Initiatives to Combat Human Trafficking in UAE

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Initiatives to Combat Human Trafficking

The UAE government is committed to the global effort to combat human trafficking, and is working closely with international and regional law enforcement officials to apprehend and punish violators of human trafficking laws.  The UAE is also deeply concerned about the victims of this crime and their physical and emotional well-being, and is establishing appropriate mechanisms to support and assist victims in need.

The UAE is aggressively implementing a four-part anti-trafficking plan, designed to prevent the crime, enforce the law and provide necessary support to victims:

1. Legislation:

In November 2006, the UAE government adopted a new federal law providing strict enforcement provisions and penalties for convicted traffickers.  At a recent UN forum, US Ambassador Mark Lagon noted that the UAE is “the first government in the Persian Gulf to enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law.” The UAE also established a cross-ministerial committee to combat the challenge of human trafficking.

The UAE’s commitments are in accordance with the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

2. Enforcement:

The UAE is working to increase law enforcement capacity and awareness. Steps include training and workshops for police officers and public prosecutors and developing mechanisms to monitor and track human rights abuses. At least 10 human-trafficking-related cases were registered by the end of 2007, along with five convictions that resulted in jail terms ranging from three to 10 years.

Police are tracking tourist companies that illegally bring women into the country.  The licenses of companies caught carrying out illegal activities are being cancelled. At least two nightclubs exploiting women were shut down in 2007, and several others are under surveillance. The number of legal cases prosecuted in the UAE involving prostitution rose by 30 percent from 2006 to 2007.

A planned public awareness program will address the issue of demand and make the public aware of how to bring cases to the attention of law enforcement officials.

3. Victim support:

Recent improvements in labor standards and regulations will have a positive impact on decreasing the scale of human trafficking. Steps include electronic payments to workers, standards for housing, a standard contract for domestic workers and bilateral agreements with supplier countries.

The UAE also is invigorating government, charitable, and social networks to provide support for victims of trafficking.  Dubai’s Foundation for the Protection of Women and Children provides social services for victims, including counseling, in-house schooling and recreation facilities.  Within its first year of operation, 115 women and children were given assistance by the Foundation, including 28 suspected victims of trafficking.  Working with such organizations as the International Organization for Migration, some women have been repatriated to their home countries.

Abu Dhabi’s Social Support Center provides victims of all crimes psychological and social support, and the Emirate also is building the Abu Dhabi Shelter for Victims of Human Trafficking, in conjunction with the UAE Red Crescent Authority.  The Red Crescent, part of the International Committee of the Red Cross, is supervising shelters across the UAE for women and children.

4. Bilateral agreements and international partnerships:

Human trafficking has its point of origin in the home countries of guest workers, and the UAE has signed agreements with several labor-exporting countries to regulate the flow of the workforce. In order to deny unscrupulous private recruitment agencies from cheating and trafficking workers, all labor contract transactions will be processed by labor ministries or offices in the supplying countries.

A range of other international collaborations include a United Nations (UN) partnership to recreate the UAE police administration into a “center of excellence,” exchanges with non-governmental organizations to build knowledge and expertise, and outreach to foreign embassies in the UAE.

In March 2007 the UAE made a significant multi-year commitment to the UN for the establishment of the unprecedented Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT). This forum unites many countries, multiple UN agencies, intergovernmental entities and the NGO sector under a single banner and has facilitated unprecedented cooperation by the international community.

In May 2008, the UAE issued its first Annual Report on combating human trafficking, outlining the country's initiatives and results in greater depth.

Child Camel Jockeys

Since 2005, the UAE has worked closely with UNICEF on the repatriation of several hundred young children who once worked as camel jockeys in the UAE. To support the effort, in 2005 the UAE Government committed $2.7 million in initial funding. On the enforcement side, the UAE Government implemented a law banning camel jockeys under the age of 18 and authorized penalties of up to three years in jail and/or fines up to 100,000 dirhams ($27,200) for breaches of the act.

By September 2006 more than 1,000 underage jockeys had been successfully repatriated to their home countries, where they were provided with social services, education, health care and compensation. In December 2006 the UAE government set aside more than $9 million for a second phase of the UNICEF program, which will provide compensation for anyone who has ever worked as an underage camel jockey in the UAE. The agreement between UNICEF and the UAE was extended for two more years in April 2007. Claims facilities in Pakistan, Sudan, Mauritania and Bangladesh have been established to provide further compensation to former jockeys.

UNICEF officials have publicly praised the UAE camel jockey repatriation program and held it up as a model for other countries to follow.

Domestic Worker Law

The UAE established stringent contract standards for domestic workers, which became effective in April 2007. These standards govern working conditions, vacation, air tickets, medical care and salary, ensuring that the labor rights of domestic workers are standardized and protected across the UAE. Government agencies are required to enforce the new contract when issuing new work visas, ensuring that the standards are upheld in all individual agreements.

In January 2008, the UAE hosted a forum with Asian labor-exporting countries to address concerns surrounding overseas employment, including domestic work. This ministerial consultation was part of the Colombo Process, a regional consultation on overseas employment, and was the first meeting to be hosted by a country of destination. The “Abu Dhabi Dialogue” included the Colombo Process countries and other GCC states, as well as an observer from Human Rights Watch.