Fiji discussed the existence of human trafficking in the country and steps to take to address the issue in a recent workshop.

According to the Fiji Times Online, the two-day workshop was organised by the Fiji Police and UNICEF and was being held to design strategies and provide a platform to combat human trafficking in the country.

According to the report, at the workshop, Fiji's Police commissioner, Commodore Esala Teleni, said that 'human trafficking was as real as slavery and the criminalisation of human trafficking laws have not deterred traffickers' and that the country's police force do not have the expertise nor resources to deal with the problem.

"Trafficking cannot be solved by legislation alone. Trafficking is a result of very serious social problems and it cannot be obliterated merely by criminalisation.

"The prevalence of human trafficking in Fiji can be generally attributed to poverty, unemployment and practices that commodify women and children and make their sale acceptable," he said.

"As long as these realities exist it will be extremely difficult to abolish trafficking completely.

"In addition to these 'enabling conditions', the demand for sex-workers and the existence of organised criminal syndicates are also driving factors for trafficking.

He added that the demand for sex workers 'rests on prevailing patriarchal attitudes towards women and children' and that 'society needs to be educated so that they recognise trafficking and know how and where to report it'.

"Prevailing negative social attitudes towards prostitution deny sympathy to those who are forced into sexual slavery.

"It is therefore vital to distinguish in the public mind between prostitution and sexual slavery.

"Those who are involuntarily forced into prostitution must receive our sympathy, not our scorn," he said.

He added that education must be aimed at potential victims primarily, the public at large and those who interact with victims.

According to Fiji Times Online, United States Deputy Chief of Mission, Richard Pruett, told the workshop that organised crime syndicates are already operating in Fiji and probing for weaknesses in Fiji's system and that the country was being used as a transit point and there was a need for a collaborated effort from the government and the civil society.

Adding to this, according to Fiji Times Online, children as young as 10 years old are part of the sex trade in the country according to research done by Save the Children Fiji for the International Labour Organisation which interviewed 104 child sex workers and 87 adult sex workers.

Dr Mili Kaitani, a consultant for ILO and lecturer at the University of the South Pacific, said the research showed that the youngest person involved in sex trade was 10 while most of the child sex workers were between the ages of 15 and 17, and most relied on middlemen to arrange the rendezvous.

Dr Kaitani said the survey found that 79 per cent of the child sex workers lived with their families and in some cases the mother or the aunt would look for their clients.

She said it also found an increase in males who engaged in the sex trade.

According to the report, Dr Kaitani added that sex tourism was a contributing factor because during the peak tourism season, child sex workers were trafficked from Suva to tourism areas.

Fiji Times Online also reports that Save the Children Fiji says that the increase in commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) has raised the alarm on human trafficking in Fiji.

SCF programs manager Iris Low-McKenzie said lax laws and enforcement measures in the past contributed to the increase in commercial sexual exploitation of children.

She said the penalties in place did not serve as a deterrent for the exploiters who usually moved to developing countries thinking they would not get caught.

"People should be able to identify the signs of a child who is being exploited and take the necessary steps to report it," Mrs Low-McKenzie said.

"Fiji needs to work together, the law enforcement agencies, government, civil society all need to collaborate with each other to ensure that trafficking does not occur in Fiji."

She further stressed that people needed to be able to stand up for children who were exploited and to make reporting mandatory.

"Fiji's Crime Decree now includes trafficking and is quite specific on it. What is needed now is strict enforcement of the decree," Mrs Low-McKenzie said.

"Human trafficking cases are anecdotal and research on human trafficking should be conducted so that Fiji is able to understand the dynamics of human trafficking and take the necessary measures now to ensure that our children do not fall victims of human trafficking."

According to Fiji Times Online, Mrs Low- McKenzie stated that money is the most common attraction used to lure children into the sex trade, run by pimps and madams.

"You will no longer find them standing on the streets," she said. "Technology is such that they operate out of homes or from a fixed location. Girls and boys are victims of sexual exploitation. However, it is more prevalent with girls."

She said the sex industry was very lucrative and the middleman or the woman had opportunities to make money.

"In many cases the middleman runs a sex crime ring but there have been cases where hotel workers and taxi drivers act as middlemen. There have been instances where family members have acted as middlemen."

Ms McKenzie said SCF had data that showed that middlemen were found in Suva, the Coral Coast, Labasa and Savusavu.

Meanwhile, Fiji Times Online reports that a call for more collaboration with other countries has been made by the Director of Public Prosecution's Office with regard to human trafficking.

Seini Puamau, a State prosecutor addressing the workshop said it was evident that in human trafficking there was often a point of contact from one country to the next.

She said there was a need to have treaties in regards to law with Asia, Europe and Africa and also make border arrangements with different countries to combat human trafficking.

A representative of the Fijian Affairs Board also added that the rights of women and children will be encompassed into the new village bylaws which will be implemented to curb crime and have uniformity in villages, according to the report.