DOHA - A conference in Qatar on human trafficking has urged Arab states to step up the fight against the scourge, seen as widespread in the pro-Western oil-rich Gulf region.
Delegates called for an agreement within the framework of the Arab League "to combat human trafficking in all its forms," according to a statement issued at the close of the conference late on Thursday.
They urged the Riyadh-based secretariat of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to take the lead in boosting "coordination and cooperation among member states to enhance measures to fight human trafficking."
The two-day conference was organised by Qatar and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, with the participation of representatives of the United Nations Children's Fund, jurists and human rights organisations.
Delegates called for "a network to exchange information and expertise on combating human trafficking under the supervision of the Arab League," and the inclusion in school and university curricula of material on fighting the phenomenon.
Five of the six GCC member states -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia -- are on a blacklist of countries trafficking in people.
GCC countries, which also include the United Arab Emirates, are close allies of the United States.
International human rights groups have also highlighted the problem of human trafficking in the Gulf area, which hosts more than 13 million expatriates, many of them unskilled and low-paid Asian workers vulnerable to abuse.
Three other Arab countries -- Algeria, Sudan and Syria -- are on the list of worst offenders.
Qatar-based Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi told the conference human trafficking was banned under Islam. He slammed companies that bring in "migrant workers, give them a bare minimum of wages and pen them up like sheep" in crammed rooms as living quarters.
Nihal Fahmi, of the regional office of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said annual profits from human trafficking come second to gains from drug trafficking, at 31 billion dollars.
She said the UN estimates that around 27 million of the world's people live in a state of servitude, with "around 100,000 women and children victims of sexual exploitation."
According to other UN estimates, around 2.5 million people -- 80 percent of them women and children -- are being trafficked around the world at any given time for such purposes as forced labour, sexual exploitation, the removal of organs and body parts, forced marriages, child adoption and begging.
The estimates also put annual global profits from trafficked forced labour at 31.6 billion dollars.