Anti-trafficking Efforts in Armenia - 223:12, 26 December, 2005
A number of NGOs are implementing projects aimed at raising the level of awareness towards human trafficking (See also: Anti-trafficking Efforts in Armenia).
The Yerevan office of the Armenian Caritas charitable NGO began its awareness campaign at the school level. Preventing Illegal Migration and Trafficking, a three-year (2003-2006) program funded by the Italian government, aims at introducing the issue of trafficking and the problems surrounding it to students in the 9th and 10th grades. The program covers 100 schools - 15 each in the provinces of Shirak and Gegharkunik, and 70 in Yerevan. The schools chosen have a large number of students.
"We organize classes twice a year with one teacher from each of these schools. We train the teachers, prepare a program, provide materials, and then pay them to talk to senior students for one academic hour each semester about trafficking. We already have more than 25,000 students who are aware of this problem - the program is also run in provinces where we have offices. We plan to publish a textbook and I think it would be right to make this a mandatory subject in the curriculum; graduating schoolchildren are mature people who should be aware of this issue," said Movses Hakobyan, program director for Preventing Illegal Migration and Trafficking.
Another program aimed at youth awareness of trafficking is Let's Stop it Now 2, implemented biennially by Armenian Women for Health and a Healthy Environment. It is financed by the Foreign Ministry of Greece.
"Our target age group begins at 18 - these are students at any institution after school, be it college, university or in vocational education. We give talks and distribute reading material in the form of booklets and posters. We work in various provinces - Kotayk, Aragatsotn, Ararat, Tavush and Vayots Dzor, but awareness isn't at a high level in the capital either, and we think that there is a need for such a program in Yerevan as well," said program coordinator Emma Anakhasyan.
Created in 2002, the interdepartmental Committee on Illegal Human Transportation, Migration and Trafficking only has a mandate to advise. The committee had to conduct research and present proposals to the government. "The various proposals made by the committee are mainly summarized in the 2004-2006 national action plan against trafficking," said committee president Valery Mkrtumyan. In 2005, the committee's third year in existence, Armenia was classified in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report as a country requiring special supervision. Asked about what steps were taken by the committee in this regard, Mkrtumyan noted, "The issue was brought to the attention of the president, and clear orders were issued to law enforcement agencies to address the shortcomings mentioned in the report, the government presented the national action plan, and so on."
The OSCE Yerevan office provides providing political support to the government in its anti-trafficking efforts. "We implement strategic programs - expert support, training law enforcement officers, legal reform, the criminalization of punishments and protecting victims' rights. We are studying the shortcomings in the field and are trying to support their eradication, we discuss possible solutions and propose them to the government," said Dr. Blanca Hanchilova, director of democratic development programs at the OSCE Yerevan office.
The OSCE Yerevan office representative noted that the creation of special subdivisions within the state police and prosecution dealing with human trafficking could be considered a government reform. In her opinion, this has led to an increase in the number of cases tried under article 132 (human trafficking) of the legal code.
"Such steps are appreciated, but we still feel that not everything is being done to coordinate efforts in this area. I think there should be increased collaboration between different structures dealing with this issue," Hanchilova said.
June 2005 saw the creation of a section dealing with human trafficking and illegal migration within the investigative department of the State Prosecution. This office has thus far leveled charges of human trafficking against 13 individuals.
"The prosecution is always strict when it comes to article 132, and punishment is always through imprisonment. It seems the courts share this attitude - there has only been one case of a lenient sentence, and we have objected; let's see how that turns out," said Armen Boshnaghyan, chief investigator of the section dealing with human trafficking and illegal migration at the investigative department of the State Prosecution.
The prosecution is strict in cases of human trafficking not only regarding the form of punishment meted out, but the duration of imprisonment as well. "Our position is that punishment meted out under article 132 should be considerably more strict. Pimping and human trafficking are separate crimes - trafficking is a denigration of human rights, it is a blatant abuse of free will, whether people are used in the sex business or as laborers. The prosecution has already presented proposed changes in the legal approach to sentencing in cases of trafficking to the Ministry of Justice," Boshnaghyan explained.
"This sphere of criminal activity is developing rapidly. Criminal rings are very flexible, so our legal system should also be able to match them in flexibility. This is an opportunity to assess our inner potential and make the necessary changes," said UN programs manager Hrach Kajoyan. In his view, charging people with human trafficking (article 132) but then softening the charges to involvement in pimping (article 261) smacks of inefficacy.
"Creating our section was not a short-term project, it was the beginning of the whole process. This is a crime which has to be fought. Even if the US State Department shows total indifference to this issue, we will continue to fight," Boshnaghyan stated.
Anti-trafficking programs aim at raising awareness in schoolchildren and state officials alike, and at enacting legal reforms such as stricter punishment and establishing support mechanisms for victims. But the organizers of these programs realize that there is no guarantee against trafficking as long as people see going abroad as the only means to realize their hopes of employment. "One of the main reasons for the spread of this phenomenon is the difficult financial situation of the population. Divorced young women who have to care for their children usually end up as victims of trafficking. They are either single mothers, or women whose husbands have gone to Russia to work and remarried there. These women, who have secondary education at best, cannot find employment, but have to find a way to feed their children," Boshnaghyan said.
"No mother would leave her children here and go to work abroad if she could find satisfactory employment here. Their only reason to leave is employment; nobody is promising them millions, they go abroad to make 200-300 dollars a month, i.e. enough to get by on. No matter how much we promote awareness or reform the law, if someone is unemployed and has nothing to live on, they will go," said Viktoria Avakova. There have been cases established where Armenian men have been subjected to trafficking, particularly in Russia. However, Armen Boshnaghyan noted that no such cases have been registered in their jurisdiction.
"Offering support to Armenian men is definitely more difficult that it is to women. Armenian men, finding themselves in financial difficulty, usually have different means of getting aid, but do not seek help. We had a case on our hotline where a man had been subjected to exploitation in Russia. He had a college education and held a good post in Russia, but his documents were kept from him by someone else and he didn't receive pay for his work. Our mindset does not allow more such cases to surface," added Viktoria Avakova.
It is difficult to say whether or not cases of trafficking have decreased, or if the programs of international organizations and NGOs as well as the efforts of law enforcement bodies are effective.
But if the situation does not change soon, then Armenia risks finding itself among countries that do not combat trafficking, which could lead to economic sanctions - a cut in support for economic programs and humanitarian aid.