In an 80-page report, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights said trafficking in women for prostitution and cheap labor amounts to a form of slavery and that legal systems in many countries are inadequate to stop it.
``Trafficking in women is a new terminology for an old practice that often represents a form of slavery,'' said Renate Weber, head of the federation's women's rights project.
She said the governments and international organizations were embarrassed that trafficking in women ``remains one of the world's most profitable businesses'' decades after respect for human rights ``was declared one of the main objectives of the United Nations.''
The main factors that lead women to fall victim to trafficking include poverty, unemployment, weakening social security networks following the fall of communism, the decline of traditional family life and hopes for better work and a better life abroad, the federation said.
It said criminal gangs often lure poor women with promises of marriage or high-paying jobs, then hold their passports and documents to prevent them from escaping.
``In some cases, corrupt policemen and other authorities facilitate this process,'' the federation added.
The federation cited several countries, including Albania, where criminal gangs send young women as prostitutes to Greece and Italy. It said Greek police are often bribed to ``look the other way.''
``As a rule, very few cases reach the (Greek) courts,'' the federation said. ``Victims do not prosecute either because they are afraid or because they have no residence documents.''
Bulgaria does not recognize trafficking in women as a separate offense, the report said.
In Latvia, serious efforts to combat such trafficking has been impeded because of lack of funding and lack of interest by police.
``Some government and non-government sources attributed this to a lack of understanding among members of parliament about the serious nature of trafficking,'' the report said.
The federation said poverty and lack of official concern contributed to the growth of traffic in women in the former Soviet Central Asian states of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
In Kazakhstan, the report said, ``the gradual elimination of social protection services previously offered by the state'' were the main factors.
In Uzbekistan, ``no one bothers to notify law enforcement bodies'' when girls are abducted or lured away, the report added.