafficking-in-country