VILNIUS - A recent report by the U.S. State Department has listed Lithuania as one of the most advanced countries in combating human trafficking. It applauded the Baltic state's relentless efforts and determination to take the necessary measures to prevent this criminal activity, the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania stated in a press release.
Lithuania has retained its high position for the past several years, indicating the government's determination to eradicate human trafficking, the battle against which U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week called "a great moral calling of our time."
During the period monitored, the Lithuanian government significantly increased the number of trafficking convictions, it financially supported NGOs, while also strengthening its criminal code on trafficking, and establishing a specialized anti-trafficking police unit.
Despite this success, the report still lists Lithuania as a source and destination country for human trafficking. The sexual exploitation of children for commercial purposes is a "significant problem" in the Baltic state, alongside the trafficking of women, the report stated.
Official and NGO sources estimate that 10-20 percent of persons working in prostitution are under the age of 18. Data collected by Europol indicates that more than 1,200 Lithuanian women are trafficked abroad annually, although NGOs claim higher estimates.
The report also states that one-third of Lithuanian victims are trafficked to the United Kingdom, and that the Baltic state also serves as a transit point and destination for victims from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
But as far as efforts against this criminal activity are concerned, the U.S. Department survey lists Lithuania in its highest 's and most progressive 'scategory, along with 15 members of the European Union, Australia, Columbia, Canada, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Switzerland and other countries.
The majority of countries surveyed, including Latvia and Estonia, were left in the second category.
In an analogous report issued by the U.S. State Department in 2005, Lithuania was also ascribed to the highest category. However, this report also defined the Baltic state as "a country of import, export and transit of human beings," in spite of the government's progress.
Twelve countries 's including Iran, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia 's were given the State Department's worst ranking, tier three.
U.S. Senior Adviser on Human Trafficking John Miller explained that Iran moved down in the rankings from tier 2 last year to tier 3 this year because it actually punishes trafficking victims.
"It's not easy to get information about Iran, but we have received a number of reports that Iran imprisons or executes a significant number of trafficking victims," Miller said. "And one of the criteria is the protection of victims, and the law specifically says victims should not be punished for acts they commit after they have been trafficked, whether it's prostitution or anything else."
While releasing the report this week, Rice said, "By calling to account any nation, friend, or foe that can and should do more to confront human trafficking, we are pressing countries into action," Rice said. "With each year, more and more governments are increasing public awareness of the crime, targeting and prosecuting the perpetrators, and helping victims to rebuild their lives."
U.S. law requires that the State Department present an annual report on global efforts to fight human trafficking to the U.S. Congress. The document aims to draw global awareness to the seriousness of the issue, and pool progressive efforts against various forms of human trafficking.
Miller said the new report does contain some good news, such as an increase in trafficking convictions.
"While several years ago there were just hundreds of trafficking convictions, last year there were 3,000 convictions worldwide," Miller told journalists. "This year, it's up to around 4,700. That is sending a message 's or more of a message, anyway 's and that is a good sign."