By Thin Lei Win
BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Millions of dollars have been spent to fight human trafficking but it is not clear how this money is spent and very little actually reaches the victims themselves, according to new research.
The concerns raised in the latest edition of the Anti-Trafficking Review, an annual journal by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), call into question the efficiency and effectiveness of funds that governments, the United Nations and private foundations pour into anti-trafficking efforts.
"Compared to much other spending by governments and international aid programs, the degree of transparency and accountability on how these millions are spent has been very limited," Mike Dottridge, guest editor and former director of Anti-Slavery International, said on Tuesday in Bangkok at the launch of this year's journal.
He added that the vast sums spent on improving the criminal justice system have not translated into increased quantity and quality of prosecution of traffickers.
The journal's articles confirm the suspicion that "only an infinitesimal portion of the millions was being used to assist people who were already trafficked and to enable them to rebuild their lives", Dottridge said.
Experts estimate between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year. Illegal profits from exploiting forced labor total $150 billion each year, according to a report released in May by the International Labour Organization.
GAATW, a network of 120 nongovernmental organizations, says this is the first time the funding and spending on anti-trafficking efforts worldwide have been closely scrutinized.
Research by the journal's editors and authors found that the European Union, United States and Norway together gave nearly $100 million for anti-trafficking efforts in 2011. They estimate that every year, more than $100 million is allocated as international aid to stop trafficking, in addition to another millions of in-country spending.
NOT ENOUGH FOR TWO MONTHS RENT
Data on anti-trafficking is "patchy, inconsistent and difficult to access," according to GAATW, making it difficult to extrapolate what proportion of funding goes to the victims.
According to Dottridge, the U.S. State Department's Anti-Trafficking Bureau is the only government donor that publishes a list of its grantees every year.
A majority of last year's grant winners were intergovernmental organizations, and very little seemed to have gone to victim assistance, he said.
In Nigeria, for example, out of 777 trafficking victims identified last year as eligible for government assistance, 47 received $425 each, said Victoria Nwogu, GAATW's board member for Africa who wrote about anti-trafficking efforts in Nigeria.
This amounted to about $20,000, or 6 percent of the national anti-trafficking agency's estimated $3.3 million budget, Nwogu said.
"That sum is supposed to restart life. That amount of money... in Nigeria will not pay rent for more than two months," she said at the journal's launch in Bangkok.
The authors said the emphasis has been on criminal justice to respond to forced labor and trafficking, while protecting, compensating and rehabilitating survivors have been neglected.
(This refiled version of the story has a new headline)
(Reporting By Thin Lei Win, Editing by Alisa Tang)