Campaign to end sex slavery of Bulgarian women

SOFIA, Apr 18, 2000 -- (Reuters) The International Organization for Migration launched a campaign on Monday to prevent thousands of Bulgarian women from becoming sex slaves abroad.

"The IOM sees trafficking in women as a growing threat, it is becoming an issue of concern for this region," IOM coordinator for Central Europe Irena Voyachkova said, launching the project called "Open Your Eyes", funded by the U.S. State Department.

"Our goal is to protect women by providing information which will help them to understand the risks they undertake by taking suspicious jobs abroad," said the U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria, Richard Miles.

Local rights groups estimate that some 10,000 Bulgarian women, many under 18, are trapped in the sex industry abroad.

Many are lured by newspaper advertising promising well-paid work as models, dancers, shop assistants, baby-sitters, waitresses and maids, or marriage with foreigners. Others, mainly from smaller villages, are kidnapped and smuggled over the border.

Growing involvement of Bulgarian women in prostitution, at home or abroad, is one of the most brutal results of the economic hardship that has accompanied Bulgaria's transition to a market economy after communist rule collapsed 10 years ago.

Local IOM coordinator Maria Stefanova said the campaign would target some 450,000 young Bulgarian women who according to an IOM survey were most likely to take a risky job abroad.

Over 200,000 posters and leaflets will be made. Special clips will be broadcast on radio and TV.

Bulgarian women are smuggled into the international sex trade through three main channels, Stefanova said.

The so-called "northern" channel goes to the Czech Republic and Poland to Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands. The "eastern" channel is through Turkey to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and the "regional" channel goes to Greece, Macedonia, Albania and Turkey.

The project, due to be completed in October, is the third information campaign for prevention of trafficking in women launched by the IOM in Europe. The first were conducted in Ukraine and the Czech Republic.

Original article